Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Take your "perfect" attendance policy and shove it...

I guess this is a bit of rant post.... but I'm more trying to point out how many school attendance awards (including the Perry schools on MCAS Iwakuni) are rewarding the wrong thing.

I agree that research shows that the more a child attends school, the better grades he or she gets. This makes sense, of course. The more you show up and are engaged in what's going on, the faster you will learn. I agree with and support this argument.

But then there is this illusive Perfect Attendance Award. This is given out to students who never miss a day of school in a given quarter or semester. NOT ONE DAY. My kids have each won this award once, and during the same semester, which was Fall 2013. They were never absent and never late. Here is the proof, so to speak:

At the time, I blogged that this was especially notable because my kids are responsible for getting themselves up and out the door on time each morning. They set their own alarms, make their own lunches, dress themselves and manage to get to school on time while the spouse is at work and I am still snoozing away (I work late at night, so let's not discuss how lazy I am, thank you. I have merely created the life I want.) So, they truly earned these attendance awards themselves, and I made a big deal out of it for them. They deserved it.

And there are a lot of deserving Perfect Attendance Award recipients. Please do not think this is putting down those children who have earned their awards. It is not. They worked hard for them, like my kids did. Or their parents worked hard for them, like I did not, but either way, somebody worked really hard for them.

However, these recipients were also very lucky. They did not have any medical emergencies, surgeries, illnesses, trips to see dying family members back in the States or other issues that may have made them tardy or absent to school. They didn't have one of those rare, hard-to-get, desperately needed orthodontist or dermatology appointments (these specialists only come to Iwakuni once a quarter). They managed to escape the random virus, which base residents "lovingly" call the Kuni Krud, that tours the base (and especially the elementary school) each year. Or... maybe they didn't escape, they just took it to school with them... but I will discuss that in a moment.

There is also the optional removing the kids from traditional school to go see the world. This is unique to students overseas, of course, but a valid argument, in my opinion. The spouse and I waited until the spring semester to pull our kids out of school to go to Okinawa to see scientific and cultural sites there (as I am sure we can all agree, a lot of learning does not occur in a classroom). Sure, we could have done it during school holidays, but EVERYONE tries to Space A during the holidays so our chances of making it on a free plane ride at those times were next to nil. A random Wednesday in February? No problem! It was even on a leather-clad leer jet. Sa-weet! But no, I don't think these trips should be considered "excused," but these are planned and parents know the consequences of such excursions.

But, some things cannot be planned or prevented. Unfortunately, my boys were not so lucky this school year. Will ended up getting a mole on his head that went crazy and had to be removed... twice. he had to miss school for one of the surgeries. Both kids, as well as my husband, became statistics in the Japanese influenza epidemic of January 2015 (I have yet to succumb, but I'm just waiting). We kept them home 1) because they didn't feel good and 2) they had fevers and would infect other children. They still made up the work they missed and made great grades for the semester.

Now... there are a lot, A LOT of parents who send their kids to school sick because they don't have childcare or they just don't want to have to deal with their feverish, whiny kid. I will admit that I have given my kid Tylenol and sent him to school. I was out of sick days and needed to work a certain amount of hours each week to pay the bills. So I am not judging these parents.... much. You shouldn't do it but until someone makes child care options easy and affordable for working parents, I can see how it happens. Still, bottom line, you shouldn't do it.

Then there are other parents who have put so much emphasis on Perfect Attendance that their child fakes being well and goes to school sick so they can get the designation of being ... perfect. And then that child goes and gets 20 percent of their classmates sick... who then go home and get their siblings sick... then the siblings go back to their classrooms ... and then get 20 percent of their classmates sick... and so on. It's a vicious virus cycle.

And the schools perpetuate this ridiculous cycle. They make a HUGE deal out of Perfect Attendance. Perfect Attendance does not include excused absences for illness or surgery where the work is made up. It only counts if you show up each and every day and stay in school every day... no doctor's appointments, nothing. The administration and teachers congratulate the Perfect Attendance kids with a huge round of applause at the awards assembly each quarter. They congratulate the Perfect Attendance parents for being exemplary specimens of parenthood with a huge round of applause each quarter. Meanwhile, I'm sitting there, knowing exactly which parents sent their "perfect" children to school sick. I want to stand up and throw tomatoes at the podium and tell the leading applauders that some of the parents they are applauding are far from exemplary specimens of parenthood. But another life lesson not usually learned in a classroom is that perception is reality and my throwing tomatoes will just make me look like the crappy parent. So, I refrain. I also didn't plan ahead and hide tomatoes in my purse.

Yes... I am complaining... however, when I complain, I like to provide a solution. It may not be a viable solution because I do not have all of the facts as to what goes in to a school Perfect Attendance Policy. But, I am a reasonably intelligent individual who wants to applaud the parents who keep their sick children at home so that maybe the next flu epidemic is stymied.

How about replacing the Perfect Attendance Award with the Excellent Attendance Award? An award where students who are never tardy and never have an unexcused absence are recognized? Where they are allowed three excused sick days a semester. Where parents who are responsible and keep their contagious kids at home are applauded. And maybe fewer kids at the school will get sick and miss school in the long run. So, require a doctor's note, a picture of the sick kid, or some other proof, whatever. But if your kid makes up the work he or she missed, gets three or less excused sick days a semester, then they get an Excellent Attendance Award. That way they can have mole surgery and get the Kuni Krud and still be proud of their efforts to be at school on time.

