Opinion: To help Philly kids, make sure their parents can be there

A music teacher makes the case for a fair workweek law.

Philly students get to know guitars in one of Taber's music classes

Philly students get to know guitars in one of Taber's music classes

Courtesy Abram Taber
abramtaber

As a music teacher, I get to interact with every child in my school. I know that some of the best music students are not necessarily the strongest academically, or those who have perfect behavior. To succeed in school, kids need to be able to find some place to shine, and for many students the arts offer that opportunity.

Last year, I had an elementary-aged choir student who got so sick with stage fright that he couldn’t sing during our winter concert. So before the spring concert, I met with his mom, to see if she could attend. Having a parent in the audience can really help calm a kid down. Performing can be nerve-wracking, and it’s good to see a friendly face.

I know this firsthand. I played saxophone in the band and sang in choir all through my primary school years, and in all that time my mom only ever missed one concert — for the birth of my sister. I don’t hold that against her, obviously, but it still sticks out in my mind. It was the first time I publicly played a solo, and my mom wasn’t there to watch. My parents’ pride in my musical ability was one of the reasons I stuck with it during the challenging times; the seemingly endless hours practicing the same piece over and over again. I wanted to make them proud.

But it’s not always easy for parents to attend their kids’ performances, even if they have the best intentions.

In the case of my student who had bad stage fright, his mother really wanted to come to the spring concert, she said, but she’d just gotten a new job, and wasn’t sure if she could make it because she didn’t have her schedule yet, and didn’t know if she’d be able to get the time off (all of our concerts take place during the school day). She also seemed very worried about possible retaliation if she called out, even if it was because she didn’t want to miss an important event in her son’s life.

In Philadelphia, over 130,000 retail, foodservice and hospitality workers don’t know if they’ll be able to come to their kids’ concerts, because they may not get their work schedules more than a few days in advance.

These parents don’t know if they’ll make it to Back to School Night to meet their children’s teachers and start to develop a rapport with them. They don’t know if they’ll be able to volunteer for the PTA bake sales, or see the soccer games, or come to the art show.

When parents can’t participate in the life of their kids’ school, it makes school this “other place” that isn’t connected to the family, or the community.

There are other school-related side effects of parents’ unpredictable work schedules as well. At some schools, when students are suspended, they aren’t allowed back in the building until a parent comes in to meet with the administrator. If a parent is constantly getting called in to work on an ad-hoc basis, that means a one-day suspension can turn into three or four days — and that is bad for kids, academically.

It’s time that City Council passes Councilwoman Gym’s Fair Workweek legislation, and gives all of Philly’s working parents the chance to be involved in their kids’ activities. Don’t all our kids deserve that?