is supposed to be the season of rebirth and renewal, but in most
families and most communities, the autumn ritual of the return of
children to school is just as momentous a marker of the passage of
time. Just as surely as the Canada geese will soon be barking overhead
on their way South, predictable streams of yellow buses will soon be
ferrying our precious young toward new adventures in learning.
Stores are filling up with kids
dragging their parents through the aisles, or vice-versa, picking out
clothes that fit the balance between what the kids consider cool enough
to wear and the parents can afford. Annoying commercials featuring
happy families who actually think of this as fun only make matters
MICHAEL DAVIS PHOTO
Letters start appearing in the mailbox
from teachers welcoming back students, cajoling them to finish their
summer reading, giving them a list of things they need for the first
day, and reminding them (as if they needed it) to enjoy these last days
of summer. Grade school kids scour these missives for hints to the only
question they want answered that first day. It’s the question all kids
ask one another on the way home Day One: “Is she nice?”
At the State Fair, the zoo, parks and
pools, families and teachers alike are finding one last chance to
squeeze some fun out of summer. They remind me of the skiers in April
careening from slush to ice, raging against the coming of the light as
if by will and balance alone they can forestall the advent of
springtime. These teachers and school kids turn a blind eye to the
calendar and the shortening days to frolic in summer warmth one last
time, juicing up for the book-learning just around the corner.
The coming of school gives the
community another chance to demonstrate how much we care for our kids.
Mary Nelson’s awesome giveaway on the South Side is just one of a
number of events that allow people to donate a notebook or a box of
pencils or a few dollars to make sure that the kid whose parents might
not have enough gets outfitted to learn. Just about every store in the
county has a bin or a basket or a program to let you tack on a few
cents to your purchase to make sure a kid has what they need when the
school bus arrives.
Our educational enterprise faces huge
challenges. We have a state funding formula that no one understands but
everyone knows doesn’t work. We have schools on state watch lists
because they don’t meet performance standards, and districts paying
huge amounts of money to lawyers to try to fire people who shouldn’t be
fired. In the city of Syracuse the School District and City Hall
struggle with Solomonic decisions about which of our needy kids will
get a new school first.
Promise, too, is in the air. Say Yes to
Education, a program many believe can transform not only our schools
but our city, has chosen Syracuse as the place where their money and
their model can turn the tide. Administrators point cautiously to
graduation rates and state test results edging upwards as signs of hope.
But those are concerns for another season. This is the season of new beginnings.
It’s a season that people of all ages get to participate in.
You may find yourself stopped behind
the school bus waiting for a slow-moving kid to board. Be gracious and
patient. You may find yourself in line behind a struggling mother
juggling toddlers and a basket of school supplies. Lend a hand. You may
open an envelope with your school tax bill and feel your jaw drop
involuntarily. Breathe. It’s worth it. It really is. You can’t put a
price on hope.