Pocket School

My children attend a small school. It’s not a private school. Just a very small public school. There are less than 100 students spread amongst six grades and only one class per grade. Actually, less than that since the third and fourth graders are combined into one room this year.

Much like the students it houses, the elementary school building itself is tiny and adorable. I took this picture while standing on the stage.

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With the exception of the world’s tiniest cafeteria and the world’s cutest school library, which are over my left shoulder, you can pretty much see the entire school from this vantage point. The center circle, where the stage is, also serves as the cafeteria and the gym. Henry tells me the kids call it the gymacafetorium and there is a sign on the main door warning visitors to watch for flying objects during P.E.

The school my children attend has served students in our community since 1874. It’s changed names since the early days and they had to construct a more modern building in 1966 (the old one still stands) but there has been education happening in that spot for almost 150 years.

I believe the county where we live refers to these little schools as, “community schools.” Since the earliest days of house-hunting in this district, we have called them “pocket schools,” since they are so small, they could fit in your pocket. There are only a handful left in the area and they all tend to be compact spaces that tidily serve the families and students that live in the immediate surrounding community. That’s back when the surrounding community was still small. Back when this part of the county was truly rural. With new houses came new families and the need for new schools – bigger schools. When the new schools were finished and new attendance boundaries drawn and resources pooled, the community schools came up short. Fewer students and even fewer funds.

Upon moving to the area, the only thing we knew about the school our kids were zoned to attend was that it was probably going to be closed. Which was a shame because once our kids were enrolled, we decided we really, really liked the school.

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Now, I don’t think this news will come as a surprise to any of you but I consider myself a Bare Minimum Parent when it comes to elementary school. I’ll offer to help out but kind of only just barely.

I will commit to helping out with the class party but please, oh please, don’t ask me to be the room parent.

I will commit to bake something for the bake sale but please don’t expect anything fancy or homemade or even simply removed from the Harris Teeter packaging in which it came.

I will commit to managing my child’s homework and I will do a pretty good job but please know I’m going to sign the paper indicating I’ve read to my son for twenty minutes even though I totally haven’t read to my son for twenty minutes (ten minutes, tops).

I will commit to being on this committee that does this one school committee thing but please know I will probably complain bitterly about that commitment and regret committing because the time commitment of the committee really eats into the commitment I feel towards binge-watching season four of Homeland on Netflix.

I definitely commit. I just commit to the bare minimum needed to still be considered “involved” with my children’s school. It’s not really my fault. We just have a lot of kids and so I’m really tired all the time and now that they’re all in school, there’s just SO MUCH school stuff to deal with.

THANKFULLY, not every parent at my children’s elementary school is a Bare Minimum Parent. A group of people that fall at the other end of the participation scale worked diligently for two years to save our community school. Threatened for several budget cycles with closure for low enrollment, this group set about to preserve a school that has served as the center of the community for more than a century. HOORAY for Maximum Involvement Parents!

In the fall of 2016, our little pocket school will reopen as the county’s second public charter academy, boosting enrollment through a dynamic project-based learning curriculum incorporating STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math). If you haven’t heard of PBL, watch this. I hadn’t heard of it either but it’s an amazingly practical approach to education. It’s pretty exciting, inspiring stuff that makes me want to be more than just a Bare Minimum Parent.

In anticipation of the curriculum transition, the kid’s school began using PBL at the beginning of this current school year. And, it’s really cool to see it in action. The teachers created a school-wide project called “Farm-to-School,” bringing the rich agricultural history of our community into the classroom. In the first weeks of school, the students have planted school gardens, enjoyed a cooking demonstration with an amazing local chef and baked muffins in an exercise that taught everything from apple varietals to math to product marketing. I’m pretty sure the Farm-to-School project has a big conclusion that the kids will arrive at by the end of the year, I’m just not sure what that is. It’s probably described in the paperwork that was sent home on back-to-school night but, I haven’t read that yet because: Bare Minimum Parent.

There is such tremendous excitement surrounding the school these days. I admire the teachers there that are so passionate about finding exceptional ways to teach standard information. I admire the other parents that invest so much more time than I do and are so enthusiastic about what the school can be. I admire the kids – my kids – that have embraced the changes. There are so many good things happening at our little pocket school. And, it’s nice to see good things in education for a change.

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