Monday, October 30, 2017

When Our Children Need Us Most

             I am taking a one-week hiatus from the ongoing discussion on retirees’ healthcare to talk about another matter of critical importance.  The idea came to me when I visited my ‘teaching alma mater,” McAllen High School, Monday. 
            As I walked to my car, I saw my friend, Michelle Cortez Gully.  I first met Michelle when her son, Ian, was a student at McHi.  Michelle and her husband, Jason, could often be found around the campus, helping wherever they were needed.  Now their daughter, Jae, goes to McHi, and it seems like whenever I stop by, Michelle is there, working on one project or another to help the school.
            Michelle and I stood outside talking for quite some time.  We talked about Project Celebration, the graduation-night party held as a way to keep graduates engaged in drug-and-alcohol-free celebrations, Jae and her fellow McHi cheerleaders, PTA, and other activities around the school where the help of parents is so desperately needed.
            I told Michelle about a speech I had read some years back that I saved because it was profound and, sadly, true.  I told her I would look for it and send it to her.  As soon as I got home, I started searching through my journals where I save quotations, speeches, and other written words that strike me, and I found it.  It is an excerpt from a speech by Dr. James P. Comer, the Maurice Falk Professor of Child Psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine's Child Study Center.  Here it is:

            When our youngsters were in the elementary school, we lived in a community
            that greatly valued education.  When we went to an open house, we had to go
            very early or we couldn’t find a parking place.  It was just packed.
            When we went to an open house in middle school, we didn’t have to go early
            because there were plenty of spaces. When we went to the high school open house,
            there was an empty parking lot.
            At their point of greatest need in our complex society, we abandon our children.

I still get the chills every time I read it.  I think of how shocking it is for me when I look back on the last few years of my teaching career.  Remember that the campus had over 2000 students and yet there were but a handful of parents involved in the school’s PTA, a sharp and disturbing contrast from what you tend to see in the same type of organization at the elementary schools.  And McHi is by no means unique in this.  Unfortunately, the same can be said about schools across our area, our state, and our nation.  How can that be?   Dr. Comer is on point when he says, “At their point of greatest need in our complex society, we abandon our children.”
            I find it strange that so few parents of seniors work at Project Celebration.  Many expect the school administrators and teachers to plan it, prepare for it, and run it.  I respectfully disagree with this mentality.  It seems to me that the parents should do all of those things and that school personnel should chip in to help because they want to celebrate graduation night with the students they have taught and nurtured throughout their time in high school.
            Parents, I have to ask--How many of you are active, engaged members of your children’s academic or athletic booster clubs?  How many of you volunteer at your children’s schools, from elementary through high school?  How many of you help raise funds for your children’s schools, especially today when the Texas Legislature continues to cut much-needed funding?
            I loudly applaud parents like Michelle Cortez Gully and all of those who give tirelessly to their children’s schools, who wouldn’t dream of “abandoning” them “at their point of greatest need.” 
            The night of open house, your child’s choir concert, his/her track meet, the school’s beautification event, Project Celebration….is YOUR car in the parking lot because YOU’RE there to help? 

Chris Ardis retired in May of 2013 following a 29-year teaching career. She now helps companies with business communications and social media and works as a sales coordinator for Tony Roma's and Macaroni Grill. Chris can be reached at (Photo by Sarina Manahan)

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