So, that's my rant.. and my solution. Spread the word, support the cause... vote for the Excellent Attendance Award.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

So, How do I Space A?

I used Space A travel to my advantage this month. I got word that my 93-year-old grandmother was having some health issues, and that my parents were a little down due to some family bullsh*t that I'd love to rant publicly about but, as a mature adult, I realize I need to take the high road on this and keep my ranting private. The end of December and January are slow times for me with regard to work and volunteering in Iwakuni. It was the perfect time to travel to the States. Of course, last minute commercial travel can be expensive, especially when you are traveling halfway around the world. Cue Space A travel. If you are an eligible member of the military community, have the time, own nerves of steel and are very lucky, you can make it to the States from Iwakuni for $35 or less.

I have had both great and horrible luck with Space A travel in the year and a half that I have lived in Iwakuni. Space A is short for space available, and you can hitch a ride on aircraft to destinations all around the world if you are a member of the military or a military dependent attached to an overseas installation. I am a dependent attached to an overseas installation, therefore, I am eligible for Space A travel without my sponsor, i.e., husband. I need a Command Sponsor Letter that is good for 90 days. If I want to jump up a category (there are 6 categories) for a better chance of getting on the flights I want, I need to get an EML, or Environmental and Morale Leave letter. You can get an EML letter once every 6 months. Your command administration should be able to issue you these documents.

I decided to roll the dice at the end of December and get my Command Sponsor letter and EML paperwork. I took the documents to the Iwakuni terminal and had them stamped with the date and time. The sooner your paperwork is stamped, the higher up on the priority list you are within your category. Thanks to my documents, I was Category 4. Only an active duty Marine could beat me out of a seat... but with only one available seat listed for the Patriot flight bound for Seattle, I wasn't expecting to get on the flight. I hadn't been able to get on flights with more seats available in the past. But, I figured I would think positive... if I was meant to go to the States, then I would get on the flight. If I wasn't, well, then, I wouldn't. I had to be at the terminal 3.5 hours before the flight was scheduled to take off... and I wouldn't know if I made it on the flight for an hour after I arrived, luggage and documents in hand. The thoughtful spouse brought me lunch at the terminal while I waited....

It was about this time that I was told I had won the Space A craps game... I got a seat on the flight to Seattle! I paid my $35 for required taxes and fees and sat back down in the waiting area, boarding pass in hand. Now it was time to Skype the family back home and let them know they would need to pick a surprise up at the airport the next afternoon (in their time zone)... and I wasn't sure which airport. Cue the nerves of steel.

Is all of this sounding like a complicated, crazy role-playing game, complete with dragons and dungeons, and a ton of weird rules and rituals? You're right. It is. Only there are C-130s instead of dragons and airport terminals instead of dungeons. Do not ask me to explain Space A to you.... and don't ask anyone else who has experience with it, either. At least not until you have done some research on your own so you can ask pointed, specific questions. Going up to an experienced Space A traveler and asking, "How do I Space A?" is a waste of your time and theirs. Mostly theirs. Because you'll retain a quarter of the useful information they will tell you, and it will have taken them an hour to tell you the most basic useful information. So, in an effort to annoy other people less, and to save yourself some time, if you really want to take advantage of Space A travel, here are some places to start:

1) MCAS Iwakuni offers Space A classes a few times a year. Keep an eye out in the Preview magazine published online and on base monthly for class listings. Register for the class early - it is a popular one.

2) The Yakota Terminal Facebook page has some good, but very basic, info to get started with. Here is the link. (All of the major terminals have Facebook pages with Space A info. "Like" them all. If you are in Iwakuni, I recommend "liking" the Iwakuni, Kadena, Yokota, Travis (California), and Seattle AMC terminals at the very least.)

3) The Air Mobile Command has a site for Space A travel. This is the know all, be all, of current rules and regulations regarding Space A. It's worth spending some time on this page before planning any Space A trip, or asking an experienced Space A traveler any questions.

4) Dirk Pepperd's Space A message board site is one you have to become a member of, but the information available to you is astounding. Seasoned Space-Aers post their experiences, what flights are being posted, chances of getting on a flight, etc., and it can be very useful if you are trying to string several Space A flights together to get to your final destination. One thing to keep in mind is that if you are a dependent flying without your sponsor, you cannot hop flights within the U.S. Once your plane ends its journey at its final destination, that is where you must find your own commercial transportation. If your plane is scheduled to travel from Iwakuni to Kadena (Okinawa) to Hawaii to Travis (California), you must get off at Travis and then take a shuttle to one of the airports nearby for a commercial flight. San Francisco, Oakland or Sacramento are all in the vicinity, FYI. But you cannot grab a Space A flight out of Travis to Texas or Virginia. Active duty personnel may have other options).

So, I did manage to get to the SeaTac AMC terminal. But that is where my $35 flight ended. I had to purchase a ticket to Southern California from there. I could have planned ahead, and searched the internet for a cheap flight with a couple of lay overs, but I wasn't in the mood. I paid for the next direct flight to the airport of my choice... and from the time I landed to the time I was wheels up again was less than 2 hours. So, after traveling for 24 hours, and having shelled out less than $400, I got to teach my grandma what a selfie was... in person.