Money sails out the window as the school year begins

It is fundraiser time at both kids’ schools. In addition to that, both schools are doing different drives collecting items for needy families. This got me thinking about all the money you spend as a parent.

It begins in August with back to school supplies. The schools provide you with a list. Luckily, some of it like scissors and pencil boxes can be used from last year. But folders, paper and pencils must be bought. I spent $100, and that includes usually an extra or two for the teacher’s classroom (at least when they are in elementary school).

The start of school also means joining the PTA. That is $6 or $6.50 per person. I usually sign up both parents and the student at each school. And there are agendas (required at the elementary level and optional at the middle school level), spirit shirts to wear on school spirit days, class shirts for the elementary student (for field trips), organizational dues and shirts for orchestra, shirts for extracurricular activities at the elementary, gym clothes (two sets so you can wash one while he wears the other – I lucked out on this one as he hasn’t outgrown last year’s sets.) Total $150.

Then comes September. And you think it is time to put away the checkbook. But no…there is more. There are school pictures ($24/student at the cheapest package for what I need) and the PTA fundraiser at one school (another $50).

October hits and both schools are doing fundraisers. Lexie has a fun run, and Jase is doing catalog sales of overpriced wrapping paper, chocolate, household items or magazines. We of course bought/supported each child/school as I know there have been budget cuts to the schools. This money will pay for field trips and technology at the elementary school and will pay overtime for a police officer to monitor traffic in the mornings as well as some special assemblies and extras for the students at the middle school.

And then at the end of the month is Red Ribbon week, and both schools are collecting donations. The middle school is collecting socks and underwear for a center for disadvantaged students, where they receive five outfits as well as brand new socks and underwear. For the elementary, we are collecting umbrellas for a disadvantaged school where many of the students walk. When it rains, many of them stay home. Their principal wants to give out umbrellas, so our school is collecting gently used or new umbrellas. Of course, I will donate to both donation drives.

I also donated to a faculty candy-bar buffet at the middle school. And supported the book fair at Jase’s school. Alexa’s will be coming in December, but I have bought a few books from the class Scholastic Book Sales.

And last, we have a Bake Sale for the middle school orchestra. Not only do I need to buy some baked goods to be sold, we will also be buying some treats after the orchestra concert.

So, with just 2 ½ months done for the school year, I have already spent $550. And there will be more things coming – other food drives or donations, party food, pies for the middle school faculty at Thanksgiving, group photos, class photos, orchestra photos, the cost of Jase’s orchestra field trip. Oh, and I almost forgot Spirit Nights at 2 different restaurants coming up. A portion of the evening sales goes back to each PTA.

Whew. It is a lot. And yes, I know I don’t’ have to do ALL of these things. But I still do. I know that the money or items are really needed. Those funds raised by the PTAs or schools will enrich not just my kids’ experience but those of their classmates.

 

My first few months as PTA president are complete

I’ve been PTA president for a while now so thought it was time for a brief report on how it has been going. Hmmm….it is going better than I thought it would be. I had two main worries when I took this position – filling all the committee chair positions and public speaking.

Last year at this time, I think there were six or seven positions open. If the positions don’t get filled, then the rest of the board is supposed to cover the position, but last year’s PTA president did a lot of it on her own. No wonder she felt so grumpy all the time as she did most of the work herself.

Of course, the lack of committee chairs may partially be attributed to someone on the board whose personality was off-putting. She is a take-charge type with a strong personality and frankly, many of us feel it caused others to stay away from the board. This year, she isn’t back. Luckily for me, she decided to take a year off from the PTA.

So, without this individual and because I worked at it – advertising and reminding people I had positions to fill – I was able to fill every position on the board, even the hardest ones: grade-level parties and fundraising. Honestly, I thought no one would want either one.

The lady in charge of fundraising is already showing how awesome she is. I have yet to meet with the grade-level party chair, but she seems enthusiastic about the challenge of throwing parties for 626 students.

As for speaking in public, it has never been my favorite thing. I do fine with a group of about 5 or 6 but as the group gets bigger, the quieter I become. I was fine holding a meeting of our officers (six people) and did fine at our first executive board meeting, though I probably did talk a little too fast in the beginning and got done quickly.

