The neighborhood was run down. The building was older, obviously built decades ago. But the children inside were exuberant and cheerful and not unlike the students at my kids’ elementary school. However, the differences are great as I learned from listening to the family specialist speak.
So many of the kids come from poor families. Many of them struggle to have enough to eat. They rely not only on the cafeteria meals but food sent home in their backpacks every weekend. Without those snacks, many of them would have nothing to eat at home.
These kids struggle with having proper clothing to wear, coming to school without jackets or with shoes falling apart. Some of them live with grandparents or there are multiple families living under one roof. A grandmother explains that she has 8 kids at her home – some her own young children and some her grandchildren.
It isn’t that I didn’t know these poorer conditions, these struggles, happen. It is more that since I don’t see it, I tend to forget these situations exist. My family lives in an upper middle-income neighborhood. We don’t struggle to put food on our table or to pay our bills. Our kids enjoy extra-curricular activities and trips to the zoo, Sea World and the beach.
But just a short 20 minute drive from our neighborhood is this other elementary school. It isn’t even in the poor south side of San Antonio. It isn’t downtown or nestled in the industrial area. It is blocks from the mall where I buy my son’s Star Wars tennis shoes.
This other elementary school at the southernmost part of our school district is the sister school to the elementary school my kids attend. And they are as different as night and day. Ninety-five percent of those at our sister school qualify for free or reduced meals. Ours is barely at 5 percent. Our students ranked first and second in the district on the benchmark testing in January. Not so for our sister school. They are among the bottom of the ranks.
The reason that I am writing about our sister school is not that I didn’t know schools like this existed. But it is one thing to read or hear about them and quite another to visit one. Our PTA board had our monthly meeting at our sister school last month. We sat with parents and grandparents who didn’t speak English. Only 3 of the 8 in attendance had any understanding of English. They were there to support their students just as we are involved in our own school for the same reason.
This meeting was also a chance for our members to see the school that we support with food and clothing drives, to see the place where the presents from our Angel tree go and to see a different side of our city. And it allowed the parents and grandparents from our sister school a chance to see how we run things. Their PTA is very small and not as active as ours.
Yes, we were a little embarrassed at the amounts we threw around when talking about our upcoming fundraisers. As treasurer, I have to give a report at each meeting about our finances. Our accounts sit at over $15,000 which to these people is way more than they could hope to have in their PTA budget.
But as difficult as these people’s lives are we shared one thing in common – our love for our students. And in an effort to help us out for all the help we have given them, they offered up cakes and tamales for our upcoming Spring Festival.
The visit was a good reminder to be thankful for what we have and a reminder to keep donating and supporting those students and families less fortunate than us.