Tonight my husband and I rushed home from work, choked down a quick snack, grabbed a bottle of water, and headed out to our semiannual tradition: School Open House. Our son is now a Sophomore in High School. Which means, give or a take a few scheduling conflicts, we have attended approximately a dozen of these events. Not counting any that we attended in the past for my stepsons.
When our children are young, the Open Houses are opportunities to see the creative and fun community areas in which they play and interact, have time to talk with the teachers, and admire the artwork or stories on the walls created by young minds. As our kids get older and venture into high school, the open houses are more about trying to not get lost as we hustle through an abbreviated version of our child’s typical schedule, receive an extra copy of the class syllabus and hear the rushed presentation by teachers of what they hope to accomplish for the semester.
There are a few other guaranteed experiences at each Open House, for which I have a few recommendations on how they could be improved, thus encouraging better parental attendance:
- It will be stiflingly hot. It does not matter whether it is the Fall or Spring Open House. The interior temperature of the classrooms will be approximately 95 degrees. Idea: Hand out paper fans for moms to combat hot flashes, and cold bottles of water so parents don’t feel they’ve crossed the Sahara Desert by 3rd period. I know budgets are so low that we have to donate tissues to classrooms, so perhaps a local business could donate the water. They’d have a captive yet appreciative audience viewing their logo.
- Oooh that smell. It doesn’t matter where you went to school, upon entering you will recognize the scent. It is that unique combination of gymnasium-cafeteria-locker room-disinfectant-chem lab-auditorium that we all remember. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, more a nostalgic essence. I suppose those few schools that have recently gone through a major renovation may have lost that built-in-the-50’s aura… the next town over from me has a swanky new multi-million dollar high school. I’ll bet it smells like flowers and sunshine in there.
- Bleachers and desk chairs are still uncomfortable. This is why school is for the young. Any adult over the age of 40 can last only 15 minutes in a school chair or sitting on the bleachers in the gym. Idea: Let us stand, lean, or sit in the teacher’s chairs. We aren’t being rude. We just hate the embarrassment of getting up off our seats with a groan and a limp.
- The teachers are getting younger. Seriously, I’ve seen a few who I’ve wondered if they are students or instructors. This of course is by no means a nod to any of us getting older. Heck no. Just because I feel a maternal need to ask if the teacher is getting enough sleep and eating right, doesn’t mean they aren’t my peers. I love asking my son at the start of the school year to describe how old he thinks each of his teachers is. He gets that “oh no I can’t possibly answer this correctly” look in his eye and says vaguely “oh, kind of your age.” If the teacher turns out to be at least 10 years younger than me, my son gets an extra cookie. Idea: Have the teachers where name tags. Helps us avoid the embarrassment of assuming they are student helpers.
- Valiantly attempted organization. Even with best of intentions, we can be assured of some confusion. For example, there was some bewilderment as to whether the Open House started at 6:00, 6:15, or 6:30. We aimed for somewhere in between, and followed signs to the cafeteria to pick up our schedules. Which weren’t there yet. Soon a man came hustling in with armfuls of papers, which were then stacked in alpha order on tables around the room. Parents then had to thumb through to find their child’s name. Not exactly efficient. Good news is they included a map of the school on the back. Bonus points for that.
- Social hour. If you’ve been in town for a few years, you’ll see lots of familiar faces –the parents of your kid’s friends and club/sports associates. If you are new in town, it is a sea of faces who all seem familiar with each other and not you. Either way, there are hearty greetings in the halls, and quick jokes about “when I went to school here.” And we all have one thing in common: we all look weary. Especially those parents with more than one child in the school, trying to split themselves in two to get to all classrooms. There’s no time to stop and chat – we are trying to fit an abbreviated school day into two hours. So most of the conversations go like this: “Hey! How are ya! Good to see you – gotta go find the Geometry room!” Idea: I’d like to suggest wine and cheese stations in the hallways, but I suppose being a school, alcohol is not permitted. So perhaps coffee and snacks. Fuel to get us through, and areas to pause and be social.
Tonight as we thanked the teachers and headed out to the fresh air, we spoke with a couple of other parents about the lack of attendance at this whirlwind information gathering activity. I get it, we are all busy, and have all put in long days. But the teachers and administration put in extra hours to make these Open Houses happen, and this brief journey gives us a window into the day to day lives of our kids. It is worth the extra effort to be there for that reason alone.
Although…I’ll bet we’d fill the place if they could offer wine stations and a drawing to win a year’s worth of school lunches for our child. Just something for the suggestion box.