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Councilor: Give T vouchers to poor parents to get to school events

City Councilor Michelle Wu (at large) wants BPS to look at providing vouchers to low-income parents so they can get to parent-teacher conferences and open houses they might otherwise miss due to transportation costs.

Providing vouchers for low-income families would empower parents to be more involved in their kids’ education and strengthen students' academic successes, she said at a Council meeting yesterday.

Wu pointed to 2014 statistics showing 78% of BPS families qualified for free or reduced-price lunch. Still, Wu said that providing five vouchers per qualified student would total less than 0.1% the BPS annual budget. BPS already buys CharlieCards for high-school students who live more than a certain distance from their schools.

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as things stand I'd speculate that the problem is not cost but distance and time. Between most parents' work schedules and the long distance that most BPS students travel, getting to school events is incredibly difficult for a lot of parents. Even if you have a car, getting home and then heading from Roxbury to Charlestown or from the North End to Allston is nigh impossible. As problematic as the whole neighborhood schools thing is, I can't help feeling strongly that sheer convenience would be another huge bonus. Unless we want to invest in a Tardis.

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What about Skype? A phone call? Maybe it would illuminating for the professors or school officials (including interpreters) to visit their students at home?

Cheaper, too.

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I'd like to see exactly how many parents aren't making it to parent-teacher conferences due to the $2 T fare. If you don't have a car, my guess is you already have a T pass.

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The freebie parade is rolling - sunscreen, solar panels, T passes - what could be next? Free Hubway? How about Free Brady first!!! Now that would get my vote.

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You can get a Hubway bike membership for just $5 per year if you meet certain income requirements.

http://www.bostonbikes.org/programs/subsidized-hubway-memberships/

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And some people will still complain that $5 is too much.....as they have a cigarette hanging out of their mouth.

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Clutching their $110/month iPhone.

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You may be surprised

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Or free pizza or something to take the general burdens that most parents are facing at the end of a busy day. But still, that doesn't solve the logistical issues that are a consequence of busing kids across town.

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When we were in BPS and active in the SPC, we provided pizza and childcare at the meetings. We sent out muli-lingual notices in backpacks. We posted to the web site and collected emails; sent emails out in advance, etc. It is very difficult to get parents to attend meetings at the school.

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I know--it's hard. And I was one of those well-intentioned parents who usually bailed. I was a single parent, working two jobs and for many years living too far away from the school. That said, I was educated, a native English speaker, and my jobs didn't involve heavy lifting or a shower after work. It always boggled me how less advantaged families navigated the logistics of the school system or got truly involved. But parents who lived in the immediate neighborhood always seemed the most invested, for whatever reason.

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Single parent here myself. Wild horses couldn't prevent me from missing a parent teacher meeting. I can't tell you the stress and effort it took for me to get from work in time, but I managed. I found grammer school to be quite exhausting, frankly.

It can be done.

The problem is in many cases, parents don't care. Ask teachers. The family and friends I have that teach will tell you the truth about many of these absent parents. I am quite sure there are some who'd love to be there but just can't physically be there, and for those I am sure the teachers will work another schedule. But, don't pretend a lot of the parents don't just find these things to be a waste of time.

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I didn't bail ever on parent-teacher meetings or most open house type things. But I was not as involved in the school as I could have been because I was juggling a lot and had to factor in a commute of 45-60 minutes, as did many other parents. I hear you--there are plenty of parents to whom this stuff is just not a priority. But I stick by my original notion that the social/logistical advantages of neighborhood schools could help a lot--or at least incrementally.

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"I found grammer school to be quite exhausting, frankly."

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Pointless Nitpicking School? Useful?

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That'll probably be the last time you misspell grammar. You're welcome.

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And I won a lot of spelling bees back in the day. But I do try not to be a total asshole about minor typos and spelling mistakes, especially when we're all multitasking and/or typing on phones. But hey--whatever it takes to keep your self-esteem up...

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I won the big one in 1965 -- and I learned early on not to publicly correct spelling by others. (Adam will verify that I send him private e-mails when he mis-spells things). ;-)

My teacher decided that I would get an automatic A for spelling in 8th grade without having to attend that class -- and instead I got to go the library and read whatever I wanted -- but had to do monthly reports on any topic I wanted. What a luxury...

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It was me, not Sally!

