In Sweden, there is a distinct dichotomy between school and family life, and as a parent you might ask to come to class for a day during a school year, to observe what your child does all day, but it would probably end there. The school is the workplace of the teacher and the children, and parents respectfully stay away. In contrast, here in the US, the school wants you in the classroom. This became apparent as my oldest son is starting school this year.
Starting School in the Bay Area
On our first day of Kindergarten, there was a large white sheet of paper on the blackboard, where parents could sign up to volunteer. You could volunteer in the garden, the library, computer lab, music class, and more. There was another big sheet by the door, covered in colorful post-its, all with different items written on them – things that the teacher needed for class. Everything from double sided tape, zip lock bags, and wet wipes, to larger and more costly items. All of which the school could no longer provide. In addition, the PTA* asked the parent group for cash donations, as well as contributions to various fundraising activities throughout the year. These contributions, at our school, fund the music program, the computer lab, teacher development, and much more.
Apart from the financial help, parents are part of everyday life in the classroom. The volunteer schedule for my son’s class is full. There is a parent present in the classroom with the teacher every day, to help her out with whatever she needs. Parents also have class jobs like coming in to fill the Thursday envelopes with what needs to be sent home to the families, laminating stencils, taking care of book orders, etc. The parents all seem to take their role in making this a great year at school for their kids very seriously.
I know this is not the case in every school. I know that too many parents struggle to make ends meet, or have other challenges that make it difficult, or even impossible, to help out in any way at all. But not every parent has to be able to help, the important thing is that every child will still benefit from the ones who can, and I love that parents are seen as a potential and important resource, and offered the chance to make a difference for the school.
I’ve heard many times that the success of a school here depends on two things: The finances of the school district, and the level of involvement of the parents. When learning about the schools in your area, try to find out about the level of parent participation (I visited the school at pick-up time and interviewed random parents, and talked to the staff at the office). API scores (Academic Performance Index) are indeed indicative of the standard of the school, but they don’t tell you everything. A school like ours, which does not have unlimited funds or top scores, but a very active and supportive group of parents who not only help fund programs and laminate folders but make the school a community, might be just the place for your child.
How did the process of starting school in the Bay Area differ from your home country? Tell us below!
*Parent Teacher Association, a forum for the school teaching staff and the parents to meet and discuss current issues of the school, but also a very important fund raising committee and organizer of social events
Rows of Bentleys, Rolls Royces, and Ferraris, palm trees swaying, and well-heeled folks...this is drop off at an American elementary school in Dubai.