An open letter to frustrated parents

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

There are ways to make a statement, and ways not to.

A letter that indicates that some Latino families in Storm Lake are considering holding their children out of school as a form of protest would be a perfect example of the latter.

Think about it.

Who does it hurt if your kid misses school? School administrators? Makers of controversial online videos? Nope.

It only hurts the kid.

You get about 180 precious days of school a year. That's it. If you miss some, it's gone forever. Oh, maybe some of the paper work can be made up, but something learned in the classroom on those days, not to mention the friendship and socialization, is simply taken from that child. One skill lost, and they may struggle to keep up with the others well beyond this school year.

If you want to protest, protest. Do it the right way. NOT with your children.

Write your opinions and stand behind them, not anonymous letters. Go to school board meetings and speak your piece. Go to conferences and ask questions. Volunteer with school-related programs.

If that doesn't work, make yourself a sign and march.

You have the right. There are good ways to speak out.

Making your kids skip school so you as an adult can make some kind of point without actually doing anything, will never be one of them.

With this said, there clearly is some frustration in the Latino community, and understandably so.

As the unsigned letter put it - rather well, I thought - the growth in Storm Lake, in its business community, and in its schools, is in fact due to immigration and ethnic diversification. If there are issues, true, they don't belong to just one ethnic group.

We've gained some wonderful families. Without this, our town would be withering like all of the other rural cities. Any yes, we would not have a new elementary school or a new high school auditorium.

Our immigrant population deserves respect, and, I truly believe, the DREAMer young people deserve a chance to earn citizenship and to continue to share their talents and pursue their educations. It is disturbing to hear our congressman on that video suggest that these young adults should turn on their families and want their own parents to be punished for bringing them here.

Some Latino families seem to be upset with the elementary school principal's comments in the video, but they are neither extreme nor abusive.

She said they're not against immigration, just that an "avalanche" of it at once is difficult. Of course change is hard. School officials spoke of going door to door to pick up kids when parents don't bring them to school.

For goodness sake, we're going to criticize a school official who cares more about a child's education that their own parents seem to? That's above and beyond the call, if you ask me, and parents should be pleased to have such dedication in their schools.

If for whatever reason I was unable to get my child to school on a given day, and someone from the school came to do it for me, I'd be sending that person a thank you card the next day, more than a little embarrassed for myself.

I don't know how many millions of times this has been said in this space, but I'll do it again.

Kids are kids. None of them are inherently better or worse than others, every one has promise. It doesn't make a difference where they came from, what color their skin is, what religion or language they come with. We educate them all, and when it comes with special challenge, we will rise to it.

That's not entitlement, that's us doing right by the future.

They're kids. They are not free-lunch statistics. They're not test scores. They're kids. Our kids - all of them. As a community, we have the responsibility to ensure they are well, safe, fed, and taught so that ultimately, their talents can take them as far as they can go.

We are blessed to have a relative plenty of young kids in this community, enough for two thriving school districts and two college campuses. We are richer for every one of those young faces. If we waste the promise of any of those children - even one - shame on us all.

We're frustrated at times. Cultures may clash a bit. Housing is tight. Many seem stuck in low-income situations no matter how hard or how many jobs they work. It is not always easy for those of us trying to make a way in a new community, or one where we don't always immediately see our opportunities to fit in and make life better for our families. It must be doubly difficult for those unfamiliar with the language.

If you want and need to protest all this, do it!

We probably need to hear it. The Latino population is a big, significant part of Storm Lake, and it is to the good to hear and understand its concerns, as with any segment of our community.

I could see a Latino Education Committee forming, to help other newcomers learn to get the most out of their child's education, and perhaps to share thoughts with the school boards and open communications with recruiters for the colleges. If you don't like the way things are, do something to improve it.

And if you're upset about education, tell you what you should do.

Make your kids skip - so they get LESS education?

Forget that noise.

Be waiting at the school door when they open the joint, every day. Make them drag you out when they lock it at night.

Miss nothing. Take advantage of every teacher who is willing to give a little extra time after class (and you would be surprised how many will gladly go the extra mile for those who show an interest). If your child can do the work, ask that teacher for something a little beyond. Challenge that child. Grow them!

Raid that library. Bring home an armload of books every night. If you can't read with your child, have them read to you. You're never too old to learn, and a child who sees their parent studying is more likely to embrace it for himself or herself for a lifetime.

Never miss a school conference. Run through a brick wall if you have to, beg an employer on your knees for the hour off, whatever it takes. And not just mom - dad better be there too. You think being manly makes you somehow above being involved in your child's education? Think again. If you don't bother to show up at school when you are invited, quit complaining, because you aren't earning the right.

Before school programs, after school, mentoring, Scouts, Community Ed programs, whatever it may be, if it can help your child, pound on those doors.

Squeeze that school! Drain every ounce of learning and experience out of it. Have your child join every activity they enjoy. Music, sports, yearbook, drama, art... let them do it all.

Don't tell me it's too hard or inconvenient for you as an adult. Get on the phone and set up a carpool. Have a garage sale or a bake sale to pay for a uniform or instrument.

They only get one chance at being young.

It doesn't matter if they start with any innate ability or experience. It does matter if they feel a part of their surroundings, curious, involved and feel free to try things.

We call that "activities" when you're a kid. Later on, we call that life.

Keep a child out of school? Never.

You want to prove that "Latino children deserve the same place as an American?" You don't have to. But you do have to claim that place. Teach your child to love education and to never stop seeking it. That's the American dream.

Don't ever give up a day without learning something. Don't ever give up a day without a fight.