Are Rochester City Schools Out Of Touch With Their Student’s Demographics?

I wrote this post last year for my other blog at the D&C.. Every year it’s the same thing with the book fair at school where they encourage the kids to pick out books they want & go home & ask Mommy & Daddy to buy them.. I appreciate that fundraisers are fruitful for the schools.. But come on, stop setting us up where we have to look like the bad guys because we can’t afford to blow money on pricey stuff right before the holidays. This year there’s actually 2 separate fundraisers on the night of open house. A BBQ meal that costs $11 a plate & the Scholastic book fair. For our family of 5 it would cost $55+ to participate. That sort of pressure makes me want to skip open house altogether.

It’s that time of year again. No, I’m not referring to just the holidays, I’m talking about open houses and book fairs. We attend a school in the city of Rochester. Keep in mind two facts: 1) this district is so poor collectively that according to the state, it qualifies for free meals for all students, 2) this is the last ranked district academically in upstate New York. There’s no question that the district has some serious issues. Parent involvement is very low, and I feel like our school needs to specifically pay attention to its demographics, especially the economics of its student body when making decisions surrounding events where they want to encourage as much involvement as possible- not hinder.

Every year right before the open house the school hosts a Scholastic book fair that’s set up for a week in the school’s library. Then on open house night, you’re encouraged to purchase books from the book fair. It’s a fantastic fundraiser for the school and from what I understand, Scholastic is very generous with giving money or books back to the school based on sales. That being said, the way the school pushes the sales directed towards the kids bothers me.

Every year during class time prior to open house, they parade the kids through the library and let them browse the products they have for sale. The kids bring home flyers and are also vocally told about the sales. Every year my kid comes home with a wish list of books that he gets his heart set on buying. I’m not saying every teacher or every class or every school does it this way, because I don’t know if that’s true. All I know is my kid is in 2nd grade, and 3 for 3 years, this is what has happened. (A year later, we’re in 3rd grade & it’s 4/4)

On one hand, it’s nice for kids to get excited about books. This morning I heard a girl say to a fellow student, “did you see the book fair, it’s awesome!” On the other hand it’s annoying that the staff puts parents in an awkward position where they’ve amped the kids up to buy products without prior permission. I’m a very frugal shopper, and I like to guide my kids to make purchasing decisions based on what I have money for. And It’s not just books at the book fair either, it’s $10 bejeweled diaries and $5 jumbo pencils and over-priced novelty science kits, and a lot of plastic junk that I don’t really have extra money to spend on right before Christmas. I feel like the teachers or staff put the parents in a position where they have to either give in to their child’s desires or burst their child’s excited little bubbles. And I know it’s a nice fundraiser, probably the best of the year. But should they be pushing products for their own gain at the expense of low income families, especially at a time of year where the need to pinch pennies is the most important? I mean there’s kids in our school who don’t even have shoes or winter coats, but we think it’s wise to ask their parents to buy $10 pointy fingers and $11 meals?

Personally my kids have more toys than we have room for. We have stacks of books upon books upon books. We read every night to our kids and we still have books they haven’t even read yet. I also don’t usually buy books at full price. We also make good use of our public library. Many of the books that are located front and center at the book fair, (and of course are the most enticing), are the commercialized stuff like Ninjango and super heroes, and over-priced novelty items that you can most likely find cheaper someplace else or at any garage sale for 10 cents a piece, instead of the classics (which are nowhere to be seen), which I would be more apt to be happy about purchasing. Even if spending money benefits the school and it is a fundraiser, it’s right before Christmas and I’m not interested in buying extra toys and books and extra stuff, because frankly, it’s just not in the budget, and I also don’t want to bombard my kids with a ton of extra material things this time of year. I don’t necessarily want to be negative about books and don’t want to be negative about a fundraiser, and I am sure there are a number of great priced items that happily go to excited children. It’s not fun saying no to my kids- that’s why I don’t bring them to places like the toy store and set myself and them for disappointment. Unfortunately when the toy store comes to school, it’s hard to avoid. And of course, that’s the beauty of it for Scholastic, I know, I’ve worked in retail.

So anyway, the open house is tomorrow, and kids are encouraged to come on down to the library to purchase all the fantastic things they just picked out. I have no clue how much my son’s wish list comes out to. I have 3 kids, so of course, when you buy one kid something, you have to do it for all three. In the back of my mind I almost want to skip open house because I know it’s already going to be an issue that we’ll just have to spend money.

Of course, I’m not going to skip the open house, the kids have been looking forward to it for weeks. But I assume if I’m thinking it, others are acting on it. Many other families in the district have way less money than us, so I can see where there’s going to be either a number of disappointed kids at the event or possibly families that just don’t go because they feel pressured to spend money they don’t have. Even if only one kid’s family doesn’t go to open house because of the book fair, then the whole thing has failed. It’s sad to think a fundraiser would compromise the already poorly attended open house as it is. And I have to ask: is this whole situation a perfect marketing plan created by teachers or office staff that are hungry for supplies and funds for their classroom, no matter the implications, or are they just completely out of touch with the the district’s demographics? Do they not realize who their students are, even though they are surrounded by the open display of poverty every single day?

I also felt the school was way out of touch with its students in another situation, when last year they hosted a parent night and made it clear no kids were allowed. These are parents with two jobs, second shift jobs or even single parent families, and they seemed to have completely missed the mark when hosting school events and placing even more challenges to attendance on families where parent involvement is despairingly low as it is. Read any discussion board online about the floundering Rochester City School District and all you see are people blaming parents for not being involved enough in their children’s education. Why doesn’t the school district not only go out of their way to make it easier for parents to attend, but try to empathize it’s student’s needs and restrictions.

I know selling books through Scholastic is an important fundraiser, I just wish they’d do it in a different way when they direct sales towards elementary aged kids, and take into account the demographics of the students. Anyone else avoid a school event because of monitory reasons?

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