RSS

Category Archives: school

School Fete

Saturday was our school fete. While these are a fairly normal part of life for many schools in Australia, I realised recently that they’re not something that happens everywhere.

In Australia, as in most countries (at least most where I have readers), schools are funded by the government. Parents are expected to make a “voluntary contribution” which is an interesting redefinition of the word voluntary (there is a lot of followup if you choose not to make that payment or can’t afford to do so) as well as to buy “essential educational items” (usually by paying a lump some to the school which then provides them). Some “private” or “independent” schools also receive income from parents who pay fees, which vary from around $2000 a year to well over $20,000 per year.

This funding, however, particularly for the government and lower-priced independent schools, seems to fall short of funding what the schools want to provide. In the case of Otto’s school, which is an independent school, there is a need for a sports ground which we currently do not have and which could easily cost $300,000 to build.

And so, schools do fund-raising. Sometimes they do lamington (or pie, or donut, or hot cross bun, or cupcake, or …) drives – where each family is invited to shake down family, friends and colleagues to order as many of the particular cake item as possible. They are then all delivered to the school in one massive lot, and parents deliver to their clients. There is usually a prize for the child or family who sells the most.  Ditto chocolates. Or tooth-brushes. Or mangoes. etc. Some do walkathons (or other —athons), or wash cars, or make and sell cookbooks.

But the best fund-raiser of all is often the school fete. When I were a lass, this meant a sausage sizzle and a cake stall and a few manky plants that someone had dug up the night before. These days, though, fetes are big business. Some schools apparently even hire professional fete organisers.

At the government school my girls used to attend, the fete raised somewhere in the order of $70,000 a year. Yes, you read that right. Seventy thousand dollars. The school budgeted to fund-raise somewhere over $100,000 a year and used that money to employ extra teaching staff. Activities included:

  • trash & treasure stall
  • jams & preserves
  • cakes (to take home)
  • raffles
  • silent auction
  • spinning wheel
  • coffee & cake
  • 3? commercially hired rides (cha cha, etc)
  • snow cones
  • soft drinks, beer and wine
  • live stage with bands
  • busking students
  • book stall (all new)
  • baby goods stall
  • bouncy castle
  • plant stall (bit better than the manky ones I remember!)
  • food:
    • sausages
    • gourmet burgers
    • wood-fired pizzas
    • souvlaki
    • butter chicken
    • etc

Now that school had around 470 students, and the entire school community spends 8 weeks preparing for the fete. Parents are asked to bake cakes, make preserves, donate items for hampers and even donate a cube (box of 24-30) of soft drink (soda) cans for sale on the day. Here is an article (2 years old) about this type of school fete: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/a-fete-accompli-as-inner-schools-raise-big-bucks-20101113-17rxm.html

Otto’s school has 49 students at the moment, from around 34 families. So there are some differences, principally around what we can staff. Despite this, we managed to put on a pretty amazing fete, and our informal exit polls showed that people had a great time.

A car full of balloons

We had a contest to guess how many balloons were in the car. The children had fun helping to fill it…

And so did we – and it was beautiful to see the school community come together to work so hard to make our little school shine. The fete co-ordinators have spent 5 years really bringing it all together now – and their experience showed. Each year, it gets a little better (and a little more profitable too). Of course we don’t make $75,000 from the day, but our per-student rate is pretty incredible.

Gingerbread hearts - very decorated

Gingerbread hearts are always popular. This one says Spatzerl (little sparrow). For the Christmas market, we’re thinking of doing some blanks that we can write on on the night.

It’s lovely to welcome volunteers from outside the school too, some of whom have come every year to volunteer their time, as well as other community members who come in for the day or for lunch, for “a little slice of Europe”. A good friend of ours drove 40+ minutes to come to the fete, then won third prize in the raffle. Virtue is sometimes its own reward, although she wasn’t sure quite what her partner would make of their new yellow spotty beanbag. Other friends were in town from Sydney and made the trip over for lunch. My mum and dad came out and then mum spent 4 hours selling jams and preserves, barely taking a break at all.

Still setting up. Later, this courtyard was filled with people eating, drinking and being merry. Tables were full all day.

