Category Archives: Public Schools

Automated Restrooms – Is Technology Going Down the Toilet?

What do my son’s elementary school and our local Costco have in common? They both recently installed automated restrooms.

Gone are the days of catching the plague by handling toilet flushers, sink faucets and paper towel dispensers. Now you can stroll into the public restroom and never touch a thing besides your tender behind.

Automated faucet at school

It feels a lot like zooming into an episode of The Jetsons. You do your business, stand up, and the toilet flushes your remnants to oblivion. Just hold your hands under the faucet, and water magically streams over your soiled fingers. Some bathrooms are even equipped with dispensers that automatically release luxurious foamy soap. Then you just wave your freshly washed hands in front of the powerful dryer and voilà – you’re a vision of sanitary loveliness.

At least that’s the way it’s supposed to work.

I’m all for automation making my life easier. I never want to go back to driving a stick shift or telling time by sundial, and if my husband had to trim our lawn with a push mower, the grass would be so tall you wouldn’t see our house.

Unfortunately, automation is not an exact science, so sometimes its usefulness backfires.

Automated Costco faucet trough

Take the afore-mentioned automated restroom. Technology has not yet perfected the automatic toilet seat cover, so I have upload that myself. It’s probably a good thing, because it could automatically dispense hole-less sheets of paper, leaving me sitting in a pool of my own excrement. I can see immediate recalls of that product.

So I have to apply my own layer of protection, which is pretty silly since that protection lies in a sheet of tissue paper less than a millimeter thick. One drop of any previous customer’s bodily fluids on the toilet seat will instantaneously be absorbed into the paper and transferred to my own buttocks. Not much protection there.

Next I take a one-minute break from my very very busy life to sit down and have a peaceful poop. This is the time in the day that I’ll tie my shoes. Rather than waste five seconds by stopping pedestrian traffic stooping over to fasten my laces, I’ll sometimes wait an hour until the time I know I’ll be sitting down to use the toilet. This is multitasking at the most insane level. And I pride myself on it. Sick, right?

Automated school hand dryer

However, the brain of my automated toilet senses that by leaning over to tie my shoe, I’m done going number 1 and number 2 and it will automatically flush. My butt is still glued to the sticky seat, and suddenly I’m getting an unwanted bidet of toilet water (not the fragrant kind) intermixed with my urine and feces spraying up my butt and back. And like the flame facing a firefighter’s powerful hose, I am drenched.

After using an entire roll of toilet paper to clean myself, I step to the automated faucets and hold my hands in front of the sensor. Usually one of two things happens. Either the faucet runs. And runs. And runs. And I feel guilty for contributing to the water shortage in Southern California. Or nothing happens. I hold my hands still. I wave my hands wildly. I curse the damn faucet and move on to the next one hoping that it, like its evil twin, does not think I’m invisible. I get enough of that from my kids.

Personally, I love the automatic foamy soap dispenser, but they’re hard to find. Public restrooms have come a long way from the days of doling out gritty Ajax-like soap that makes you feel like you’re massaging sandpaper into you palms. Most of the time you still have to pump your own soap – a task that seems to be too time-consuming for most kids.

Finally I move on to the last step – the automated hand dryer. There are frequently signs posted on these devises, proudly stating that they’ve been installed for your benefit (the restroom consumer, the one who gives away your product for free) so that you will not be contributing to the world’s overflowing landfills. Instead, the dryers are run on electricity, which in turn is generated by dirty coal, so you choose your poison.

The dryers are also governed by sensors, and you have to perform yet another mime act of waving your hands in front of it to make it work. It too has the misfortune of either playing dead or running long enough to blow dry a sopping Australian shepherd. The other problem: the loud noise scares the bejesus out of small children (coincidentally, always the noisiest ones). However, with the sounds of inadvertently flushing toilets, endlessly running sinks, thunderous blow dryers and screaming toddlers, the cacophony scares away those people gabbing on their cell phones as if they’re in their own private powder room.

As far as I know, restroom automation has not extended itself to automatic doors, although I would love to see that invention – particularly in busy restrooms like the mall or McDonald’s. I really hate touching a restroom doorknob and wondering if it’s wet because the previous supplier washed her hands, or because she  didn’t wash her hands.

I hope I live to see the day when public restroom automation includes wiping my butt. Unfortunately, this invention would probably suffer the same flaws as the faucet and the hand dryer – wiping too much or not at all. On the other hand, some people might like the “wipe too much” bug and return to their favorite restroom over and over, whether or not they have the urge to go.

That’s maybe something you’d like to add to the suggestion box at your local Costco.

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Filed under Anxiety, Humor, Multitasking, Parenting, Public Schools

Why Can’t the Real World Be Like Our Little Restaurant Fundraisers?

Mrs. Walker with kindergartners

Like other schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District, our local elementary school has been hit hard by budget cuts. Just last month Colfax Charter Elementary’s School Site Council voted to allocate an additional $68,000 to pay for five classroom aides, office staff, and our librarian – funds that in the past were paid for by the district, but are now paid for by the parents.

Besides an impressive 2011 API score of 910, Colfax is attractive to the families of Valley Village for its commitment to the arts, green program, and technology – all which are principally paid for by parent-run fundraisers.