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Was it true? (yes)
Was it kind? (no)
Was it necessary? (no)

33% = fail

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Easy enough to make a typo. The point is that she made sure that her kids had the educational support that they needed.

Too bad someone didn't do the same for your socialization abilities.

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I worked for an organization that provided extracurricular programs to kids in Boston. One of the metrics we were scored on was "refer-a-friend," or how many people in our youth program were referred there by someone already in the program. My location always scored dismally, compared to some of the suburban locations, and we were constantly in trouble over it: You must suck if no one is referring their friends!

At which point I noticed that none of our kids who lived in the neighborhood went to school anywhere near our facility. We had kids who attended public schools in Brookline and Cambridge, kids who attended the Eliot School in the North End, Mary Lyons in Brighton, and Hurley in the South End. No one could refer-a-friend, because no one lived near their friends.

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This was our experience for many years. The advantage is that kids end up with a broad range of friends from diverse communities. The downside is that you don't have that deep core of neighborhood friends.

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It might be more cost effective to figure out how to compensate the teachers for going to a more convenient location for the parents on a case by case basis. Maybe the teacher can meet the parent at a local community center or something outside of school hours.

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Why not extend the taxi coupon program to the very low income people and families? That way they can use it for school conferences and also doctor's appointments and such. This would benefit drivers because they are also local community members in the outer communities who could use the extra fares.

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The T should be the same for everyone. If the cost needs to be lowered, lower it across the board.

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Then poor parents without cars can just walk to the school

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But they may not have homes because they have to put that complex with the state-mandated minimum of ten acres somewhere in each neighborhood.

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Have you ever seen an elementary school in Boston, Swirly?

It's not like the suburbs. They don't have ten acres.

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Ten acres is barely enough for the tennis courts and soccer fields, let alone the pottery studio and the theatre wing.

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They don't? No shit. But you don't have to tell me that. Tell the state that - ten acres is a ridiculous state requirement for new schools, and they make very few exceptions for urban districts.

I live in a densely packed city (#88 nationally) that built new elementary schools, which is why I know that the state mandated requirements are bizarre. Medford got that land together to rebuild all the elementary and middle schools by buying an MDC brownfield for $1 and getting the state to clean it up, and most of that wasn't even buildable because it is flood plain.

Only when we were able to move the middle schools and a k-8 onto that land, and get them open, was it possible to demolish three former middle/elementary school campuses as sites for the elementary schools that were then built.

Not sure that Boston could pull off a shell game like that and still keep those schools walkable. I don't bring up 10 acres because I live in some wide open space suburb (I clearly do not): I bring it up because the state would require that in Boston, and it is even dumber in Boston.

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It's not like a lot of new elementary schools are opening in Boston; most that do are charters. But they're not opening on ten acres each. Schools here open on half blocks, in yard-less brick boxes, in row houses. Perhaps the state takes the constraints of Boston real estate more seriously than those of your suburb, oh excuse me your "city."

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It has to do with new construction: don't have 10 acres? No school. Of course Charters get different rules ... It is most definitely designed to screw over the densely populated areas, as places like Arlington were able to cough up their own tax money to pay for their renovations of schools that didn't meet that 10 acre bullshit,either. Boston isn't alone in that.

Also, Most of Medford has considerably higher density than where you live, dear. So does Malden. They were and are cities on their own, complete with industrial development and dense communities surrounding that. They aren't farming towns that were absorbed by a larger city and built out as a bedroom community.

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The only new construction of a school in Boston since the 2007 moratorium was lifted is the Dearborn. 2.6 acres. I'm sure you have a reason that doesn't count. Perhaps you could show me a better example in Boston. l'll wait.

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1. If Boston wants walk zone schools, they would have to build quite a few new ones because they sold the old ones
2. If they build a large number of new ones, they will likely need some help from the state
3. If the state gives money for new schools, the schools have to meet state standards
4. State standards say 10 acres

Very simple. Boston can build all it wants on its own dime. You can lobby for that. They can renovate and reopen whatever schools that they haven't sold off. You can work for that. However, if they want state money to build or reopen schools, the state has ridiculous requirements.

Opening a single school is one thing. A city-wide neighborhood school program would be very different.

Also, 10 acres is suprisingly smaller than you may think - our schools don't have tennis courts or other fancy stuff. They do have a fair amount of teacher parking and playgrounds for older and younger kids. Not even a playing field.