But it was so much fun. Even working the fairy floss machine, which was more tricky than it looks and resulted in a fine coating of pink sugar, inside and outside clothing. And in hair. (Note to future self: Do not do fairy floss before taking photo of frock!)

And it was so much fun – but so busy – that I have no photos of:

  • the bouncy castle, or
  • the mini golf, or
  • the teddy bear hospital or
  • face painting,
  • the treasure hunt,
  • the Bobbycars,
  • the pirate scavenger hunt,
  • the sausages, Frikadellen and hot dogs,
  • the soup,
  • the juice, soft drinks and beer,
  • the box maze,
  • the pretzels,
  • the animal nursery,
  • the coffee and cake and waffles stall,
  • Penelope the Popcorn machine,
  • the exhibition of students’ art and student photos,
  • the badge making,
  • the book and toy stalls,
  • the preserves and produce stalls,
  • the amazing silent auction,
  • the live auction,
  • the Bavarian dancers or
  • either of the two fabulous bands (I had a little weep the second time they played Forever Young) (Because it was so good, not because it was so bad, like that craptacular version they used to play on The OC).

Although there is just one of the fairy floss machine:

Me, in a dirndl, holding fairy floss sticks like Bier Steins

Worst fairy floss maker in the world. The zoomed in version of this photo shows that I have fairy floss all over myself, including in my hair. A friend has a shot of me with it on my nose! But at least here we can pretend they are Biersteine.

And the funniest moment (for me, if not for the Bigster) was probably before I realised that my Dirndl did actually have a pocket, so I was having a braphone day, and I was up to my elbows in fairy floss but wanted my phone, and completely horrified the Bigster by asking her to OMG REACH INTO MY TOP AND GET MY PHONE OUT. Apparently it would have been better to ask someone I was not related to, or so she saw it (Note: The phone was over to one side, practically on my shoulder.). She did it eventually, which is why I have the above photo of me scowling at the fairy floss machine. Which richly deserved the scowl. And then I realised that I should perhaps not make jokes to strangers about licking my dress, even though there was probably enough sugar on it to keep me going for a week.

And all day Sunday, there were texts flying about what a wonderful day we’d had (and how knackered we were). And a friend and I went off to markets around town, lining up stallholders for our next big event, because sometimes the fun just doesn’t stop.

But the real beauty of our school fete – the thing that makes it stand out in comparison to other events – is not in the money that it raises; it’s in the way that the entire school community comes together for a day, baking, selling, running errands, even cleaning the toilets, to make sure that it is as lovely as it can be.

And it was.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 17, 2012 in be happy, school

 

School holidays aka The Curse of the Working Parent

Hard to believe it’s nearly school holiday time again.

It’s unfair, really, to call them a curse – I enjoy school holidays, and I remember enjoying them a whole lot more when I was the one who got a break from school. But it does mean a lot of juggling at times.

Once we’ve allowed for drama classes and Otto’s bonus holidays, we end up with a single week of nothing, which isn’t all that much when you factor in a couple of outings with or without friends. I’m hoping that will help the Bigster get her health back in order. Was a little unsure about the classes, but she is so keen to do them that I think they’ll do her good. We might go away for the week of nothing, or we might just unplug the phone and stay home. Either is good (although one is more Financially Responsible, sigh).

But the best part – the very BEST part of all – is that somewhere in the middle of all that, Fraser is going to take the girls away somewhere for a couple of days. And leave me at home.

And it is ridiculous, completely and utterly, but I am so excited.

Because I am going to DO SERIOUS HOUSEWORK. And Rearrange the Kitchen Cupboards. And buy – and implement – new Storage Stuff. I even have a guy coming on Friday to wash the rubbish bins.

And if I get really excited, I might even Get A Skip.

 
4 Comments

Posted by on June 18, 2012 in decluttering, family, school

 

Of Lanterns, Soup and Duck fat. In no particular order.

Three years ago, during our 5 months in Germany, we happened to be in Düsseldorf in the late afternoon of November 11th. What we saw that night scarred Fraser for life, and has since come up in ever so many dinnertime conversations.

