Last week, I was watching the NBA All-Stars Saturday Night Jam. In the comfort of my home, I enjoyed the events that included the 3-point shoot out and the Slam Dunk contest. We were in the middle of the NBA All-Star weekend in New Orleans. Basketball greats like Kobe Bryant and Charles Barkley are walking our streets, visiting our restaurants and popping up at playgrounds, schools, and the convention center. Watching the lights of the cityscape at night from the aerial view above the Arena and the Superdome could make one forget that much of the city is still devastated and under repair, 2 ½ years after Hurricane Katrina.
About 70 of our students from grades 5th to 8th attended the annual T-Mobile Rookie Challenge and Youth Jam. The students were treated to a snack of pizza and soft drinks after school while waiting to board buses to a game Friday evening as part of this weekend’s festivities. They received free game tickets, a special I.D. card and a magenta jersey to wear to the game. “American Idol” winner, Jordin Sparks performed at half-time. According to the newspaper, more than 5,000 students attended the game.
Periodically, I ask the question, “How hard can it be?” in reference to the goings-on at the school. You might be surprised at how hard it can be to send students to a game where all expenses are paid for you. It can be hard because communication is difficult.
To begin with, I received an email about the event right before Mardi Gras. The original messages were dated January 19th, almost a month before the event. I didn’t recognize the email address and either missed, ignored or deleted the email from the NBA contact person. Had that message gone to the principal or the administrative assistant (both former basketball players), I’m sure it would have gotten immediate attention. Later, I received a message that someone from the NBA had called the school for me. When I called back, more than a week had passed since the email notice had been distributed. By that time, we were coming up on the Mardi Gras madness and trying to get signed forms from parents, spreadsheets with student information, and chaperons lined up in three-days’ time.
I forwarded the message to the principal and noted that we had to get the signed permission slips returned in a short time. I planned to send them by overnight express mail to make the deadline for registration. During the conversation with the nice lady from the NBA, I mentioned that we had approximately 150 students in the designated grades. About 20 or 30 of them had been suspended or had poor attendance and would not (according to the program guidelines) be allowed to attend. She said that all of them could come.
On the day I was scheduled to mail the package, I went to the school and discovered that there were only 25 permission slips returned. Only one eight grade students was going. One class had not received letters at all—they disappeared from the teacher’s desk. And many eligible students did not have signed letters because the students didn’t realize they needed to return the permission slips by the next day. In one class the teacher didn’t include all of the eligible students as punishment to a group of students who broke various rules the previous week. These children had never been suspended, nor did they have poor attendance. They should have been allowed to attend the basketball event.
I thought back to the Harry Potter book signing with J.K. Rowling a few months ago, another special event where our children were not in attendance, and thought, “This can’t be happening again.” I swallowed my embarrassment and called the NBA contact to explain that we did not have all of the permission slips. It was the Friday before Mardi Gras and we were going to be out of school until the next Thursday. There was barely enough time for us to receive the jerseys before the game. Luckily, she was very understanding. Putting on such a huge event meant we were not the only ones with a few kinks in the process. About half of our eligible students were able to attend the game and enjoy the festivities. Some of the parents didn’t have transportation to pick up their children late at night from the school after the event. It was just too hard to arrange for some of our kids.
My son attended with a group of students from the school where he coaches. He said it was a fun event, but they did not get away from the school until almost midnight. It was a long day. He also said that there were lots of empty seats on the upper levels. Maybe others found it difficult to get their students to the special event as well. Some of the students and even a few chaperones were disappointed that they could not attend. The principal and another chaperone told me the kids behaved beautifully. I’m just glad that two busloads of McDonogh 42 Owls were ‘in the house’ with Yao Ming, Kevin Garnett, and Chris Bosh, enjoying a special night of B’ball.
The opinions expressed in Starting Over: A Post-Katrina Education are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.