Last week, I was finally able to attend my youngest daughter’s choir concert. It had already been a long day—I’d gotten up at 4:30 a.m. to work out, shuffled both kids to school, worked all day, and picked up my oldest from track practice and dropped her off at volleyball. As I sat in the uncomfortable elementary school chairs, I looked around the room. I realized that I didn’t know any of the other parents by name, despite the fact that they all seemed to know each other. They shared greetings and talked about the last fundraiser event, which I hadn’t been able to attend due to work. Before the choir sang, the PTA voted on new members for the next school year. I didn’t recognize any of the names. Tears welled in my eyes as I realized that since I’ve gotten divorced and gone back to work full time, I’ve felt like I no longer fit in at my kids’ schools.
When my girls were little, I was fortunate to stay home. We went to parks and storytime at the library. We had lunch at Chick-fil-A and I would check out Mom blogs during their naps. We’d fingerpaint and make peanut butter playdough. I even made my own baby food and used cloth diapers. As they got a little older and began kindergarten, I dove headfirst into school mom culture. I was on the PTA Board and volunteered as room mom. I dropped off my kids in the mornings and was in the parent pickup line right at 2:45 as school let out. I knew all the kids in my daughters’ classes, as well as their parents. I loved being a stay-at-home mom and reasoned that I was content to stay that way, only working a few hours a week, until they were in high school.
That all changed a few years later when I filed for divorce. Although there were many changes that my family went through that year, the biggest for my girls and me was my going back to work. Even though I have a career in education, I haven’t been able to get a job at their school. This meant that I had to start missing events that I’d always been present for—awards assemblies, field trips, and class parties, among others. It meant that instead of being in the parent pick-up line every day, my girls had to stay for after-school care or (gasp) ride the bus. As I shifted into the role of a working parent, I realized how hard it is for working parents to stay involved with schools. Some of that is my fault, I know. I have a tendency to over-commit and say yes to things that I don’t actually have time for. But in many ways, the way that public schools are structured makes it very hard for working parents to stay involved. Here are some ways that schools could do better.
- PTA Board should be comprised of both working and stay-at-home parents.
- At my kids’ schools, the PTA Board runs many of the major school activities and functions, such as fundraisers, parties, etc. However, most of the PTA Board is made up of stay-at-home parents, and the meetings are largely held during the school day, when working parents are unable to attend. In order to be more inclusive, Board meetings should be held during non-working hours and should be available by Zoom for working parents. I (and other working parents I know) could be involved if we had the opportunity to attend meetings. When we can attend meetings, we can advocate for events that are held during non-working hours.
- Sporting events should be held during non-working hours.
- Last week was an early release in my children’s districts. While there was childcare in place for my elementary schooler, there was no consideration for after-school care for middle schools. This is typically not a big deal, except that school was out at 12:40, and my daughter had to leave and be back to school by 3:40 for a track meet. As I was also working 20 minutes away, I had no way of getting her back to school by 3:40, so I had to leave work during lunch, sign her out early, keep her at my school until 3:15, and then leave work early to get her back to school. Districts should think about parents’ schedules when coming up with game and meet times.
- There should be more events outside of working hours.
- As someone who works in a school (I’m a reading specialist and former 3rd-grade teacher.), I understand the necessity of having celebrations during the school day. But I think there can be modifications in place so that working parents can still attend. For example, our school held a writing celebration from 7:15–7:45 a.m. This allowed working parents to attend before starting their work day. Districts have invested a lot of money into Zoom and other options during COVID so students could attend remotely. Why not have those options available for parents who are unable to attend in-person during the day, but could drop in on a Zoom link at work? I personally would love to attend more events, but I can’t take a day off every time there is a special event at school.
- Schools should understand that missing events and parties is hard on students and parents.
- Every Friday at my daughter’s elementary school is Family Friday, which means that families come and eat lunch with their students in the courtyard. While I’m sure that the students whose parents are able to attend love it, I feel horrible that I’ve never been able to do this (and never will). My daughter is not the only one with working parents, and she’s old enough to understand that I have to work, but I feel bad for younger students who wish their parents could come to lunch. Schools should consider the negative consequences of continual events during the school day that working parents have to miss, and consider a work-around. Could this happen once a grading period instead? Could they have family breakfast instead of lunch so working parents could attend before work?
Of course, every family has different circumstances, and we can’t expect public schools to cater to all of our unique needs. But as the economy typically demands that at least one parent works, schools need to do better for working parents if they expect parental involvement.