So Over the Relics of “Back-to-School” Past

It’s that time of year again…summer’s coming to a close and the start of a new school year is right around the corner. It’s exciting and with two young children, it’s fun talking about who they will see and what to expect as they prepare to embark on Pre-K4 and 2nd Grade. But, as a working parent, it’s also incredibly frustrating to manage the chaotic schedule of the first week of school and the accompanying shopping for school supplies. Both of which are “back to school” relics, now unnecessary and completely out of touch with reality.

I don’t know how it is everywhere else, but in our town, there is a week of summer before school starts back up where there are no camps offered. I recognize that this is a very privileged perspective and that I’m not addressing those families for whom camp isn’t an option and the entire summer is a childcare juggling act. This too should be considered. After all, we spend a lot of time talking about summer learning loss, but not where kids go during the summer or how working parents manage. But, I digress.

For some, this final week of summer becomes a hodgepodge of childcare or a perfect time to take a family vacation. Practically speaking, this means time out of work, either unpaid or personal/vacation time, and on top of the 8 weeks of summer, “back-to-school” is a much needed ‘back to routine’ for parents who’s work schedule depends on the school schedule.

So, when the public early childhood school that my daughter was fortunate enough to get into–a school that strives to provide educational opportunities to children from a diversity of backgrounds–sends a letter in late July indicating that the first “week” of school, Kindergarteners will start on Wednesday and because our last name starts with G, my daughter will only attend Pre-K 4 on Thursday, I get pissed. Just like how I got pissed when my son was entering kindergarten and I received notice mid-summer that he would attend the first day of school for an hour. What? Why?

The overwhelming majority of our children (over 95% in my town (I served on a committee where I saw the data)) have gone to childcare or some type of preschool. They don’t need to ease into a full day. And, these bizarre one day, one hour, stagger starts come after a teacher meet & greet, so we’ve already introduced (if you can take off work to get there) our child to their teacher. Let’s do this. Let’s rip off the band aide and start the school year. Some of us need to work. Phew.

I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. At the pool or on the playground, the discussion of that first week of school always turns into a discussion over the juggling act of needing to work and to get kids to and from the school. Sometimes I hear from a parent who can commiserate, but who’s children have aged out of that phase. They advise that this too shall pass, but I can’t help but think that because it does pass “relatively” fast, it never gets fixed, and we’re left with a tradition that continues to occur because it’s always been done that way, not because it’s useful and without any regard for how it impacts families, the majority of whom work.

“Back-to-School” pieces are usually light or nostalgic, so I’ll end this bitch fest soon, I promise, but before I do, I have to address the issue of school supplies. Really? I have to buy a box of tissues, dry erase markers, and pencils, among other things. Can’t there be a line item in the school budget? Wouldn’t it make more fiscal sense to buy these supplies in bulk, rather than have each of us individually go out to buy supplies from Target or Staples? And, again, for those families who can’t buy school supplies, wouldn’t it make more sense if everyone just showed up to school and the supplies were there. It’s bizarre. Maybe some people like heading to the “back-to-school” aisle to stare at the wall of pens to find the medium tip black flairs, but to me, it’s hell.

Can we turn the clock and enter the year 2016? Families work. Kids have been in full-day child care. Let’s get this show on the road.

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