Gangs of children – all warmly dressed in their beanies, winter coats and boots – roamed the streets of the town, carrying little paper lanterns on sticks. Every shop was entered, and staff were on hand to pass out cigarettes whisky sweets and little treats.

They didn’t even have to say anything – as soon as they entered the shops, someone came running and handed them stuff until they left. (Mental note: If in Germany in November, send Otto into a Jeweller’s shop with a paper lantern).

We got back to Wuppertal and it was the same story.

In Fraser’s world, November 11th went down as The Night Children Shake Down Shopkeepers. The lanterns were a concealed threat to come back and burn down the premises if the candy quality and quantity was not deemed adequate.

Fast forward to almost now, and we started to get notices from the school about the Lantern Walk at one of the local German churches. And about school art sessions (parents and siblings invited) to make lanterns – clearly this was a big thing.

Green lanterns, with arms and legs and eyes and ears and cute crooked smiles.

Kommt wir woll’n Laterne laufen, das ist unsere schönste Zeit;
kommt wir woll’n Laterne laufen, alle sind bereit..

The canny among you will be thinking, but it’s June not November – and you are right. But apparently a Lantern Walk would not be a Lantern Walk without bitterly cold weather (not to mention the rain) and early sunset so no-one keeps the Gangs of Children up late. Because you don’t want to keep children up past their bedtime when fire is involved.

So, on Friday night, I got together with two of the other mums to make the World’s Biggest Ever Pot of Pea & Ham soup. Our school recently bought a massive preserving pot that is also good for making soup, and we had captaincy of her maiden voyage.

What we did not have was a recipe for pea & ham soup.

But we were happy to make it up as we went along, and we think we did OK. Three hours of soup stirring and a couple of pizzas later, Otto and I headed home, leaving the pot’s hosts with at least a couple more hours to stir.

On Saturday, after a quick trip to IKEA for tea lights (that turned into … well … you know … Otto was having a great time in Smålund and I was just wandering peacefully), we picked up the Pot. After some debate, we sat it on the front seat and buckled it in for the drive to the church. With the lid firmly duct-taped on – because pea & ham soup is not a great smell at the best of times, and a car that smells of pea & ham soup might have had me praying for some budding lantern-wielding arsonists to come and torch it.

And then we heated, and stirred, and heated, and stirred.

And Otto went into the church where I think they sang some songs and talked about St Martin. And then the walk began.

And it was absolutely amazing. Because there were – I have no idea but I’d guess between 200 and 300 people. And each person – or each family – had a beautiful lantern that their child had made or that they had bought. It would have been beautiful in the daytime; at night it really was something magical. And we wended our way through the Fitzroy Gardens in the dark, following a guy dressed as Rory from Dr Who.

Lanterns in the park.

Kommt wir woll’n Laterne laufen, denn wir fürchten nicht die Nacht;
kommt wir woll’n Laterne laufen, das wär doch gelacht.

Apparently, the guy was actually dressed as St Martin. But all these Roman Centurions kind of look alike. One year they had a policewoman on a horse, with a long red cloak. Which would have been awesome. There were no police there this year so the priest and some of the adults stopped traffic instead. Because Gangs of Children with Lanterns (and priests) should always have right of way.

And eventually we got back to the church, which was amazingly busy. We sold soup, and there were Brezeln, and hot dogs, and Glühwein, and Kinderpunsch which is like Glühwein but for kids, and a bonfire (sadly lacking in marshmallows). And bread that was – I am not kidding – spread with LARD! Or Duck Fat, which is not quite lard but really there is not much difference. I bought a slice and shared it with 2 friends. Which means “I bought a slice and split it into three, and we all kind of took a little bite at once and then said OMG IT IS CRUNCHY WHY IS THIS SO? and discreetly discarded it.” Because cultural traditions are all very well, but not so much when they are spread with duck fat. In fact, I am going to go on record here and state that I would steer clear of any cultural tradition that involved duck fat in any way, shape or form.

And we stirred and we served. And the Bigster took money because she said she would collapse otherwise. And because her Mean Mother had insisted she come along for a bit of Cultural Involvement. And a dollar fell in the soup pot but we figured it would add extra flavour, and we kept stirring.

