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.

 

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.

Still trying to limit my kids’ extra curricular activities

When my kids first started school, my goal was to not have them over scheduled with activities. In fact in January 2013, I wrote a post about keeping their activities to one extra-curricular activity per child.

Well, now that they are older (Lexie is 9 and Jase is 12), it has proven to be too hard to keep that one activity goal.

Jase receiving his second degree red belt in May 2017.

It all started last year when Jase was in fifth grade. He wanted to return to soccer, but he was still taking karate (which he began in kindergarten). Ok, I thought. Two activities were fine. Then during the first month of school, the middle school orchestra came to perform as a method of recruiting members. He wanted to do strings which was free (except for the violin rental.) So he ended up with three activities.

At that time, Lexie just had one – gymnastics.

A new school year has begun, and it is time to select activities for this school year. I don’t dictate what activities they join but the only stipulation is that once they start something, they must continue through that season/session. If after that they don’t want to continue, then they are free to stop and pick a new activity.

Lexie’s rendition of the Pokemon – Fennekin.

Lexie decided in August that gymnastics was not her passion and wanted to stop. She had been doing it for a year and a half. She loves art so I signed her up for an after-school art class that meets once a week for 12 weeks.

She also likes to sing so she will also be joining choir. This school group meets twice a week before school. She will have one performance during the holidays and a field trip to sing at another location – usually a nursing home.

Jase right now has two activities. He is still doing karate. He is currently a second degree red belt. He is also in the orchestra. Now orchestra is a class at his middle school, but I am also counting it as an extra-curricular activity as they will sometimes have after school practice, and they do have performances and competitions throughout the year.

While he currently has two activities and I would be happy with him limiting his extracurricular activities to these, I am still encouraging him to find a club at the middle school he might want to join. I think joining a club will be a great way to make friends at his new school. But if he doesn’t find one that interests him that is fine too.

As it is, I think two activists a piece are just fine for them. I like keeping them busy, but I don’t think kids need every minute of their day scheduled. They need time for homework, and of course they need down time where they can just have fun and enjoy their childhood.

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.

Deciding on when to get your kid a cellphone

Jase turned twelve in May and just finished elementary school. Some of his classmates already have cellphones. Jase does not.

As an elementary school student who I walk/drive to school most of the time, there was no need for him to have a phone. His extra-curricular activities (soccer and karate) were done with me in attendance. Only when he stayed after school for violin practice or tutoring did he walk by himself (or with his sister). But we are just two blocks from the school. There was no need for a phone.

But next year, Jase enters middle school. And as I understand it, most of the kids there have cellphones. Teachers send messages via the Remind app. Homework requires different apps, and students even can use their phones during class to watch videos or utilize apps as part of a class exercise.

Now cellphones are not a requirement, but they can be an asset. And as Jase hears about friends who will be getting one, he too wants a cellphone. And we are considering getting him one. But all the talk of cellphones and middle school brought up the question….

When is the right time to get your child a cellphone?

It is not really a question of age. (Some experts say 12, others say 14 and a few suggest holding out as long as you can.) It is a question of maturity and responsibility. And in my opinion, it is also a question of need.

Things to consider before getting your child a cellphone

  • Does he/she have the ability to follow home and school rules?
  • Do they show that they are responsible and won’t lose/break the phone?
  • Do they understand data charges and paying for games and other apps? And will they respect any rules you set up regarding buying these apps/games?
  • How savvy is your child about technology? Does he/she truly understand future college admission staff, employers and colleagues could see anything posted now?
  • How well do they do with limits to screen time?
  • Do your kids need to be in touch for safety reasons? (Some people don’t have a home phone or their child travel a lot due to extracurricular activities.

And while you have to make sure your child is ready for a phone, parents also need to be aware of the dangers or possible issues with giving them a phone.

Risks/Disadvantages

  • Additional charge for an extra line, texting and data package
  • There is a higher risk of online bullies. A phone increases the possibility of encountering child predators.
  • As with any device (such as tablet), gaming system (X-Box, etc.) and a computer/laptop, a phone is another attention-sucking device, which can distract from schoolwork. The main difference is that a cellphone goes with a child everywhere, including outside of parental supervision.
  • A phone can interrupt sleep patterns with late-night texting.

If you do decide to get your child a cellphone, make sure they understand your rules and the consequences for breaking them from the beginning.

Your guidelines should be clear. Things you might want to consider…

  • You need to know their passwords
  • Have the ability to limit screen/phone time
  • Set up times the phone can’t be used such as dinnertime or bedtime
  • Determine what will happen if the phone is lost or damaged (Who pays for repairs/replacement)
  •  Make sure they know you will be monitoring their social media sites (this should be done whether they have a phone or not)

If you want an actual contract to outline these agreements, check out this one that can easily be adapted to your needs.

Deciding on getting your child a phone is a decision every parent will face and the decision will be different in each situation. I think Jase shows a great deal of responsibility and know he will follow any rules we establish as he has done so already with his iPad. So come August and school gets ready to start, he will be getting his first cellphone.

Saying goodbye to Elementary School

Thursday, Jase had his last day of Elementary school. Wow. Six years of learning, growing and fun have occurred in these walls. (He even shed a few tears as we left.) I remember the spring before he started kindergarten. He swore he didn’t want to go to the “big” school. He was perfectly fine at his small, intimate preschool.

Now, he seems to have mixed feelings about leaving this place. Part of him is excited to go on to Middle School, but that is a bigger school. A much bigger school. His fifth-grade class had 123 students. Three elementary schools pour into the middle school so that means each grade probably has close to 400 students. That is 1200 students at the school compared to 600 this year.