But the biggest challenge was our first PTA meeting with the parents. This meeting is always tied to Parent Orientation, so the cafeteria was packed. And to top it off, the principal announced he was making a special announcement at the meeting. Yikes! Butterflies were definitely in my stomach before the meeting began. It isn’t like I haven’t spoken to this size crowd before. I was Treasurer for two years and had to give the financial report. But that is a short bit even if we had budget amendments to do. Now it is me up there for the whole time running the meeting. I made it through the night, but this will never be my favorite part about being PTA President.

Thankfully, meetings are only a small part of my job. Most of time is spent following up with and keeping the committee members on task. With 28 other people on the board that can be time consuming, but I am figuring out how to not let something fall through the cracks. Hmmm…eight more months of this to go. I hope they go as well as the first two months have gone.

Chaperoning the Kids’ School Fields Trips

Three weeks ago, right before my son’s thirteenth birthday, I wrote about my kids becoming more independent. Typically, as kids become more independent, they want their parents less involved in their lives. And that is normal. But there is one area that they still like for me to be involved – school field trips.

Actually, when my son entered middle school I kind of thought school field trips were over. It is one thing for the elementary to take 100 students on a trip but at the middle school, there are roughly 400 kids per grade. This year, for the first time in six years, Jase’s middle school social studies teacher decided to take the kids on a field trip to the Holocaust Museum.

To do it, they had to split the grade into two groups with each going on a different day. They also need 16-20 chaperones per group. Jase asked me if I would go. (Yeah!) So, I volunteered.

I was a little concerned because on this field trip, the school was allowing the parents to ride the bus. Hmmm…stuck on the bus with 50 sixth graders? Sounds bad but turned out to be great as we have a good bunch of kiddos on our bus.

There were four of us watching our bus of 50 kids. We stuck with them through the rotations at the Holocaust museum. The best part was being able to listen to a Holocaust survivor recount what happened to her and her family. It had a big impact on the students.

Obviously, the sixth-grade field trip didn’t scar me or anything as I then volunteered to chaperone the sixth-grade orchestra’s trip to Six Flags Fiesta Texas. This time it was only 30 students with four chaperones. The students competed in the Music Across Texas competition and then got to enjoy the amusement park. It was hot and tiring but again, it was good bunch of kids and I was glad I went.

As for Lexie, the fourth grade for the past four years has made a trip to Austin (about an hour away from San Antonio) to visit the capitol and the Bob Bullock museum. She was supposed to go at the end of March but due to some random package bombings happening in Austin at the time, the school postponed the trip. The only time they could fit it back into the schedule was today, three days before the end of school.

This was a fun field trip when I went on it with Jase and his classmates. Since the field trip leaves at 8 am and doesn’t return until 5 pm (well after school gets out) they cannot use school buses and rent plush charter buses for the kids. The parents still must drive themselves.

The students take two different tours at the capitol – one showing the history of Texas and one of the actual capitol building. Then they will eat a picnic lunch on the capitol grounds. Afterwards, they walk a few blocks to the Bob Bullock Texas State History museum.

I am sure this will be just as much of a fun time as when I went with Jase. And thankfully, Lexie definitely is glad that I am with her on this trip.

Joining my son’s middle school PTA

When my son started kindergarten six years ago, I joined the parent-teacher association (PTA) at his school. Being in the PTA allowed me to know more about what was going on at his school.

This year, Jase will move to middle school. It only seemed natural that I would join the PTA there. My original goal was to just be a volunteer at school and PTA events. I thought maybe if there was a committee chair position open for something easy that I might do that.

Ha…it is never that simple. Last April, the middle school PTA was trying to fill one of the hardest to fill officers position – the Treasurer. So many people just don’t seem to want to be in charge of the money.

I, however, had already been treasurer for the elementary PTA. While I am not accountant, I do handle the money side of my husband’s law firm and have handled my family’s money ever since my husband and I got married over twenty years ago.

At first, I was hesitant to take such a large role on a PTA that I know nothing about. Plus, I am working on my fifth novel and had made a vow to spend more time working on it instead of doing so much volunteering.

