I spent a very informative hour with some extremely hard-working people at Portland Public School District's offices. I initiated contact with them at the request of a group of parents who are working to reduce waste and improve recycling programs in schools throughout Oregon.
Did you know that nutrition services is not part of the school district? It's a contracted program. This is a good thing, because it allows the district to demand outstanding service from the provider, rather than having to stretch district resources ever farther to provide nutrition as well as all the other needs our kids have.
The single biggest thing we can do to improve our children's education (besides reading with them) is to vote for them. We don't only vote with our election ballots, although those are important. We vote with how we spend our money and how we use our time. Every parent who can should be volunteering in their child's school on a regular basis. Those who can't because they work should be contributing a few of those earned dollars. Teachers need all the parents to check in, ask what they can do or provide. Parent/teacher clubs are often pitiful little groups that try to run a cookie sale to pay for field trip buses. They used to be the hub of the community! Everyone should be involved, should know what programs are struggling and where to lend a hand. These institutions were never meant to be a gift to the public. They're only gathering places. What makes a school successful is the commitment it receives from the community.
We need to stop, as a society, criticizing our institutions while contributing nothing to them. Oregon citizens hate tax increases, and you can tell from the state of our infrastructure. Families think the schools are there to provide everything their children need, from education to meals, from challenging their minds to providing daycare. It's OUR responsibility, parents, to educate our kids. The schools are there to provide structure and guidelines, to introduce material and nudge kids along, but it's up to families to inspire them, to share their dreams, to walk alongside them as they learn and grow and think and imagine.
Thank you to those who have supported my efforts to reduce food waste in Portland Public Schools. I'll continue to work with them and help every way I can. But let's not stop there. Let's provide what the schools, and our kids, really need. Let's invest ourselves in the schools. Imagine what we can create together!
PS: An important department of PPS is the sustainability team, officially called Resource Conservation, a division of Facilities & Asset Management. The "team" is one staff person, Nancy Bond, and one Americorps intern. And Nancy will be retiring at the end of this year. If you really feel there's waste in Portland schools, I suggest you check in with Nancy and ask how YOU can help. If we want sustainability in our schools, we're going to have to fund it, build it, and support it.
Thank you, Nancy, for your hard work over the years. Your commitment to getting the most for our kids out of limited resources is vastly under-acknowledged. I look forward to learning from you in this final semester of your career.
Susie Snortum is passionate about improving society's compassion for meeting basic human needs -- food, shelter, clean water, and dignity.