Not the Best Ambassador

Presidential politics and Private school… what have they got in common?

Well, if you’re me, then you’ve been having this frequent conversation about how the next President of the United States must be someone who can restore America to a position in the International community wherein we aren’t perceived as just as scary as “the Bad Guys” and who can somehow regain the trust and good will of our allies.

Foreign policy is a big deal these days – but it’s not as focused on as some of the other political hot topics. Health care, the War in Iraq, taxes, education, economy… those are the buzzwords on the political campaign trail.

But we also all know how much damage the U.S. has taken with regard to our reputation the past 7 years. Not unlike Britney Spears, when the U.S. messes up, it makes all the news sources – worldwide. Life on the front page means that there’s less room for error.

So even though it might not be a good topic for “campaign sound bites” – it certainly is going to be critical for the next President to address the Foreign Policy issues ASAP after his/her inauguration. That means if s/he doesn’t have the most extensive background in International Relations, getting the best ambassadors and advisers in that arena to help out.

Now let me backtrack to my original question – what does that have to do with private school?

Well, if you were bored enough to read my previous lengthy post on the process of applying to private/parochial preschools (seriously? you read all of that?) then you probably got the impression that it’s pretty much a one-sided decision. That would be my error, because the truth is that many folks forget that just like in a job interview, the candidate is also ‘interviewing’ the company and the applicant is ‘considering’ the school.

When trying to narrow down schools to apply to, one of the biggest considerations aside from academics, cost, and location is “would we, as a family, like being a part of this community?”

Now, private schools run the gamut when it comes to student population these days. Gone are the days of strictly white, financially well-off, homogeneous student bodies comprised of offspring wearing the same uniform and using the school campus as a way to avoid the ‘other classes and ethnicities’ by hiding in their enclaves. Most schools strive for diversity and depth. All ethnicities, cultures, and economic classes are represented. Of the schools we opted to apply to, approximately 15% of the students receive financial aid. Even so, it’s still school-to-school when it comes to feeling like you will ‘belong’ there as a family even if you don’t fit the ‘traditional mold’.

The moment of truth, as it were, for finding out where you fall on the spectrum of parental types for each school usually comes during either the school tour, an open house, or the ‘parent socializing’ during the time that your offspring is off interacting with the other potential classmates and the teachers.

The reasons parents opt to send their children to private schools are as myriad and varied as why they choose one vacation over another or why they choose one pediatrician over another. Some actually send their kids there for the status “My Suzie goes to Academy X!” they also tend to drive cars based on name and clothes based on label. Some are academically motivated, some religiously, and some just want to give their children opportunities they didn’t have.

Standing around drinking coffee out of paper cups and ignoring the outlay of pastries while making smalltalk is the best way to find out what the other parents are like. I mean, barring relocation or something, you are likely to spend at least the next 9 years, possibly 13 if it’s a K-12 school, interacting with these folks. If they’re all devout members of a church you don’t attend, or if they all were Debutantes and East Coast preppies, you probably want to know that in advance.

Today was Buttercup’s 5th birthday (yay!! But I’ll address that separately.) This morning was Kindergarten Roundup number two of three. Before today, this school was top on GeekDaddy’s list and doing well on mine. If customer service alone determined where we sent her to school, this one would be it. They have gone over the top with communication, enthusiasm and positivity. She even received a birthday card from them!

But today we got to the campus in freezing temperatures and shuttled Buttercup off to her hour plus of ’roundup’ time and then plunged into the mid-morning parents-trapped-in-a-room-waiting social opportunity.

Oddly, there was no one from the school in the room with the parents. Every place else we have done this, at the very minimum Admissions folk were mingling about keeping tabs on everything. Here, we were just sort of thrown in a room and retrieved an hour later when the kids were done.

Now, I’m used to working rooms socially. Despite a touch of agoraphobia that is ever present, I’ve learned through my past experience how to bring people out and mingle and include the fringes so that eventually everyone is chatting – and that’s exactly what I did. In the absence of a hostess, my little light-switch clicks into the “on” position and I get down to being the social hostess my Nana raised me to be back before I turned down the opportunity to be a Deb. Most of the parents seemed relieved that someone was willing to start the ball rolling, so GeekDaddy (also amazingly good at this, despite his innate geekitude) and I separated and started working the poorly set-up room. Note to the organizer: putting a couple of dozen people in a room with 4 conference tables forming an impenetrable square in the middle of the room is a bad idea. This forces groups to clump in the corners and get stuck unable to go around.

About half way through this process, I was talking to one of the nicest women, who had just moved to the area from Louisville KY. Before I could even get to the point where I mentioned that we had almost ended up relocating there a few years back for GeekDaddy’s company, we were joined by Her.

Her has a name, and while I’ll leave her last name off to respect her privacy, it was oddly inapt that her name was Stephanie. She was the least stereotypical Stephanie I’ve ever met.

What I know, after 30 minutes of being literally trapped by Stephanie is that if I have to spend 9 years in the same school community with that woman, I’m likely to end up criminally liable for something.