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But instead of busing all those kids from one crappy school to another, why not bus them to the surrounding rich lily-white suburbs? That would be fair, wouldn't it? What d you say, Lizzy he 1%-hating 1%er and the ultra-liberal Brookline/Newton/Milton crew? After all, you're closer to Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan than places like Allston and North End.

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and it's been around for a while. But last I heard it was wildly oversubscribed and it doesn't really tackle the issue of uneven schools citywide or in the suburbs.

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I mean REAL busing - half of Roxbury kids go to Brookline, and half of Brookline kids go to Roxbury. All the Brookline ultra-libs love busing, why don't they start practicing what they preach?

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What the hell are you talking about?

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Yeah I agree. Home visits by the school would be nice. It might help the visitor get a clearer view as to what may be causing the issues that called for a meeting in the first place.

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Speaking for myself. My razor thin budget has trouble accounting for my paycheck being short a few hours. I always put my child first, and I make those school meetings, performances, etc, but it's unpaid. The small amount of paid PTO I get I use to help supplement my paycheck for school holidays, half days, snow days. I don't live in Boston anymore, but I do have to work there to earn a high enough hourly wage to keep myself and my kid out of public housing. I consider myself very lucky, but the truth is, missing half a day's pay, means a visit to the food pantry instead of Market Basket next week. How I wish we had the simpler dilemma of choosing Dunks over Starbucks because funds were tight that week.
20 years ago I thought I was doing everything right. My parents abandoned me at age 16. My uncle took me in for a year, then my grandmother kept me for another. Then they died. I graduated with very little preparation for post high school academics. I put myself through Middlesex C.C. by walking dogs and nannying. I was a very young nieve female very co-dependent on others. I was homeless and hungry at times.
Fast forward a few years.. I fell in love and did what they all tell us to do, I got married. We worked hard, we paid off his school debt. We bought a very modest 900 sq ft ranch in a shitty town that is bordered on all sides by towns hosting multi-million dollar homes and residents. We had 1 child because that's what the budget could handle. I nursed him because "breast is best". We did everything by the book I tell ya. Exactly the way our baby boomer republican parents told us we should. Except, we didn't buy life insurance. I became a 28 year old widow with a 3 year old.
A year later it was 2008. My little ranch house that we thought had equity after a new roof was suddenly $75k underwater. The town raised water & sewer rates 40% that quarter. I lost 3 jobs that year. I was a nanny. One family axed me because "things changed". Who could blame them? I'd fire my nanny too if her husband died and couldn't fix her car that brought my children to tennis at the Thoreau Club.
My savings acct balance was sinking lower and lower as each month past. I brought my son to my day jobs and begged everyone I knew to help babysit while I waited tables at night. (Sometimes my tips were only enough to cover his sitter). I couldn't refinance my home and I wasn't eligible for a loan mod (harp didn't exist yet). My savings dried up, my credit cards were next. I was officially financially ruined.
So here I am today, doing every fucking thing I possibly can to keep my boss happy and my boy healthy. I still have my same old car too. I was so proud when I paid the loan off. We always said we'd take a vacation when I did. (We didn't) It's 15 years old now. Running on borrowed time with 210k miles on the odometer. But hey, when I sit in traffic, I don't bitch about the delay on Twitter. I thank my lucky stars I even have a fucking car. Gratitude is a practice that gets me through another day.
Dear Friends of the Internet, If I ever happen to miss my kid's school meeting, please don't think that I don't care about him, because it's actually my boss who doesn't.
The End
(Edited for spelling and punctuation and I'm sure I still missed a few)

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Posting as anon since I work for the BPS. There is very little point in this initiative, it will not result in any significant changes in terms of getting in the parents who don't show up. The ones who do take the T and are poor are likely too proud to bother with it. You can pretty much break it down like this - Latino families, the ones who work the hardest and have the language barrier, will show up and will be serious about it, same for Haitian families. White families will show up, usually with an IEP in hand and list of demands. They're great in the elementary grades, but by middle school they're frustrated with the BPS and you're gonna hear about it. African-American and CV families almost never show up, even to IEP meetings or suspension hearings - and most of them live a block or two away from the school anyways. When you do meet them you realize that they are young and very much wrapped up in their own drama. Usually you get a grandmother or sometimes even an older sibling - rarely a dad. Trying to get parent involvement in most urban middle and high schools is like pulling teeth - the parents who care in those neighborhoods have usually gotten into charters, exam schools or METCO.

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