Steph starts with the man in the mirror

The new school year brings the usual pangs of Park Slope Mom concern. What, besides amateur wrestling on my living room floor, will my boys do in the afternoons? How will I foster their interests and skills and pad their portfolios to get into a top high school so they can make it to top college so they can make it in life?

Sleep eludes me as I count on my fingers the possible things we can do: pottery classes, private piano with some guitar thrown in, helping out with chess at his elementary, oh, and isn’t there a sport Mr. E wants to get into?

“No, no, no,” he has said as I’ve rattled them off: “Tennis? Karate? Gymnastics?” I’ve thrown these things out tentatively, nervous if I could even find the places to teach him such skills that aren’t $800 and don’t require the daily commitment of an Olympic hopeful.

Mostly toddler activities come up when I Google “middle school after-school activities Park Slope” at 4 am. A few hours later, I am bleary-eyed as I blend the morning’s fresh fruit smoothies and heat up whole-grain breads, as I pack new lunch boxes with made-to-order meals with lots of fruits and veggies.

I wave to the boys when they head off on the bus when it finally hits me: what am I so worried about? My kids have it incredibly good — and there are literally millions of kids around this great city that aren’t so lucky.

I remind myself by meeting with Sarah Stevens, head of education for Change for Kids, a company that aims to improve the more than 500 public schools where the majority of students are under poverty line. I gave up my library committee position at my own kids’ school last year in favor of tutoring and event planning at one of the less-privileged elementary schools with which it works.

It is not an easy task, but every new sports program they put in place, every Brooklyn author I can bring in to show kids writing is a real-life thing real people do, every single person they get to volunteer to read with kids one-on-one and help beleaguered teachers do the hard work of inspiring children to love to learn, makes me feel a little happier. Doing those things is a better use of my time than wringing my hands over how my kids can stay privileged.

A neighbor shook her head recently when we were talking about public education and said, wide-eyed, “I don’t understand why all schools don’t offer the same services?”

I smiled at the question, a simple one that clearly isn’t asked often enough by enough people. I told her about Change for Kids. I told her it would take many minds to create a great template with well-thought-out programming that includes arts and exercise and nutrition and visits from local authors. These are the things that excite and inspire, the things that the private money pays for at my own kids’ school and the others scattered across the city that have PTAs that worry about such things.

Stevens offered up her own reasoning of what lower-income schools are up against, the Special-Ed needs that need to be met before seemingly “unnecessary” programs like music, the difficulty getting parents involved in some areas, but there is resolve in her eyes. Slowly, one school at a time, it is possible to make change.

But we’re the ones that have to make it happen.

Find out more at Changeforkids.org. Help out.

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