Kay Reiner aced her quiz on "Romeo and Juliet" in a ninth-grade English class Wednesday--an occasion that would have passed unnoticed but for the fact that Reiner hasn't been a high school student for 27 years.
Reiner and seven other parents risked intellectual humiliation, fashion derision and, worse, their children's mortification by spending a day as students at Oak Park High School.
They even enjoyed themselves.
The group participated in the school's second annual "Switch With a Parent" program, where Principal Jeff Chancer promised them nothing more than a typical day at school.
(Last year, parents came to school and kids stayed home. But because of changes in class scheduling this year, the youngsters attended classes.)
"You're going to see some really good things. You're going to see some things that may not be so good," Chancer said.
Most of what they saw, the parents said, was good.
"The class participation was absolutely amazing," Mike McCusker noted.
Jeannette Helvey said she was astounded when a teacher left his physics class for several minutes.
"I was shocked. I can't believe a teacher left his class alone," she said. "But the kids were marvelous."
The parents also saw things that were certainly different from when they were in school. One was the closed-circuit televisions.
Reiner, whose daughter, Shelby, is a freshman, was settling into her desk in world history when the 7:30 buzzer sounded to start the school day. Teacher Kevin Smith's first action was to switch on the TV.
For the next 12 minutes, the class listened to a newscast in which teen-age correspondents covered such topics as human rights in China and President Clinton's decision to allow federally funded abortions.
But, unnerving in a public school, the news segments were interspersed with commercials for Reebok shoes, Noxema skin cream and other brand-name products.
Chancer said later that the commercials are a trade-off for the use of the cable network Channel One. The network bought the televisions as well as a satellite dish for the school.
Reiner said the program didn't bother her as much as the response of the students.
"I was really horrified at the lack of social awareness of the kids," she said.
McCusker, who was measuring the length of grasshoppers' legs in biology class, said he was dismayed by the students' casual appearance.
"Dress codes today are horrendous. That's really a pet peeve of mine," he said, scanning the classroom in which the students wore either baggy pants or shorts. McCusker, who graduated in 1959, said the most adventurous boy in his school once showed up with his hair in a Mohawk.
For Anita Heber, the day was not just an eye-opener, but an ear-opener.
"The noise level is so much greater than when you or I went to school," said Heber, who nearly walked out of an English class because she was seated next to two irrepressible foot and finger tappers.
"The hyperactivity of the boys especially is so annoying!" she said. "Let me get these kids on Ritalin or something."
Shelby Reiner was not afraid to be seen with her mother walking around campus. But she drew the line at giving Mom a kiss before class.
And McCusker said his son, Ryan, was "totally mortified" when he learned that both of his parents would be visiting the school.
"He said, 'Just don't come into any of my classes,' " McCusker said.
While most of the parents tried to take the same classes as their kids, Joan Santiago tried to visit as many classes as she could. She intended to observe every teacher to find out who the best ones are.
"I'm going to be here for the next 10 years," Santiago said. "I have four kids coming through. I want to know who's going to be influencing my kids."
Some of the students didn't mind having classmates who were, well, old enough to be their parents.
"Sometimes parents think you go to school and you're this quiet person who folds your hands," said Alessia Bernardini. "This way, they can see how kids are when they go to school."