If I thought that maybe there was a chance she wouldn’t be there, or that she might not stay if she were, that hope was dashed when she told us repeatedly that she was there for her third son. The other two were in 8th and 4th grade respectively, and the 8th grader had been there since Kindergarten. She has every intention of being there until the 3rd one is off to high school. Ugh.

I could go into detail about why I detested her so – but what’s the point? You know people you detest, and you don’t necessarily have to outline why – you just think ‘ew.’ In this case, just go with the fact that the ‘ew’ factor was strong enough that I found myself starting to goad her. Another potential mom joined us and made a somewhat innocuous comment that she replied to with something snotty. I couldn’t help myself, I found myself saying the exact thing I knew would set her off and at the same time, make her look bad. She rose for the bait and then seemed to catch what I had done and shook her head like a dog trying to get water out of it’s ear. No, she didn’t shake it off. From that point forward, it was the same pattern. She’d snark, I’d pounce, she’d fall for it and look bad, then she’d get snarkier.

No – I don’t need 9 years of that. I’m a generally nice person, but some people do bring out the worst in me and Stephanie is one of them. Best to remove myself from the temptation altogether.

Meanwhile, GeekDaddy got trapped on the other side of the room – due to the strange table configuration – but at least had a nicer conversation. When reunited, he looked at me and said “uh oh… I can tell you’ve got something on your mind. You’re not mad at me, are you?” He’s so sweet! “Nope, not mad at you – but we’ll talk about it later.”

In the end, that school has dropped to the bottom of my list. Because of Stephanie. At one point, one of the other moms asked me about the other 2 schools we had applied to, and before I could get a word in edgewise, Stephanie piped up with “oh they’re not nearly as good as this one – you’re daughter is into the Liberal Arts, right?” Trying not to go too deeply into the fact that no one really knows if a 5 year old is “into Liberal Arts” I replied with “well, yes, she’s got that creative side to her…” and was met with “well, see, then you know this is the right school – those others I’ve heard aren’t as good as this for Liberal Arts…” The Devil made me do it, I swear, as I replied with “huh, you know, my niece has attended one of those schools for10 yeas now, and actually, its Liberal Arts programs are stronger than those here, but there you go…”

True? Maybe, to a point. Define “Liberal Arts” (and no, I can’t hear that in my head without quotes around it now, thanks.)

My point is that for all of its amazing customer service and friendly atmosphere, the school kind of messed up here. Since no one from admissions was in the room – the sole ‘ambassador’ for the school itself was the one person in the room who already had children going there. Was she a good ambassador? No. In fact, I could see she had a similar impact on at least one other mom there. Had this been an event I was actually responsible for, somewhere around the point where I started baiting her, I would’ve dropped over and escorted one of us away to another group saying “Oh, have you met so-and-so? She’s got X in common with you!”

The last of the 3 KR’s is coming up next week. It’s the school my niece attends. This makes the third year we’ve done this part. One of the things I look forward to is watching their head of admissions work the room just like I described above. I’ve seen her do it. I’ve seen her direct one set of parents to another and defuse potential conflicts. Much as I’m still mildly annoyed at them for other reasons, it will be a relief to see that aspect handled professionally.

There’s a part of me that, should we end up not going to school #2, wants to contact the Admissions folk and say “you know, for all you did right, it only took 10 minutes for us to have that image ruined by an obnoxious parent. Maybe you ought to consider doing what school #1 does, and having a question and answer session with the school head and the parents rather than letting them mingle unattended.”

Then again, I guess I benefit from knowing now what I will have in store for me should we go that route.

Now if only it were as simple to figure out which Presidential candidate is savvy enough to not leave our allies alone in a room to talk about us…

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~ by Lucretia on January 25, 2008.

3 Responses to “Not the Best Ambassador”

  1. I have just picked my head up off the table. I am done laughing. I can see you so clearly standing in that room, dressed in your best “them” cloths mingling and looking oh-so-deb. Then the little guppy with B.M. shows up. She’s toast. You are a SWEETHEART , but baby, I know you don’t suffer fools, not even for a nano second.
    Give Buttercup a big smoochie kiss for me, I have taken leave of the whole remembering birthday -anniversary-holiday- whatever stuff. I couldn’t tell you why, but , hey it’s where i am at! Doesn’t mean I don’t love you and yours! Just means I am a ninnie right now.
    This was a riot!
    Oh and By the way, Billy is showing Big time B.M. so not so sure about our discussion on politics, think i am going to vote for Hawk & Polar
    http://whatisitabout.wordpress.com/2008/01/16/potus/ …LOL!

  2. This post made me laugh.

    I agree with your points on our national perception from around the globe. Doesn’t seem that too many candidates have the backbone to really discuss what really needs to be done to bring our country back to the level of a one perception of “greatness” (which I use rather loosely) in this context.

    Thanks for the aggregate offering today. It certainly made for a good read.

    BTW, thanks for visiting my haunt.

  3. I almost forgot, since I am an unofficial candidate for POTUS, might I interest you in one of several Cabinet Posts? LOL

    Until the next return flight . . .

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