I was flipping through the local newspaper one day in early February, scanning the headlines, when my eyes locked on a picture of Miss Springer and her kindergartners. The class was among four in our district that won a PTO-sponsored General Mills Box Tops for Education contest.
I smoothed out the page and leaned in for a closer look. The photographer had assembled the 5- and 6-year-olds in classic school picture fashion—shorter kids up front, taller ones in back—and caught the group in a spectrum of squirming, smiling poses. What caught my attention was the one kneeling in the front row with his hands jammed in his pockets and his eyes alert: my son.
I beamed. I kissed the picture. I got on the phone and called my husband. When I hung up, I called my mother, who made me promise to send her a copy. When Josh got off the school bus, I showed him the picture. He told me about the day it was taken and how his class got doughnut holes for winning the contest. Then I clipped the picture out of the newspaper and pasted it in a scrapbook.
Since then, not a Box Top has escaped my scissors. And I’m willing to bet that the same is true for every other parent whose kid was in the paper that day. That’s 80 families. That’s a lot of Box Tops.
Gosh, it’s such a simple thing to bring a camera to school, click off a few frames, and send the pictures to the local paper. Yet would I have thought of doing that had I been running the contest? Probably not; I’d have been too caught up in tallying the results.
But Laurie MacLeod Pirozzi, who coordinates the Box Tops fundraiser for our PTO, did think of it. She says she knows how much children like to see themselves in the newspaper. She thought it would be a nice way to reward their efforts. She also realized that publishing the results of the contest—and mentioning the locations of other collection points—would help get the word to people outside the school about the fundraiser. She put collection boxes in our district’s two town halls, the public libraries, and the senior centers.
When I’d finally stopped gushing over my son’s picture I began to see the other benefits of Laurie’s decision to submit the contest results to the paper. In our increasingly stratified society, school is a place where a sense of community happens naturally.
As parents, we’re deeply invested in the success of our kids’ schools. They’re manageable in size, making it relatively easy to get to know other people. Demographically, we’re all pretty much alike, so it’s easy to fit in. Our kids are the same age, so we see one another around town at sporting events, recitals, and birthday parties.
The flip side of a tight community, of course, is that it’s easy for people without kids in the school to stay away. In fact, from the outside, a school can seem like a closed shop, an exclusive club that doesn’t want or need any new members who don’t fit the profile.
Though a news brief and photo in the paper aren’t going to change that, it is, nonetheless, an important gesture toward those without kids in the school. And the collection boxes in the senior centers and elsewhere are outright invitations to help the schools. Together, they tell our townspeople that the schools belong to all of us, regardless of how directly we’re connected to them.
Seeing my youngest child in the newspaper warmed a bitterly cold winter afternoon for me. But more important, it gave all the other readers that day a glimpse into the school classrooms and reminded them that their support is welcome, too. I’m hoping those collection boxes around town are overflowing.
Sharron Kahn Luttrell volunteers for parent groups at two schools in Mendon, Mass.