Saturday, March 24, 2012

I've Moved!

Parents $aving Schools has moved to:

If you have arrived at my blog from The Frugal Girl, or Kristen's Facebook page, you might know that super-blogger Kristen is a big fan of Wordpress for blogging.

She is my blogging role model, and so I took her advice to move things over there. Thankfully my wonderful hubby knows about these things and was able to get the new blog up and running lickety-split.

Join me for more adventures in school issues there!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Really Radical Parenting: Giving Kids the Space to Just Be

One of my favorite blogs is The Frugal Girl, where blogger Kristen cheerfully shares ideas about low-budget living.

Kristen homeschools her children. Homeschooling is not the primary subject of her blog--frugal living is (hence the name!). But it's a topic of fascination to her sizeable readership, and recently she devoted a detailed post to homeschooling, and why it works so well for her family.

People homeschool for a wide variety of reasons--for religious purposes, because public school was too stifling, or private school got too expensive. Some homeschool from start to finish (as Kristen plans to), while others try it out for a short time. I see it as simply another option for parents who are trying to do the best for their children.

I think it's safe to say that in 2012, homeschooling is hardly a radical choice. 

In my opinion, what is very different about Kristen's family is that none of her children participate in any "after-school" enrichment programs. No sports. No karate or jujitsu or taekwondo. No ballet, no gymnastics, no tap or jazz or modern dance. No scouting. You get the idea. 

I find this to be a radical and courageous move. 

Just to be clear, Kristen has written that she and her husband will gladly consider a team sport or music class if one of her children expresses a burning desire to sign up. It's not that they're ideologically opposed to group enrichment activities. They have simply chosen a lifestyle that emphasizes downtime over scheduled time.

If you're reading this and thinking "hey, what the heck is wrong with soccer?" The answer is, of course, nothing. Soccer is great. Kids learn great skills, sportsmanship and teamwork, and get plenty of fresh air and exercise. There is nothing wrong, per se, with soccer or any other enrichment activity.

It's just very easy for the after-school activities to take over a family's life. They can be expensive and often require a large time commitment. And parents often get caught up in a perceived need to "enrich" their children's lives at every turn, instead of simply giving their kids space to just be.

Yesterday made me happy. No driving, no "activities."
Just a few hours with friends at the park.
When my kids were smaller, I had great confidence in my choices. I didn't worry about how long I should breastfeed, or where they slept, when to potty train or any of the hot-button issues of new motherhood. It's only recently that some doubt has crept in. Have we messed up by not starting our older son in a sport? Does our younger boy need martial arts to channel his abundant energy? Should they be taking art classes, because the art that is offered at their school is so limited? I wonder all the time if we are doing enough. And yet, I find myself happiest when we are "doing" very little.

I admire Kristen's family's quieter lifestyle, but I haven't been able to embrace it just yet. Stay tuned...

This post will get too long if I try to get started on the fundraising that often goes along with after-school enrichment activities. Sigh... does it ever end?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Will This Morph into a Homeschooling Blog?

Last Wednesday night, I attended a PTA meeting that made me feel pretty darned good about the direction my childrens' school is headed in. The hard work of parents and teachers is paying off; through fundraising and volunteering, we are able to provide enrichment programs in art, music, drama, gardening, nutrition and character education. I love the garden at my kids' school, and I fell asleep thinking what seeds we will soon sow for a great harvest next fall.

I can see the headline: "Concerned parents put their heads together to create a strong school in the face of non-stop budget cutbacks." 

On Thursday morning, I was jolted back to reality. I got a text from someone at school saying that I needed to come pick up my 2nd grader because he was having a huge meltdown, and his teacher, despite her best efforts, could not help him calm down. 

Our son has anxiety. He struggles aspects of school that most kids love--like recess, for example. He gets overwhelmed by noise and feels extremely stressed when he doesn't immediately understand his schoolwork.

Last week, feelings of anxiety about school work and friendships hit him hard at bedtime, and he didn't fall asleep until many hours after his 8:30 bedtime. 

My son's challenges interrupt the kumbaya feeling I get from our school (or that I project on to it, because I want it to work for us so much). 

Our district has done a good job maintaining class-size reduction in the face of budget challenges over the last few years. While many surrounding districts are staffed at a ratio of 1:31 for lower grades, our district has managed to keep first and second grades at 1:20. For third grade, that number jumps to 28 kids per classroom. So, we worry about a louder, more chaotic environment will affect a child who already has difficulty in a classroom with only 19 kids.

Our PTA, like parent groups all over the country, brings wonderful events and enrichment to our school. But PTA work doesn't really seep in to the classroom, where of course kids spend the lion share of time. We can't affect rigid California curriculum requirements and testing standards. I can't be there to hear every comment classmates make about my son.

At the end of the day everyone has to do what is best for their child. I remain dedicated to improving our school however I can, but my first priority, of course, is to my own family. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough

Today I went with my boys to a birthday party at a bowling alley while my husband got some space to get in the zone on his fantasy baseball draft. 

I enjoyed chatting with parents and playing arcade games with my kids--lots of fun, and no shoptalk about PTA with the folks that were there from our school.  

But then, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that the party next to us were serving juice pouches. 

Juice pouches. When I see juice pouches, I see money. Regular mom one moment, fundraising fanatic the next.

You see, our school participates in Terracycle, a program that pays money for hard-to-recycle items like juice pouches and chip bags. 

We get two cents per pouch--oh yeah, baby! You're looking at the 16 cents I scored at the bowling alley by grabbing pouches from someone else's party. 

At least I restrained myself from digging through the garbage.

Friday, March 16, 2012

My Very First Auction

The other night my husband and I attended our very first auction.

