Archive for Thursday, September 2, 2004

Life Lites

Staff, students mingle in American schools

September 2, 2004

The first day of school I remember vividly. The sky was clear, the air, crisp with morning dew, my dad with me, so many kids, and... and...and...that's it. That's all I could remember.
This year marked a new experience for us with regard to our children's education. For the first time, they would be attending public school. We had previously sent them to a private school for a year and most recently home schooled them for the last two. I will write more about that experience later, but the past two weeks I had the chance to see firsthand how different the school system is from where I went to school in Malaysia.
Last week, I decided to eat lunch with my fourth-grade son at West, and that was the first time I ever set foot in an American school during school hours. That was a concept alien to me. In my school years, my parents never ate lunch with me, nor did any parent with their child. It was a non-existent concept.
When the kids started to stream out of the class in an orderly manner, I was very impressed. You see, when our recess/lunch bell rang, half the school made a mad rush to the school "canteen." It was first-come, first-serve, and we bought food with money we brought. There were no monthly plans or menus available -- what the cook felt like cooking that day was what we got to eat. It made it all the more important not to lose lunch money to the school bully.
The most glaring difference is the way the kids dressed. I went through my entire school life wearing uniforms, and it was hard for me to comprehend going to school with just regular clothes. As these kids walked by, I was taken aback at the way some of them dressed. One kid had his baseball pants on, another's unkempt hair looked as if he just got out of bed, and another probably could have used a lesson in color coordination.
Most kids were dressed nicely, but the varying degree of what was acceptable confounded me. In my school and still today, uniforms are worn. In "primary" (grade) school, we wore dark blue shorts with a white short-sleeve shirt. In "secondary" school (junior high and high school) the lower grades wore olive green short pants with a white shirt, and the "high school" level kids wore long pants. We also had to keep our shirts tucked in at all times. We wore white canvas shoes that had to be kept clean, either by washing or by using a special shoe polish.
What I saw in Eudora couldn't have been more different. If anyone was caught not following those guidelines in my school, it was a violation, and three in a month would send them to detention.
As I mingled with the kids and got introduced as "Morgan's dad," I was still in awe of how orderly the whole lunch system was conducted. In the lunch hall, Principal Rod Moyer was talking to the kids, cracking jokes and instructing them on pertinent issues.
I flashed back to my principal. I don't ever recall my principal in such a jovial mood. I don't think I ever saw him in the "canteen" and definitely never saw him clean the table as Mr. Moyer sometimes did. I got a chance to meet Mr. Moyer before school started, and I had to have my wife assure me that he was the principal. He was too friendly and nice to be a principal. I was used to more of an authoritative and stoic person. His "approachable" mannerism was very encouraging.
Although I have not had the chance to meet one-on-one with Principal Jim Lauer at Nottingham, where my daughters go, he also comes across as a similarly nice and approachable person. It would be very intriguing for me to see my principal switch places with these men.
Apart from our uniform, we also had strict guidelines on our hair. Yes, I said hair. The back of the hair could not touch the top of the collar, and the sideburns could not go below the ear. Go ahead, laugh. These were also subject to the three a month violation rule.
I got to meet two of my three kids' teachers, and I was impressed by their candor and openness for parents to be involved in their class. You see, my parents had never met my teachers. The school system there does not provide for such an intimate interaction between parents and teachers. I felt odd when I went early one day to pick up my daughter, despite Ms. Thaden's hospitality. Parents are not supposed to be in class when it is in session, I thought.
Although the differences from my school days and my kids' are as different as night and day, I tend to favor the intimacy of the educators here. I am grateful for the way my very disciplined education experience helped me. But after having had a taste of the public school system first hand here in Eudora, it offers me hope that my children's education will be an enriching experience in more ways than one.
So here are my thanks in advance to Rod Moyer (who, sadly, will soon be departing for Iraq), Jim Lauer, Niki Rheuport, Barbie Hartwell, Stacy Katzenmeier, the staff at West, the staff at Nottingham and the Eudora school system for making my children's first public school experience an enjoyable and memorable one.

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