And it was a fabulous evening. And we put our heads together and wondered how we can get even half of those people to come to our German Christmas Market in November.

Maybe we should send the children round with their lanterns?

 
4 Comments

Posted by on June 4, 2012 in education, family, languages, school, travel

 

Decisions – a retrospective

2011 was a big year for us – more specifically, it was a big year for our daughters.

For the Bigster 2011 was the start of high school – a move to a very academic environment with some very formal structure. She had homework and she had assessment – she had work that was due and she was expected to do it. We were confident that she could do it but we expected that there might be a bit of a shock getting started. And we were right both times although the shock was much less than we thought.

For Otto, 2011 brought more upheaval – with a change of schools halfway through the year. The new school is smaller and infinitely more challenging and stimulating – and much more in keeping with our philosophy of education and with our values. There were some hairy moments – and lots of new experiences (like having a desk to sit at; having spelling words and textbooks; being expected to DO work; being assessed on how well you did the work) but she has really risen to the challenge. She’s made some wonderful new friends and has come out of her shell in a way that we didn’t expect so soon.

She reached a big milestone last week. While her last report from the old school put her six months ahead in maths, her new school assessed that she was 12-18 months behind the other kids. While they were working on book 3B, she was given 2A and a challenge: Catch up.

And she has. She’s now on book 4A with the other grade 4 children, and 2 weeks ago she was only 20 pages behind them. Her teacher has now decided to move her up to where the other kids are – getting her to keep working on those ‘missing’ 20 pages as homework, as required.

(Because I am far too honest, I will admit that getting that homework done has not been an unmitigated delight. There have been days when we have sat for six to eight hours, coaxing her to keep going and just do the next question, while tears were shed – and not just by her. But lately we’re also seeing her initiating her homework and taking more of the initiative about getting it done. Sometimes, at least.)

In her after-school drama class, she took on the role of the narrator for the play last term – successfully learning 40+ lines in her second language and performing them fluently for the rest of the school. Through her involvement in the choir, she has sung solos to groups of 200+ people. This week, she’s off on her first sleepover camp.

Self esteem? Sky high.

For us the move was good too. It’s not just Otto who has made new friends. We’ve settled in to a wonderful parent and school community: as this post goes live, I’m at a meeting talking about some fantastic events that are coming up at school. There’s a framework for parent involvement and a culture that supports and welcomes parent-teacher partnerships. I’ve lost the stress and parent-guilt that I felt every day – and Fraser and I have moved on from the daily bitterness and anger that we felt at the wasted opportunities and culture of mediocrity. Those experiences have become an artefact of our family’s history rather than an everyday obstacle.

Don’t get me wrong. We’re bitter and angry that we HAD those experiences, but they are in our past now.

Funnily enough though, this post was inspired by a hangover from that past. I recently noticed that someone from the old school has been stalking me online. But this time I rolled my eyes and ignored it, because it’s not my problem anymore.

OK, I had this little rant too. But that’s what I do.

There is much that I don’t love about my life. And much that I struggle with every day. Especially making Fraser and the kids do what I want negotiating family compromises.

But both schools are a joy.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on May 9, 2012 in parenting, rant, school

 

Parent-Teacher night wrapup

In no particular order:

  • The later you are there, the messier it gets. Everyone was running early at 5:30.
  • Teachers really do say different things to different people.
  • I was owned by a Geography teacher. She took us through Bigster’s progress and the syllabus in under two minutes then thanked us for coming and sat back. We trotted off meekly.
  • Lots of teachers already angling for Year 10 and VCE students. We only had one last year but this year there were several.
  • Fraser can do awesome Cousin It impersonations. I need to get a photo before he cuts his hair.
  • Lots of people don’t take their kid. This might be an interesting thing to try although I think we might have missed our chance. Next PT night will have some serious subject choice overtones.
  • Otto took Shapes rather than crackers and probably ate the whole bag.
  • We took jelly snakes for that special buzz. Otto ate half a bag or so while we spoke with the Health & Sport teacher. Timing is everything.
  • Teachers think Bigster is well-organised. Either my fears are wrong or she fakes it better than most. Probably a bit of both.
  • When you let the 9 year old have the timetable and room plan, you should make sure that she understands she should wait for the rest of the family before running down a flight of stairs and disappearing.