It wasn't for our childrens' school; it was to benefit the private school where they attend after-school arts enrichment classes. It's a wonderful program and we wanted to support it. But to be honest, I also saw it as a reconnaissance mission. I envisioned coming home with my head filled with great ideas about how to get an auction started for our school's PTA.

The auction for the arts program was very business-like. Sure, it was a party, and the wine was flowing, but it was very clear that we were there to spend money to raise money for the scholarship program. We went, had a few drinks and some interesting nibbles, chatted with a few nice people, and left. We watched others bid on items that we are not interested in and can't afford. Not that much to report, really.

Our PTA has never held an auction. When I brought it up at PTA meetings a few years ago, I was told that an auction wouldn't be right for our demographic: working and middle-class families from a wide variety of racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds. I thought "oh, come on, we can throw a party with the best of 'em"--but of course I got busy with other things and never pushed the issue. 

Funnily enough, my experience at the arts-program auction made me agree with the former PTA brass at my sons' school. I don't think an auction, at least as an adults-only party, would work for our school, for the following reasons.

1) Babysitting. An adults-only party assumes that parents have access to childcare. The going rate for a babysitter in our area is $15 or more. So, many parents would not attend for that reason.

2) The alcohol issue. Our school has a significant Muslim population, as well as evangelicals and some Mormons and people who, for a variety of reasons, do not partake in alcohol. Again, that would cut out a large number of parents.

3) Money. We paid $80 to get in to the auction. We're on a pretty tight budget and that amount alone was a stretch. But at an auction, of course, you're expected to whip out your checkbook. We bid on a few modest items (like a gift certificate to a pizza joint). Even still, I'm happy that we were outbid! The big-ticket items in the live auction were bid upon by a select group of people--most folks sat on their hands. Our school has a significant number of students who receive free or reduced-price lunch. 

4) Work. Like many PTAs or PTOs, a select group of parents step up to do most of the work. The auction we attended was clearly 
A LOT of work. On top of planning a snazzy, exciting party at a bargain-basement price, you have to solicit donations, entice parents in to attending, and make sure everyone gets what they won in the auction. And you have to make sure everyone is appropriately thanked.

I know that at some point we can craft an alcohol-free, family-friendly auction where items that people of all income brackets would be interested in. But I'm also happy to back-burner it for now. It's such a relief, sometimes, to just say no.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Flip Side of 'Flush Rush": Conscious Consumerism Every Day

I've been following the Rush Limbaugh/Sandra Fluke controversy like everyone else. Sigh... so much to say, so little time... since this is a blog about finding money for schools, here's what I fired off to one the former Limbaugh advertisers that we patronize, Geico Insurance.
The target of Rush Limbaugh's vile comments, Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke.

Dear Geico,

Thank you for taking your ads off "The Rush Limbaugh Show." As a woman, Geico customer and the person who makes most buying decisions for my family, I would like to thank you for disassociating yourself from this angry, slandering misogynist.

What the Limbaugh incident made clear is that social media is extremely powerful force in our culture.

I have a suggestion that would help Geico get a lot of positive attention on Facebook and Twitter. I think you should offer your services on school fundraising portals such as the BoxTops for Education Marketplace or Stacey For Schools. When you begin an online shopping excursion at one of these portals, a portion of your purchase gets donated to the school of your choice. When I need a plane ticket, for instance, I start at the Boxtops website, am "portaled" through to Expedia or Travelocity, and 10 cents of every 10 dollars I spend gets donated to my sons' school. It adds up quickly!

I would be so delighted if a portion of my Geico premium, however modest, was donated to our school. 

This is the era of "conscious consumerism." Consumer wants to make each dollar count. We won't support companies that support nasty, mean-spirited people. And increasingly, parents of kids in underfunded schools are ready and eager to give their business to companies that support schools.

Thanks for reading this, and have a great day.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Combine Thrifting with Fundraising? Oh, a Girl Can Dream

Today I took my younger son out for lunch after kindergarten, which in our district lets out at the working-parent unfriendly hour of 11:50. Next door to our lunch place was a well-stocked but very empty thrift store. If I didn't have my restless child with me, I might have taken a little spin through the store.

$120 shoes. I found shoes just like these for $7 at my favorite thrift store!
You see, I LOVE thrift stores. I love the bargains, I love donating to a good cause, and I love the feeling of being released from the worry about the conditions of the third-world sweatshop where my new garment was made. Sadly, most of the clothes I buy at thriftstores were probably created in sweatshops, but I figure that by buying all of my clothes second-hand, I'm doing my little part to slow down the rate at which factories have to churn out new, cheap clothes. Did I mention that I love finding great bargains? What a thrill!

The emptiness of the store gave me an idea that filled me with joy, because it combines two of my favorite things--Thriftstores and School fundraising.

What if the empty thriftstore had held school fundraisers just like Chuck E. Cheese and so many other restaurants? 

I know what you're thinking: the very purpose of a thrift store is to raise money for a charity. But the truth of the matter is that thrift stores are still businesses... they have to bring in customers to stay afloat. One of my very favorite thrift stores, Thrifttown, runs sales and offers coupons constantly. They're thriving because they know how to get people through the door. As a result, it's often difficult to get a spot in their parking lot.

I did a quick google of "thrift store school fundraising", and didn't find anything quite what I'm looking for. It seems like some cities and some individual schools have thrift stores of their own. That sounds dreamy, but also sounds like a ton of work. We have done garage sales in the past and even they are exhausting.

I am going to do a little investigating to see if any of the Thriftstores near me would be willing to use the Restaurant Fundraising Model a try. Generally, for restaurant nights, we drive traffic through the door and the restaurant gives 15 or 20 percent back to the school.

Does your school work with a thrift store? I'd love to hear about it!