Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The schedule crunch

A week from today, the kids go back to school and we begin the crazy schedule thing again. Last year, the kids were on the same schedule, leaving at 8:30, going to an afterschool program and we'd pick them up on our way home between 5:30 and 6:00. This year, all hell breaks loose. First, Geeky Boy, the king of sleeping in, will have to get up at 6:00 a.m. And I will be getting up at the same time. He must leave the house between 7:00 and 7:15. I'm hoping to do a bit of work from 6:00 to 7:00 while supervising Geeky Boy's preparations. He'll be showering, dressing, eating breakfast, the usual. At 7:00, I'll wake Geeky Girl. She requires more help than Geeky Boy, so I'll be helping her with breakfast and gathering her things, etc. Mr. Geeky will probably rise between 7:00 and 7:30. Geeky Girl must be at the bus stop, which has moved to the opposite end of our street (the horror!), by 8:10. At some point during the morning, I'll need to get myself ready and be prepared to leave around 8:30. Oh, and Mr. Geeky has to do the same.

The afternoon is where things get really hairy. Geeky Boy gets out of school at 2:30. He's walking home, so he won't be home until close to 3:00. There are no afterschool programs although there are activities that meet after school that he may join, but this is a mystery right now and there's no guarantee. By law, he can't be alone--seriously, he has to be 12 to stay by himself. The plan right now, since Mr. Geeky is on leave this year, is that he will be home at 3:00 to meet Geeky Boy. Geeky Girl, on the other hand, will be attending her regular afterschool program and won't need to be retrieved until 5:30 ish.

I know I rail against this all the time, but can someone please tell me how this schedule is at all conducive to a dual income, 9-5 kind of family? How can, on the one hand, the state law declare that 11 year olds cannot be home alone and on the other hand, the state provide no programs that would provide supervision for said 11 year olds?

How long has it been since we were an agricultural country? Fifty years, 75? And still, we are stuck with a schedule that allows students to be home to work on the farm with extended time (summer) to participate in harvest. According to friends around here, the schedule now revolves around sports. The h.s. football team needs the buses at a certain time, so the whole schedule is designed to make sure that happens. I think sports are great, but can we provide the same kind of support for other activities? Let's say that the sports teams practice after school and finish by 5, a perfectly acceptable schedule for a working parent. Not everyone wants or is able to participate in a sport. What if we insist that every student participate in some aftershcool activity, be it theater or art or chess club or computer programming or a book club or music or tae kwan do? These activities too would finish at 5. Perhaps some students would ride home on buses, arriving home about the same time as their parents. Or perhaps students would be retrieved by their parents. Isn't this entirely feasible? If you can plan an entire schedule around a single sport, surely you can organize something likethis? I mean really. Alternatively, why couldn't students go to school at 9 instead of the ungodly hour of 7?

I seriously don't get this. I actually believe that the school schedule is one of the key factors keeping women out of the work force. The amount of work and money it takes to ensure your kids are cared for after school is enough to drive anyone to stay home. Our current school district makes this relatively simple and affordable at the elementary level, but our previous school district had a very small afterschool program. There was a two-year waiting list. I was lucky enough to find a student to meet the bus after school and take care of my then 7 year old. A couple of other working moms I knew then didn't have that option. They simply had their kid (a 10 year old) call when they got home. Another arranged for various family members to be there. And I've been places that have nothing--no afterschool program, you're on your own.

Flexible work schedules will only go so far. I'm actually contemplating shifting my schedule sometime in the future. Even this year, I'm thinking about going in a couple of days at 7:30. Even with that, I wouldn't get home until 4:00, a full hour after my oldest gets home. I realize asking an entire institution to change its ways is a huge undertaking, but I'm convinced that something's going to have to give here if we really are going to be a nation of dual income families. The juggling just isn't sustainable for some people over the long term.