But getting to pick some of your classes has to be exciting. Each sixth grader gets two electives. Jase chose orchestra (he began violin instruction this year with the middle school orchestra teacher) and AIM – a study hall class that goes beyond just having time to do homework. They offer tutoring as well as teach organizational and other practical school-related skills. (Since he hasn’t officially taken a class, I don’t know what to expect with this, but it came highly recommended by his teacher and other parents.)

Since this was his fifth-grade year, there were quite a few extra events to fill up the last weeks of school.

  • Tour of Middle School – On Jase’s birthday, he spent the morning at the Middle School getting acquainted with the layout and what will be expected of him next year. There will be a half-day “camp” in August that will go over even more things!
  • Grade Level Panoramic Photo – Every class gets their picture taken in February, but only fifth grade gets to take a panoramic picture of all the fifth graders, their teachers and the principal and vice principal. They did two photos – a serious one and a funny one.
  • Come Alive Theatre – One of their big end-of-the-year projects is to put on a living theatre. Each student picks a historical figure and then dresses up as that person. A button is placed before each participant and whenever someone presses it, they have to give a short speech about their famous person. Jase was author F. Scott Fitzgerald. (photo of event to the right)
  • Pool Party – I think the biggest, most anticipated event is the fifth-grade pool party. The kids spend the day at a neighborhood pool – eating Chick-fila, swimming, jamming to music and just having a blast. (And this year – I was in charge of the party. Glad it turned out great – despite an ambulance being called to the pool twice.)
  • Field Day/Egg Drop – The whole school participates in Field Day – a half-day event full of obstacle course, relay races and snow cones. Fifth grade went in the morning, so they could participate in their science contest. They had to develop a way to drop an egg 15 feet without breaking it. Jase said his team’s egg made the drop three times without breaking.
  • Graduation – The last day of school brings us to fifth-grade graduation. Each student is called on the stage to receive a certificate. Any accolades and awards – honor roll, presidential service award, and such – are presented. Most parents then take their fifth grader home or out to lunch to celebrate. We went to Jase’s favorite place – Olive Garden.

And now it is over. No more elementary school for Jase. Next school year I will have kids in two different schools. And I will be on two different Parent-Teacher Associations. It will be exciting and fun, and I can’t wait to see what the next school adventure brings into Jase’s life.

AP Classes, magnet schools, electives…so many middle school decisions

It started with a flyer back in October for an information night about the area magnet schools. And just last month Jase came home with a pink paper listing the classes he could take next year in middle school.

mtmAs the parent of a fifth grader, it feels way too soon to be thinking about the next school year. But I am sure it will be here before we know it. It certainly feels too early to expect kids to be thinking about what they want to do beyond middle school, but that is definitely the feeling I get from the school district and other parents. I know as a fifth or sixth grader I couldn’t tell you what I wanted to do in high school, college or beyond.

Before we got the paperwork on magnet schools, I had not even considered that Jase would go anywhere but the middle school across the street from us. I was surprised to find one of my friends was looking into a charter school for her son.

Magnet schools? Charter schools? I really knew nothing about these choices or why I might want to choose one for Jase instead of the public school across the street.

A magnet school is public school with specialized courses. There are three in our district that accept 6th graders: DATA – Design and Technology Academy, KSAT – Krueger School of Applied Technologies and STEM -Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Yes, they are all technology and science-based schools. Jase’s best friend wants to go to DATA because he wants to be a computer programmer. Now I know that he can of course change his mind later, but I am still amazed that he is thinking far enough ahead to choose a different school to attend now.

A charter school is typically a private-owned school that receives government funding but operates independently from the school district. The school my friend wants to send her son is called BASIS. It is listed as a top school in our area. (Her son is currently on the waiting list for next year.) There is no tuition for either a magnet or charter school.

Jase hasn’t shown any interest in a technology or science field. He heard about the magnet schools in a presentation to the fifth graders. When I asked him if he wanted to go to the additional presentation that parents can attend, he said no. He wanted to go to the middle school in our neighborhood.

At the time, I didn’t argue. But as I hear about all the students from his school who were accepted to other schools (including his best friend), I wonder if I shouldn’t have pushed him more to at least looking into the other schools. Who knows – upon further review one of them could have piqued his interest.

I am of course fine with him attending our neighborhood middle school. As with our neighborhood elementary, it is one of the best in the city. But you want your child to have the best education, so I can’t help but wonder if we aren’t trying as hard as these other parents.

Last month, the middle school course elective sheet came home. The following week the middle school put on a presentation of the electives he can choose from. He gets two electives, and one must be a fine art. Since Jase is in the fifth-grade strings program (a precursor to orchestra) we knew what his fine art class would be.

The teachers at both his school and the middle school suggest that sixth graders take Academic & Individual Motivation (AIM), an enhanced study-hall that in addition to time to complete homework also teaches time management and organizational skills. I did a quick survey of some parents I knew with middle schoolers to find out if AIM was worth it. The resounding answer was YES! That took care of his second elective.

His required classes are math, English, reading, science, social studies and a health/physical education class. Now those first five are also offered as Pre-Advance Placement classes. There was a form to sign if you wanted to sign up for Pre-AP classes. You had to commit to them for the full year. Jase is a solid A/B student. He works hard to get the grades he does, but he doesn’t excel at any of these subjects. We signed him up for the non-AP classes.

Of course after I do this, I hear all these other parents who say they made their kids sign up for the Pre AP classes because they wanted to challenge them with harder work. One parent even said there would be better benefits taking AP courses when looking into college later. Ugh. I don’t want to be thinking about college now when he is still in fifth grade. He has a lot of growing, learning and maturing to do before that should be a concern. I guess I should just stop worrying and stop listening to other parents. I am sure what we have chosen for Jase will be just fine.