Sunday, January 21, 2007

Fire Drills

I enjoy touring schools. I love to see how well a school is organized and whether it has a welcoming atmosphere. I’m always impressed with both the decorating and creative skills of those teachers who make learning more than a chore for 6-8 hours a day.

There are, however, a few things that make me a little crazy. Old and unused equipment littering the hallways creates an accident waiting to happen to some unsuspecting eight year old who didn’t heed his teacher’s direction to WALK in the hall.

Front offices that scream “I need an extreme makeover!” make them look disorganized and unprofessional, and make me feel like I’ve stepped into a garbage dump instead of a place that nurtures my children.

Some teachers decorate their institution white painted walls passionately and without apology while others believe decoration only distracts. Math teachers are especially minimalists when it comes to classroom decoration. You might find the chart of prime numbers posted, but that’s about it.

Kindergarten teachers are especially playful when it comes to classroom décor. Every available wall space is used to display fun, inspiration and stimulation for the five year olds in their care.

But teachers are going to have to find a new way to be creative.

Fire marshals all over the country are cracking down on school decorations. I think prison cells are permitted more posters than some of today’s classrooms.

No more mobiles hanging from the ceiling tiles.

No more posters wallpapering the walls; only 20% of the surface can be covered.

No more carpet tiles, extra furniture, or even extra books – all considered fire fuel.

The creative teacher’s heart in me breaks. But who can argue with wanting to keep our children safe?

The truth is that schools may be doing a better job at it than we, as parents, are.

Schools conduct monthly unannounced fire drills, install sprinkler systems, and punish anyone who pulls the fire alarm. The fire department comes every year to educate students on fire safety and teach health and safety lessons.

Many of us have smoke detectors, but do we know if they are working?

We’re told to practice what to do in the case of a fire, get those ladders that help us escape from a second story window, and keep a fire extinguisher within reach in our kitchen. Show of hands please of how many of us do that.

I look at all the extra furniture in our house and the hundreds of books we have, and I know we live in a tinder box.

But how often does a fire marshal come and inspect my home for safety?

Teachers hate being told what to do, but so do parents.

I can fume and smolder at the fire marshals edicts, or I can do what it takes to keep my kids safe – at home and at school. Our children are more precious than my photo albums, my collection of Neil Diamond records, or my insurance policy.

When the fire alarm sounds, it’s comforting to know that the only thing teachers take with them when they exit the building are our children – even if their decorations got smothered on the way.

Copyright 2007 Vicki Caruana. All rights reserved.