But then person after person turned down the Treasurer position. It isn’t a position you can leave open so I decided I would do it even though this would mean I am an officer on two different PTAs at the same time. (I am first vice president in charge of programs and parent education on the elementary PTA.)

It has been a few months since I was elected and school is about to start, but I still feel I know very little about the middle school or the PTA’s programs. At least with the elementary school, I held a chair position for three years before I became an officer. This allowed me to understand our programs and goals before I was one of those people running the show.

I don’t have that luxury with the middle school. I am just going to have to learn on the go. So far, I have been to one officer meeting where we met the new middle school principal and new assistant principal.

This week will start the real work of the PTA. We will be decorating the bulletin boards, helping with orientation set up for the incoming sixth graders and hosting a welcome back breakfast for the teachers. And in most cases, I need to be there as money will start coming in for membership. And next week school starts so there should be more membership money rolling in.

And before I know it, the PTA’s big fundraiser will be happening (on my birthday). The money part doesn’t worry me. It is more not knowing what I need to do at each event. I guess I will figure things out as I go along. The real trick will be balancing the commitments of two PTAs. Luckily, both PTAs communicate with each other and do not usually plan events on the same days. But even with that, it still going to be a busy school year.

Watching the kids in their school performances

Our Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) has general meetings every month. And while many of our parents sign up as members of the PTA, they have no desire to give up their precious time to come to meetings. That is where school performances come into play.

For every monthly meeting, we have a different grade level performing a musical number put on by our awesome musical teacher. (Not only does she teach music class and do the monthly grade level performance, but she puts on a major play each April that has tryouts in September and rehearsals throughout the school year.)

This November, it was the fourth grade’s turn to perform. Jase came bouncing home at the beginning of October right after the fifth graders had their performance. He would have a speaking part in the fourth-grade performance. This would mean morning rehearsals before school.

12208701_1069115753129181_8409310914466566209_nWell, of course, I told him he could do it, and he set about memorizing his lines. It was just two lines about Mount Rushmore. The fourth grade would be singing eight songs. If you were part of the chorus, all your rehearsals are during school time. But at the beginning and in between each song, there are lines setting the stage for the next song. This is where Jase comes in with his two lines.

The music teacher asked him to put some umph into his performance, and he did. He was the most enthusiastic student up there, and it caused a chuckle in the audience.

I am proud of him for taking on a speaking part which is something he has done for the past three performances. For a shy child who doesn’t like to be the center of attention, it is very much stepping out of his comfort zone, but it is all done by his choice. I never encourage him to try out. Heck, I don’t even know he tried out at school for a speaking part until he is already assigned one.

In addition to the fourth-grade performance, the PTA also uses fourth graders (or whatever grade is being featured) to do an inspirational moment. Last year, Jase and his friend Noah did the inspirational moment for third grade by reading a Shel Silverstein poem. This year, he was picked again along with a different boy named Noah and their friend Sarah.

IMG_0899OK, I will be honest here. The PTA vice president picks the students of current board members, and since I am Treasurer for the PTA, Jase was asked – again. Last year, he was just told to invite a friend. This year the VP picked two kids and then mentioned we should add a girl to the group. I know Sarah’s mom, and Sarah knows both Noah and Jase so it made sense to include her.

Picking an inspirational moment that was appropriate for students was the hard part. But we came up with a poem about being thankful (appropriate since Thanksgiving is this month).

The three kids did an awesome job. Again, I am proud of Jase for agreeing to do it. He never hesitates to help out even though I know he is like me and doesn’t want to speak in front of a crowd.

Now Lexie who is my usual out-going child is one that has not had a speaking part in a performance yet. We will just have to see now that she has watched her brother do it a few times if she wants to follow in his footsteps and try out this January for February’s second grade performance.

 

Does my kid really need speech therapy?

As Jase has grown older, he has developed what I call a word stutter. It isn’t so much the repeating of letters such as “W-w-we are g-g-going to the s-s-store,” but a repeating of words often like he is searching for what the next word should be. “Ms. Ramirez, well, she, she, she called on me and um, I, I, I wasn’t sure….what to say.”

