Over the last several weeks I have received emails and phone calls from concerned parents asking if the Lodi Community Action Team (LCAT) is also concerned with the early release schedule recently adopted by the School District of Lodi. For those of you that may not have been informed yet, the Lodi School Board adopted the calendar and schedule for the 2013-14 school year including a two hour early release, every other Wednesday. The specific question being asked is, “Aren't we concerned with having the community’s teenagers on the streets for two more hours, unsupervised?” The simple answer is, “Yes, of course. However, we are no more concerned than we already are about the time these kids have unsupervised time on the other days of the week between the hours of 3 and 5 p.m.” Before I explain LCAT’s position any further, let me explain that my family is also directly impacted by this schedule change. We have one son who is starting high school next year and another starting kindergarten. My wife and I both work outside of the Lodi community, which means this schedule change also has an impact on us, our family, and the time our teenager has unsupervised. From a parent’s view, yes this schedule change is adding two additional hours of unsupervised time when our kid could take risks. Is it an inconvenience? Absolutely! Does it concern me? Absolutely! However, this situation really isn’t any more or less of a parenting risk than we already take any other day of the week from 3 to 5 p.m.
So, we need to take a moment to educate ourselves. Why is the district moving forward with this inconvenience schedule change? This is what we have learned. Over the last several years the School District of Lodi, like many school districts, has been coping with ever decreasing state and federal funding, increased expenses, and new requirements from both the state and federal governments that require additional instruction for teachers and staff. During this time, to mitigate some of the short falls, the district has made the difficult decision to reduce its employee count through non-renewals, cutting expenses, and eliminating programs. Many of these have resulted with no additional monetary burden placed on the parents or tax payers of this community.
Starting in 2014, the state has increased the amount of in-service training required by the teaching staff, which has to be done during the regular schedule as there is no additional funding available for overtime. With no funding for overtime and increased demand for teacher training, the only viable option was to use the time that teachers are already working. So, here comes the hurt. I suppose you can guess the ultimate result is that, as parents, we will pay a price of inconvenience, worry, and maybe extra daycare time for our younger kids, but most importantly our kids will pay a price of inconvenience, less instruction time, and more time to take risks. I suppose the truth is, as parents and concerned advocates for our children, we need to take a more active role in voting and voicing our opinions to our legislatures. Only when we get “skin in the game” will we be able to affect change.
So what is LCAT’s position on this issue? It is unfortunate but true that we do not have alternatives. Instead, we believe this is the perfect opportunity for the community to rally around our youth and create healthy opportunities for them to be engaged in during these hours when they will be alternatively unsupervised. We need the community to get “skin in the game” and provide organized, supported, and funded activities for these kids. The School District is working with C.R.E.W. to make their facilities available after school activities. The community needs to come together and volunteer, be a mentor, be a tutor and lead activities. Churches should come together as a community and connect with more youth. Parents should work together to create even more opportunities either with these other groups or just take turns to hang out or provide a safe “supervised” place for your kid and their friends to be when they would otherwise be unsupervised. You see, when we come together and put “skin in the game,” think about what should be most important to you, the possibilities are endless. Be a part of your community and help to create that ideal community that really cares about our youth.
As a parent of a teen who has unsupervised time, here are some things you can personally do:
- Teenagers are looking for some responsibility and some control. Make sure you allow them some freedom and a healthy way to make some of their own choices. You have to give them some praise, a pat on the back, and say, “Hey kid, I proud of you.” Tell them when they do well.
- Make sure there are rules and guidelines. Follow through on them.
- Give them structure and boundaries. Make sure they have a standard check in time so you know exactly where they are, what they are doing, and very importantly, who they are with.
- Teens should always help with family chores. We all tend to take more pride in something we ourselves have worked for.
- Set rules for how many, if any, friends can be together without parental supervision.
- Make certain that all medications, guns and alcohol are stored and locked in a responsible manner. Even though you may trust your teenager, do you also hold that same level of trust in the friends they bring over? Are you willing to risk their life on that trust?
- Create a web of adults who will look out for your teenager. Talk to your neighbors, friends, coaches and mentors. Tell them you want to know if they notice when something is going on that is unlike your child. Be in tune with all aspects and don’t be too quick to brush off a situation that arises. Address these situations and open up a line of communication with your child. Let them know that they are cared for by many. They are valued.