And I forgot to use the “surprising” question. I feel such a fool.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on April 24, 2012 in children, parenting, school

 

Parent-teacher night: The re-think

Having accepted in advance that I wasn’t going to have much luck Impressing Teachers, I did some serious practical planning. Which is usually my forte. We would have around an hour and a half to see twelve teachers – one of whom does not even TEACH the Bigster (long story).

No need for calculations – we get five minutes with each teacher. The hour and a half might be an understatement.

Five fingers five minutes

FIVE. This is how many minutes we have to talk about our kid. Twelve times.

There are lots of guidelines for parent-teacher interviews on the Internet. Like this one which suggests that we ask “Are there things he does that surprise you?”. I think I’ll add that to my repertoire. It may be surprising for the teachers, given that my child is not a he at all.

Other sites suggest that you pre-prepare notes on what you want to ask and take a notebook to record answers. Is it just me or is that a little confrontational? Perhaps I should borrow a digital voice recorder from work and fiddle with it all through the interviews? “This parent-teacher meeting may be recorded for quality assurance purposes. Anything you say can and will be used against you.” At least it would let me distract the teachers so Fraser can do something useful and perve at their mark books.

DEAR ACTUAL TEACHERS AT BIGSTER’S AND OTTO’S SCHOOLS: WE REALLY DON’T FEEL THIS CONFRONTATIONAL. IF WE DID YOU WOULD KNOW ABOUT IT BY NOW. ALSO WE THINK YOU ARE PRETTY FAB. ALSO: MANY OF YOU CAN SEE THROUGH OUR DAUGHTER AND NOTICE SHE ISN’T ACTUALLY DOING MUCH YET. WHICH WE THINK IS SUPER AWESOME. LOVE, MELISSA AND FRASER xxxxx

Anyway. Here’s what we are taking in the Bag Of Tricks:

School work. We made the Bigster bring ALL HER WORKBOOKS to last year’s parent teacher night. And we carried her interim reports too, so we could refer to them if we needed. Actually this was not a stupid idea. Doing it again. She hates it. A win for us.

Timetable. We have the most amazing interview timetable. It’s created using this automatic online tool where you say which teachers you want to meet (um all of them?) and then what time you want to arrive and then get this incredibly complicated timetable that has you trotting from level 1 to level 3 with 5 minutes between interviews. With a fractured rib (have I mentioned that lately?). So you arrive panting and red-faced and terrified that OMG I HAVE MISSED MY SPOT and then you try to suss out whether the other people in the room are waiting for YOUR teacher and who got there first and whose turn is it really and you really don’t want to look like you’re listening in on other interviews but OMG that poor teacher and those poor parents and that poor kid and yeeeesh. And then you work on the relaxed-but-responsible face and worry that you’ve ended up at smug and then just look stressed and frazzled which is OK because most of the other parents are wearing that face too (the others stopped at smug).

Anyway. Timetable. I have it on my iPhone. That way I can pretend that it is something we will follow. I also have a printout. Or I will if the work printer is working tomorrow.

Map. This is useful. If you are completely defective in the navigation department that is. There are three levels in the school building. Rooms that start with “1” are on the ground floor. Rooms that start with “2” are on the middle floor. And rooms that start with “3” – you got it – are on the top floor. And there are little flags that stick out with room numbers on them. The timetable allegedly gives room numbers but it is not always exactly perfect. So there are lists stuck to the walls which show teacher names and their rooms. WHY IS THIS SYSTEM SO HARD FOR PEOPLE TO UNDERSTAND?

Of course, having written that, I will surely get hopelessly lost or confused. Except that I have my kid with me and she goes to that school so probably knows where the rooms are.

Little sister. It’s all about the student. So you should only have them with them. Not have a little sister trotting along behind. Except when you are already paying a babysitter one night that week and your family have other commitments and she’s really too young and sporadically evil to be left at home alone. Amazing how one child who hates to speak to adults suddenly LOVES it when they are her sister’s teachers. Because heaven forbid that they not NOTICE HER!!! Oops. Better pack a bag with activities for her. Also earbuds.

