By Laura Houston
Getting the documentary “The Race to Nowhere” out into the public has been a grass roots effort all over the country. How did you hear about the film and why did you feel it should be screened in Sag Harbor?
I’ve been reading about the movie and hearing about it for well over year, so when we the educational forums started a few months ago I thought the film would be a nice addition to helping spur on our community discussion on how to go forward with education in our area. And, as a parent, the concerns of pushing and overworking your kids is what you hear about all the time. Everyone thinks their kids have to do X, Y and Z and do them as fast as possible so they can build a resume that will get them into college and lead to a good job.
I mentioned the film at the first education forum, and everyone thought it would be a good idea, but getting the screening to happen was not easy. There are a lot of issue like dates and space that have to be worked out. But Annette Bierfriend, whose husband is affiliated with Bay Street, was able to get Bay Street to show the film and even though the screening is last minute, it’s nice for the East End to have access to the film. Usually all these types of documentaries screen far west from here, this is a real opportunity for us.
As a member of the Sag Harbor School Board, why do you feel it’s important that the community be made aware of this issue?
As a school board member I represent a lot of different constitution, but ultimately I feel I represent the students and I try to oversee an educational system for them that provides them with a foundation for a successful future. On the board we are always discussing things like building renovations and financial issues, but we also look at educational challenges and the well being of our students and families. So I wonder, what goals are our children and families and students working towards? Is it the right goal? Having a discussion is the best way to find this answer and the film is an opportunity to explore the long-term goals of our school. It is important for all of us to hear, not just for the families at the schools right now, because this is a local, state and national issue that we have to constantly evaluate and reevaluate so we can be the best we can be.
As a parent of a student in the 6th grade, what impact has this documentary had on you?
On a personal level, as a parent, I have found that when you gather with other parents you are always talking about school. I have noticed for years, well before I became a member of the school board, that parents experience so much stress and anxiety about doing the right thing for their kids. We sign our children up for all these wonderful supplemental programs, but they are scheduled every night of the week. It’s like they are running on a treadmill all the time. We push our kids to do all these extra things all the time trying to build their child’s resume. Sometimes I have to take a step back and ask why? And sometimes, myself and the parents I know can’t even answer. We just think we have to. While every community and culture is different, our society has changed so much from when I was in high school. It seems that we have all bought into the idea that we have to build our children’s resumes and sometimes you need to take a deep breath and step back and ask, is this working? The film is a good outlet for reflection.
What do you hope the community will gain from seeing this film? What would you like to see happen here in Sag Harbor?
I always love a good healthy discussion with people in and outside of the Sag Harbor community. With all the challenges in education today, especially with all that’s going on with New York State’s financial troubles, I want to spark a debate and discussion so we can shape our community schools to best serve our students. The best board meetings I am a part of are the ones that have good attendance with students, teachers and community members taking part in issues, so the more opportunities we have to get together and talk about more than just the budget or why parking is so bad, the better. I find it all every exciting, this is why I love being a member of the board of ed.
You spoke of running on a treadmill, how did you come up with this analogy?
I am comparing and contrasting life now from when I grew up. Both my parents worked and we didn’t go to after school activates, but we lived in a neighborhood with a lot of kids and families around all the time. There are good and bad in both scenarios, but it seems the minute a child goes to preschool they are involved in after school activities. I wonder why we have shifted towards a culture of resume building and keeping our kids scheduled all the time. My daughter does goes to some of the incredible activities offered in the area, but I do think it can just be too much sometimes. There’s dance, tennis, horse back riding, tutoring and I wonder what are we doing, why are we doing it? The whole community used to be involved in several activities, but now kids are split all over the place trying to diversify and get ahead.
My daughter isn’t in high school, but listening to parents of high school students, they can be hysterical. I want a happy kid and I know my daughter will find the right school for her. I believe there is more to education than accelerated and advanced studies.