This word stuttering comes out when he is very excited as if his mind can’t decide what to say first. Sometimes he gets so frustrated he doesn’t want to finish what he is saying. Or perhaps he is embarrassed by it.

Now, I call it word stuttering, but the school speech therapist who evaluated him said it isn’t a stutter. She called it a word finding issue.

Jase’s first-grade teacher sent him to see the school speech therapist because she was concerned about him repeating words and sometimes mixing up words. But that speech therapist ruled that he didn’t have a problem what interfered with his learning.

Fast forward to last spring when his third-grade teacher also recommended he be evaluated by the school speech therapist. (Not the same one as before.) She had all sorts of things to say about Jase’s speech.

First, she mentioned a slight tremor in his voice as if his voice was shaky (like when you are cold.) She said it could be nothing, but if we were concerned, we could have an Ear-Nose-and-Throat (ENT) specialist check it out.  She made a note of several other issues with his voice such as pitch, slight hoarseness and poor breath support.

Second, she noticed a small lisp when he said his Ss and Zs.

And last, she noticed what she referred to as the word finding problem but when she further tested him on it, he passed their test, which basically means it doesn’t prohibit his education.

But the school did decide the lisp was a greater concern and affected his learning. They set up a plan for him to attend speech therapy twice a week this year.  At the initial parent meeting where they go over their plan, again the speech therapist mentioned taking him to an ENT.

So I discussed it with his pediatrician at his appointment in July. She saw no harm in sending him to an ENT and recommended one. The ENT, on the other hand, looked at me like I was crazy for bringing him in. In his opinion, his hoarseness was so minor and the other issues pretty much inconsequential that he didn’t know why we brought him in. He shared with me his views on speech therapists who seem to focus on minute details that don’t really affect Jase or his learning.

Of course since I don’t hear this shakiness and don’t think he sounds hoarse, I was inclined to agree with the doctor. I also think the breathlessness quality she hears is due to him rushing in his speech because he is nervous about speaking in front of others.

The ENT seemed against speech therapy in such a minor case and certainly didn’t want to subject Jase to having a tube down his nose, so they could look at his voice box. I agreed to do nothing and left feeling slightly silly for bringing him in.

It made me wonder if he really is in need of speech therapy. I can’t believe they have him listed as special educational needs based on a slight lisp that I don’t see as interfering with his education. But we are still letting him go to speech therapy this year. After all, the speech therapist originally did say this should be corrected within the school year. But I also hate that he is missing learning with his class to fix this small problem.

 

 

Meet the Teacher Night

Every year, on the Thursday before the new school year begins, the kids get to meet their new teachers. I have no clue if this is how it is done at other elementary (primary) schools in other cities, states or countries. I don’t even recall if I met my teachers before the first day of school when I was in elementary school.

But here in San Antonio, we have Meet the Teacher night. This is a two-hour drop in time where you can bring your school supplies to the classroom and well…meet your new teacher.

And it is this Thursday!

Wow! The summer has flown by! (Actually today, we should get a call from each kids’ teacher letting us know who their teacher is. We will be staying close to the phone, anxiously waiting to find out who they have this year.)

IMG_2752I remember always being a little nervous and excited on the first day of school. Some of those nerves are relieved by Meet the Teacher night. Now the kids know where their classroom is and often where they are going to be sitting. They have met their teacher and had a chance to find out who else is in their class.

Often the teachers have forms for the parents to fill out while the kids put away their supplies or follow some sort of instructions to orient them to the room and rules.

But in addition to meeting their teacher, this is the time to buy agenda books for the older grades, sign up for the PTA, buy spirit shirts and put money into the kids’ cafeteria accounts.

Two of those activities – PTA memberships and Spirit Shirts – are the responsibility of the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) for which I am the treasurer. So as you can imagine, this is a busy time for us. It is actually the day we sell the most merchandise and sign up the majority of our members.

This means I have to split my duties between taking the kids to see their teacher and my PTA duties. As treasurer, most of my time actually comes at the end of the night when we count up all the money. But there is always setting up before the evening starts too.

There is a lot of work involved, but right now I don’t care about that. I am just waiting for the phone to ring. We want to know which teachers they will have next Monday. Wow! Can’t believe their first day is just a week away.