Arnie Cohen is Headmaster of Pacific Northern Academy in Anchorage.
Well, three weeks have passed since school began. The seventh and eighth grade students are heading back from Solid Rock where they enjoyed their first field trip adventure. Although there have been a few questions and a rather long, but productive, Board meeting, there have been no complaints from parents so far. This may be a first in my career as an independent school head.
Parents at independent schools typically pay a great deal and so expect a great deal from the school. After all, the reasoning goes, if I am going to pay money (on top of my taxes) to send my child to an independent school, I need to know that my child is happier, more known by the staff, and more cared for at school as a consequence of my sacrifice. I also need to be sure that there is value added to the educational program of the school and that the school can manage behavior and the occasional bullying so that my child is always emotionally and physically safe.
There are a few parents in independent schools who think that because there is a high tuition, all they have to do is to drive their children to school each day and drop them off. Ironically, a really great independent school is made great through the dedication and hard work of parent volunteers. In order to achieve access and affordability, and to ensure that the school is socio-economically diverse, most independent schools do not charge what it actually costs to educate each child.
In the independent school world, the difference between the actual cost and the tuition charged is known as the “gap.” This year the gap at Pacific Northern Academy is nearly $6,000. But, in reality, the cost would be even greater if we did not have volunteers who staff the library, help with mailings, input data into databases, and plan and execute the most wonderful friend-raising and fun-raising events.
When students are younger, they love seeing their parents in the schools. Even if there are no words spoken, children know that when parents come to school, whether to help in their classroom or work in the library or help with an event, that their parents consider school important enough to donate their time. And when parents think school is important, children also will think it is important.
Of course, many parents have to work one or two jobs and do not have the time to come to school (or if they do, then they will lose income). Even if parents can do something from home, such as stuff envelopes or bake for the bake sale, kids will get the message that school is important. No matter what socio-income bracket a family is in, the mere fact that parents are devoted to school helps children see how critical schooling is.
Older children will often protest when their parents take an active role in their schools, but even middle school students, who are most likely to be embarrassed by their parents’ presence, are often secretly proud that their parents are willing to help in their schools (just don’t expect them to admit that to you).
I encourage each and every parent to get involved in your child’s school, whether public or private, in ways that are appropriate and useful to your school. Your time and talent should always be welcome, and your children will know how important their education is to you. Actions speak louder than words; so I know I will see you at school later today.
And, by the way, if you do have a problem at school, first work with the teacher and then follow procedures until you get to the school counselor or principal. That’s the best way to solve school problems.