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VOICES

Schools Need Parents' Help, Not Criticism

January 16, 1994|MEME KELLY | Meme Kelly, an eight-year resident of Windsor Hills, is a writer and former owner of a paralegal company. Faced with growing disillusionment with life in Los Angeles, Kelly turned to writing. She has completed a novel, "On Edge," about an African American attorney struggling in Los Angeles and is looking for a publisher

As a disgruntled parent of a child attending a Los Angeles Unified School District public school, I had a vision of what a positive school experience was: supportive, satisfied and positive teachers; parents involved in their children's education; bright, cheery schools and classrooms, and a supportive community.

I felt overwhelmed by the reality year after year in Los Angeles public schools: little parental support, as shown by low turnout at events such as back-to-school night; dreary-looking schools in need of paint; no computer labs; no or few field trips, and generally, little enthusiasm for education and the educators' ability to reach children.

So I placed one of my sons, Rennie Jr., who has learning difficulties, in a private school. And I enrolled Corey, my other school-age son, in Warner Elementary School in Westwood. I had heard wonderful things about parent involvement and the caliber of education at Warner. This school, I was told, had a vision of how children were to be educated, and the parents were making a difference through this vision.

When Corey and I arrived to register, I saw a freshly painted school, reminding me of positive childhood memories. There were flowers in the courtyard, and Jeffrey Felz, the principal, greeted me on the first day with a bright smile, warm eyes and firm handshake. I could tell that he was excited to be there and excited about educating children.

I had realized my vision, but something deep in me felt slighted that public schools in white, affluent areas are freshly painted, adorned with flowers, and have nice principals and eager parents, while many schools in less affluent areas don't. Why were there such vast disparities? Did the Los Angeles Unified School District blatantly discriminate?

On the first day of school my questions were answered. I thanked God that the answer was not that Los Angeles Unified discriminates and only paints and plants flowers at schools in affluent areas. What I found was that the parents at Warner, through their PTA and Booster Club, not only painted the school themselves, but had carnivals, boutiques and barbecues to raise money. When Los Angeles Unified faced a budget crunch, the parents banded together and raised money for salaries for the aides.

At Warner, there is a "room parent" for each classroom and an assistant that acts as a liaison between the parents and the school. The parents have a newsletter. During the first week, all the parents are asked to schedule time to assist their child's classroom. The booster club and the PTA sell cookbooks and sponsor the school yearbook. It seems there are more activities sponsored by parents than by the district.

The parents at Warner were everywhere, doing everything. In fact, I could not get into Corey's classroom the first day of school because many parents, armed with video cameras and Polaroids, were blocking my entrance. Every day there are parents in Corey's classroom helping out. There is a feeling that educating one's child is the most important task given to a parent.

Where is this school? ask my African American friends. Westwood, I answer. No wonder, my friends say. It is not so much that these people have such great vision, but that they have been born into such wonderful circumstances. They have money and most of the mothers don't work, the argument goes.

But how often have we had barbecues, albeit not done specifically to benefit the kids? Wouldn't it be fun, I asked, to have a carnival, just for the kids? Wouldn't it be fun to have a "Paint the School Week" party and ask businesses to donate the paint? Couldn't we all arrange with our employers for at least two hours a month for school time, perhaps working late or coming in early to make up the time?

Couldn't we plant some flowers at the school? Couldn't we make our own directories with contact names so that anyone who wants to help knows whom to call to get involved? Shouldn't we attend every single PTA meeting?

My middle-class, African American friends have no answers, except that circumstances are hard in the '90s, a comment with which I tend to agree. Circumstances are hard in the '90s and, in the words of Corey, "the bad people are winning."

Yet, something inside me wants to be able to tell him, "Yes, circumstances are hard, the bad people do win sometimes, and mommy is doing all in her power, with her vision and eyes on the prize, to change the circumstances."

By attending PTA meetings, by finding a couple of hours to donate to Corey's class, by participating in fund raising, I am part of the solution.

We must instill in our schools the attitude that educating our babies is the most important task in the world, regardless of our economic status, regardless of tough circumstances, regardless of the policies of the school district or the state and local governments.

We parents must ensure that our babies receive the education they deserve.

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