Every year around this time my wife and I become a bit nostalgic as we prepare our son for another year of school.
Like many parents across the Bull City we’ve had to rein in the bedtime, purchase the school supplies, the school clothes, finalize after- school care, attend the open houses and new school-year orientations. Yet, even the most tedious of tasks in this regard are held with gratitude and cherished. They won’t last forever.
I love all the first day-of-school pictures friends and family posts on social media from the kindergartners embarking on their first day to the high school kids entering their senior year.
One of the great things about having kids is revisiting those memories from your own childhood. Remember the anxiety, the difficulty going to sleep the night before the first day of school, the questions that ran through your mind. Who’s going to be in my class? What’s my new teacher going to be like? Will I make new friends? Should I break out my new sneakers on the first day or wait?
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As an ‘80s kid I remember being excited about how kids would react to the new Air Jordan gear my sister bought me. Yes, Jordans have been around that long.
My best friend and I made the front page of the local paper in a first day of school picture. We were walking through the front doors of Goldsboro High School. We both played football, and I had my new Nike Shark football cleats tied to my backpack. That summer I had let my hair grow out, hoping I would have the biggest flat top, or high top fade as we called it then, in school. My friend and I felt like we were famous after that picture and believed that picture was a precursor of great things that would happen for us during the school year.
It all seems like it was yesterday.
Many of those adolescent concerns are still paramount for kids today, but the world is a very different place and many issues kids worry about on the first day, everyday to be exact, didn’t exist in the ‘80s. Teachers banned gum from their classrooms, not cell phones because, well, they didn’t exist then. Bullying happened in real time, not in cyber space. If you had a fight at school, you got in-school- suspension. Cops weren’t called. There were never school meetings about setting up support systems for students if their parents were arrested by ICE. We had fire drills and tornado drills, not active shooter drills. The fear that someone would enter the building and start shooting people was as real to us as a purple dragon landing on the playground during recess.
The ‘80s weren’t perfect. School lunches were healthier but they still tasted like slon. Teen pregnancy was a problem then as well as drugs and alcohol. It seems every school year ended with a classmate dying in a traffic accident where alcohol was involved, and it was actually cool to smoke cigarettes. Thankfully, athletics kept my circle and I from adopting that vice.
Still, we definitely grew up slower and got to be kids longer than our kids do today.
That being the case, let’s dedicate ourselves to doing more than taking lovely pictures at the beginning of this school year. Let’s get involved. Join the PTA at your child’s school if you’re not already a member. Donate your money and donate your time. You don’t have to have a child in school to volunteer to tutor or help a teacher with certain classroom task, like filing papers or chaperoning a field trip. There is truly little in life that compares to the joy of reading “Green Eggs And Ham” to a group of first-graders.
With all the trials our kids face today it takes all of us working together as a community to help them be successful. It boggles my mind how some politicians think cutting education funding, stripping incentives for teachers to further their education and paying them the least amount possible benefits our city, our state, our country. Being proud of how little the state spends on education, as some of our legislators seem to be is in a word, stupid. Democracy is best protected by an educated populace. It’s the first line of National Defense and the down payment on our country’s future.
I’m an involved parent, but honestly I can and I need to be more involved. That’s something I’m dedicated to doing this school year, and so should you.
Howard Craft is a playwright who lives in Durham.