Dr Who encyclopedia iPad app

Dr Who encyclopedia. Should be good for the first hour at least. Image source http://www.randomhouse.com.au/blog/road-testing-the-new-doctor-who-encyclopedia-app-1404.aspx

Food. Given the aforementioned Little Sister especially. We’ll be out through a meal time and my kids never seem to eat their lunches anyway. We might stop for dinner on the way home (I frame it as a reward for the Bigster but actually it’s about me being TOTALLY AND COMPLETELY KNACKERED) but in the meantime it’s good to have something nutritious and healthy that they can snack on between interviews. If you have time to prepare it – which I don’t. A bag of rice crackers and half a dozen cans of diet coke it is. And a fairy bread chaser if Otto behaves.

Meanwhile it’s back to the Internet for some last-minute tips.

Crikey.com has an excellent guide to interpreting what the teacher is saying. My personal favourite: “I would like to see Omaha do more reading at home : It’s about time you did a bit of parenting.” (ouch).

And I wonder whether I should pass on this site with recommendations for schools. They suggest that the school should “Consider offering soft music and sweets as well as tea and coffee.”. Personally I am quite keen on the idea of sugar and caffeine-fuelled meditation sessions. Also beer.

As long as we remember the jelly snakes, we’re good.

 
5 Comments

Posted by on April 23, 2012 in children, parenting, school

 

Parent-teacher night

Last Thursday I was chatting on Twitter with the Bigster’s French teacher. She was preparing for the first parent-teacher night of the year by watching Die Antwoord videos on YouTube and eating peanut butter with a spoon. I suggested that some parents *coughnotmeofcoursecough* prepare by drinking go-go juice & red cordial and eating jelly snakes, and she challenged me to a Montage of getting-ready-for-parent-teacher-night-shots.

Now, she was preparing on Thursday for the A to L interviews, but as proud representatives of the second half of the alphabet our interviews will be held this coming week. That makes today Getting Ready For Parent Teacher Night Day.

Now as every parent knows, the most important part of Parent Teacher Night is that it is the teachers’ only opportunity (or first opportunity) to suss out what sort of family the children come from. My godmother used to tell a story of a child standing up for show and tell to announce that “Daddy got a new car in the middle of the night last night and he was up all night repainting it in the garage”. Also there was the time that the Bigster accidentally told her Prep teacher that I was a necrophiliac. Don’t want a repeat of that happening. You have to make the Right Impression (whatever that may be – but it usually has nothing to do with sex and dead people).

Also you occasionally have to be just a little bit scary when appropriate. Which is rarely in my experience (the teachers are MUCH more scary than I am).

Melissa ponders what to do about Parent-Teacher night

Pondering what to do about Parent-Teacher night. And how to look scary.

So. What did I need to do to get ready? It was time to Make a List.

Clothes maketh the man (or woman). I turned to my friend, Google Images, for advice.

Can't describe it. Just think inappropriate.

It's polite to make an effort right? But I'm not sure this is the right kind of effort. Image source: http://www.theluxuryspot.com/shinfo/the-vaj-prom-dress-coming-to-a-hs-near-you/

Blue 1980s power suit

Based on this image, I'm guessing that it should be Fraser not me who means business in the 1980s power suit. Image source: http://www.classycareergirl.com/2011/07/remember-the-power-suit/

When Google Images let me down I turned to themed clothing. Surely she’d do well in history if the teachers knew her family were All About Their Subject?

Melissa wearing an Egyptian headdress

The King Tut exhibition shop has quite a lot to answer for.

There was also going to be a photo here of me holding a baguette but you will just have to imagine it.

Then I realised I was going to be coming pretty much straight from work as was Fraser. Scratch the clothes idea. I’ll win if I am reasonably clean, not too smelly, and not wearing the day’s lunch.

OMG! My whole approach had to change!

Where to from here?

Here's what I had to do

Here's what I had to do

It was time to get practical. I needed a rethink.

 
3 Comments

Posted by on April 22, 2012 in children, parenting, school