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Sandra Tsing Loh laughs with PTA about parent burnout

Parents are beginning to notice that education needs to change in a direction that embraces and affirms the fact that, there are children smack in the middle of this large schooling industry. With Alfie Kohn's visit in Los Angeles attracting over 1000 people and with tickets disappearing like hotcakes for the documentary Race to Nowhere, perhaps there is change in the air.

Sandra Tsing Loh advocates new model to decrease burnout for parent activists
Photo by Ehrlich/StockXChng

Who are these proponents leading the change? Well, it definitely is not national or state government officials, nor teacher unions, nor school districts. It seems like there are some seeds of a grassroots movement sprouting here and there; and they are made up of parents.

At least, that is one of the feelings apparent at a special event held by the Burbank Parent Teacher Advocacy (PTA) Council which supports a quality education and nurturing environment for every child and which according to the Burbank PTA Council president, Michelle Hurst, states "[must] care for the kids in the state of California." The Council PTA hosted an evening talk last Wednesday with none other than the "Burning Mom", Sandra Tsing Loh. Ms. Loh, an honored Cal Tech alumna, is a writer, performer, composer, and radio personage and currently hosts the Loh Down on Science  and the Loh Life on NPR.

With her usual irreverent and comedic view on life, she shared five minutes from her video, The Burning Mom, then gave a "Public School Power Point" presentation which she sarcastically described as a Michael's $10 large Newsprint pad with main points written in black Sharpie. Her message: Being an activist parent within a public school system is tough work. Currently, the system, which parents must tolerate in advocating for their children, hold unrealistic expectations of parents and at the same time are unresponsive to their requests, needs, and ways of personally operating the system. She touched upon how parents can be better advocates for children and recommended a new model for parent activist groups. The new model would stray away from the "old school, LAUSD, unenlightened PTA model" to a "HOPEFUL" model: a Happy-to-be-here, "Obamaness-like", Peer-to-peer network, that is Engaging, Fun and embraces "Underpantsy" individual-inspired activism, and Legal precision. Parent advocate groups should have the "Assembly Mom" who knows the legalities of the education system, the "Baking Mom" who reminds the "Assembly Mom" of the tiny details, the "Crafty Mom" who knows how to turn a $1 photo frame into a $50 per child fundraiser activity, and the "Dancing Mom" who makes things fun. The fathers present were acknowledged and given ideas on how to form their own parent advocate groups!

While there were many laughs in the room, the seriousness of burning out parents who are at the beginning filled with so much energy to help schools and advocate for children, was not ignored. Many of the parents present acknowledged the difficulties of attracting fresh blood into advocacy groups, creating more parental awareness of legislature affecting children, setting goals that are do-able, and getting funding to pay for rally, protest, and other advocacy costs. Michelle Hurst hoped that a bigger picture could reach parents making them "aware that the problems that schools experience are not local problems, but state-wide problems." Shall we expand that to nationwide?

The talk also addressed the importance of creating an advocacy model that acknowledges that without relaxation and restoration, advocacy volunteers will burn out. As Sandra Tsing Loh said, "It saps your chi." Connie Nassios , one of the organizers of the event who was hoping Loh's talk would bring people together to discuss serious issues in a more relaxed and comical manner, smiled with satisfaction after the presentation. In line with Ms. Loh's sentiments, it is time for the "beehive" wearing generation to step aside and let the new "forty-somethings" take the helm.


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