2013-08-29 / Views

Being involved in your school is a cool thing

A column by Eric Carlson

I feel sorry for people who aren’t involved in what’s going on in their local public schools.

I am also worried that I could someday become one of those people.

My wife and I took our oldest child off to college this week. Our youngest child has just two more years before he finishes high school and flies away.

After he leaves, will I ever set foot inside any of our local public schools again?

I remember the very moment back in 1998, shortly after our family arrived here in Leelanau County, when I walked into a public school building for what seemed like the first time in decades. The feeling inside a public K-12 school building is nothing like the feeling you get at college or in any other institutional setting.

A public K-12 school smells like kids, paper, pencils, glue, and the Sloppy Joe sandwiches with mixed vegetables on the side that the lunch ladies are serving in the cafeteria. My first view down a hallway revealed kids slamming lockers and teachers maintaining order, and dozens of other things I hadn’t seen or heard in decades.

“Oh yeah,” I told myself back in 1998. “I remember this from when I was a kid. I almost forgot. School!”

I learned a lot about how public schools operate by covering literally hundreds of school board meetings along with other school events for this newspaper. Once my own kids were in school, I never missed a school open house, a parent teacher conference, a student concert, or nearly anything else my own kids were involved in.

My wife and I both became good friends with many of the faculty, staff and administrators at school. More to the point, we became friends with the parents of our kids’ friends and classmates.

We parents related so well to each other because we had so many important things in common – our precious kids, our school, our community.

The thing I like most about going to events at school today is that after more than a decade in the same small community I know so many of the kids there by name — and I know their families as well.

I know which kids are related, and the fact that their aunt just got out of the hospital. I know that another kid’s parents just got divorced, and that some other kids’ big brother finally graduated from college. I also know which 11th grade girl has a crush on a 9th grade boy.

Is that cool or what? This speaks not to my being a nosy newspaper reporter, which I admittedly am, but to being a member of a community. As a former, long-time combat correspondent, let me assure you that, for me, this is about as cool as it gets.

Not too long ago, I was chatting with a local guy around my age, whose kids have been out of school for a while now. He said that once his kids were finished attending the local K-12 he felt he’d lost an important connection to our community.

“I feel like I don’t know anyone anymore, or understand what’s really going on,” he told me. “When my kids were home, school was our life. We were at school every day. Now that’s gone.”

Sad, huh?

Well, maybe he could participate in the Suttons Bay Floatilla this weekend. Or he could join the Leland Educational Foundation. Or he could volunteer at Glen Lake, or get involved in the Northport Community Arts Center.

As for me, I am acutely aware that I have only two more school years left before my youngest child is done with the local public school and my relationship with school changes dramatically.

In the meantime, I’ll try not to blink.

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