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Back to School

by Bo Boylan

September 8,2009

Back to school. These three words have meant so many things to me over the years. This month I experience these words through the eyes of my nine year old son, a fourth grader in one of Charlotte Mecklenburg's schools. It is through his eyes that this sometimes hardened community volunteer is reminded of the power and promise of a quality public education.

Like so many lessons in life, kids have the ability to lend an unspoiled perspective to fairly complicated issues – like preparing the next generation with a quality education suitable for functioning in an increasingly global market. I’m already worrying about which college he will attend, and how the funds will magically appear in my checking account prior to his freshman year and he’s worried about whether fourth graders get to have a snack in addition to lunch. And then there is the important discussion on what the snack will be.

Back to the power and promise of a quality public education. I humbly suggest that August 25, 2009 be declared “Back to School” day for every citizen in Mecklenburg County, not just the estimated 135,000 kids attending 175+ schools in CMS. After all, our school system touches each of us in meaningful ways, regardless of whether we have a kid in the system. If you pay taxes, you should go back to school. If you are employed, you should go back to school. If you employ people, you should go back to school. If you are retired, you should go back to school. If you own property, or plan to own property, you should go back to school.

So how, exactly, do we go back to school? Well that depends, of course, on you. If you have a kid in the system, engage the school your child attends enthusiastically. My wife serves as the treasurer of the PTA for the school my son attends. It’s an important job and it’s critical that adults lend their talents to helping schools be successful. Don’t assume there will always be others to carry the torch. Be the torch bearer and encourage others to join in the race with you.

Second, there are tens of thousands of children in CMS that are in need of mentors to assist them in reading, writing, math, art, music, etc. In fact, CMS’s student population is approaching 50% of kids eligible for free or reduced lunch services. Many of these kids suffer in the absence of adults willing and able to assist in their education. Go to the CMS website for information on some of these students, or give them a call and I’m confident they will steer you in the right direction.

Third, attend one of a hundred entertaining events staged by CMS schools over the next year. My wife and I took my fourth grade son to a South Meck High School football game last fall. It’s easily the best value entertainment I’ve had in years and my son had a blast. Be sure to buy a program and some food. Also, you can enjoy a variety of stage and concert productions during the year.

Fourth, attend a school board meeting. Our school board meets the second and fourth Tuesday of every month. You will witness firsthand how decisions are made regarding our public school system, including how your tax dollars are invested.

Fifth, consider sponsoring an event at your local school, either through personal resources or through resources you may have access to at your place of employment. My experience is that principals are always eager to learn about individuals and organizations interested in supporting events at their schools.

These are only a few ideas of how you can go back to school this fall.  Our school system is a public trust; an institution that requires active participation – genuine participation – from the very constituents it serves. Be generous with your time, talents and treasures and enroll others to share their generosity as well. You’ll help fulfill the dreams of our kids and fulfill your need to engage your community. Plus, you’ll get to shop for a cool new lunchbox.

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