Today it takes a lot more than bake sales to raise that kind of cash. Our annual giving campaign is in full swing, aiming to raise at least the $600 per child it takes to keep the school’s programs afloat. An outdoor movie night, holiday boutique and the upcoming Turkey Trot fundraiser will also hopefully make a dent in our stretched budget.

Last Tuesday we had a double-header, or what I called The Freeway Series minus the freeway. Green Apple China Bistro and Cold Stone Creamery are located in the same Studio City strip mall across from each other, and they both agreed to donate a percentage of their sales back to Colfax.

Teachers and our principal scooping ice cream

On our end, we did a little bit of advertising. We put flyers in all the kids’ backpacks, posted signs around the school entrances, advertised the day on our marquee, added the event to our weekly email blast to all the Colfax families, and made the announcement at our Monday morning assembly.

Green Apple and Cold Stone gave us a percentage of all sales for the day, and as an added incentive, the teachers were invited to scoop ice cream in 15-minute shifts.

Cold Stone line out the door 1

A good bake sale can bring in a hundred dollars, maybe even two. It takes a lot of manpower to make and sell the baked goods, a lot of dough in eggs and flour, and a lot of waste from unsold merchandise. Still, a hundred or two is a boost that can pay for some art supplies or repair a computer.

Yet in one day, these combined restaurant fundraisers brought our school nearly $1000! There was a steady line of customers streaming out the door for two solid hours at Cold Stone, and because the teachers volunteered, they didn’t need to pay for extra bodies during the busy hours.

Teachers scooping ice cream

It’s quite the win-win for all of us. Colfax gains a big wad of money, and the only expense was about $20 in copies for the flyers. The restaurants get a nice tax write-off, and a little bit of free advertising. They also get increased business for the day, and hopefully new loyal customers who will return again and again to thank the businesses that support their local school. The parents get a delicious meal and dessert, and didn’t have to pay a penny more than they normally would if they were going out to dinner. The kids have a great time seeing their teachers outside of school and giving them their order for a change. There’s a strong sense of community as the families have an opportunity to socialize.

Cold Stone line out the door 2

Don’t you think this could be a lesson for the rest of our ailing nation? Why don’t the big businesses give back to their community? Not just a tax write off, but something like 20 – 25%. Like the teachers, the community leaders should volunteer some of their time to mingle with their constituents and get their hands a little dirty (with ice cream, not with whatever muck dirty politicians swim in). The citizens will love those big businesses even more for helping them out and they will in turn become more loyal customers. The real winners will be the kids who get to reap the benefits of better school and a stronger community. And everyone has a good time in the process.

In a perfect world…

But until then, I’ll be buying my ice cream from Cold Stone and my Chinese food from Green Apple. And so will my kids. And then maybe even their kids.

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Filed under Financial Insecurity, Fundraising, Humor, Parenting, Public Education, Public Schools, Volunteering

♫♪ Don’t Know Much About Geography ♫♪

Barry Ritholtz

The World According to Americans

My friend Heidi posted this map to her Facebook page, and I realized that it’s unfortunately so true – particularly with American kids today. I am a huge supporter of public schools, but I believe that they are seriously lacking in teaching our kids about geography and the rest of our world.

I vowed that when I had kids I would never start a conversation with, “When I was your age…” and yet I do remember being taught geography in elementary school. We memorized the 50 states and their capitals, the Canadian provinces and their capitals, European countries and capitals, the rivers of Africa, the islands of Japan, and mountain ranges in South America. I can still remember most of them today, because I recite them in my head whenever I’m bored out of my mind at a long meeting.

Throughout California public elementary schools, the principal geography lesson is taught in the 4th grade on the missions and Native American tribes of the region. It has taken me decades just to remember the politically correct term “Native American” rather than the standard “Indian,” even though my nephew and two nieces are part of the Luiseño tribe from the Pechanga Indian Reservation (notice that people don’t call it “Pechanga Native American Reservation.” Go figure). I also have learned to not clarify “Indian” with “feather, not dot” while in the company of people I don’t know well and might interpret that I’m a racist, which I am not.

The 9-year olds at our local elementary school know all about the Luiseños and the San Gabriel Mission, but very few probably know that our state capital is Sacramento. If you ask them to point out California on a map of the United States, they probably can do it, but if they are offered to find it on a globe, I suspect that many of them would just be spinning it on its axis, looking for a dot that identifies the Luiseños.

The only reason our kids know the names of the states is from singing “50 Fifty United States” in chorus and “Boogie Woogie Bugle March” from Vaudeville. Thank God our parents raise funds for the arts, or the kids would be at a standstill after naming California and Florida. After all, Disney is the capital of those states, isn’t it?

There are states they might have heard of from other walks of life: Kentucky Fried Chicken, Jersey Shore, Hawaii Five-0, Texas hold ‘em, AriZona Tea, and of course California Pizza Kitchen. They probably don’t realize that Rhode Island is not actually an island, that West Virginia is actually northwest of Virginia, or that Washington State and Washington, D.C are not only not the same thing, but are on opposite ends of the country. If they had to pick out Hawaii from a map, they would likely choose the Channel Islands.

And that’s just the U.S. I’m absolutely certain that they have no idea that North and South Korea have a very different kind of boundary than the ones between the Dakotas and the Carolinas. They think anyone who’s first language is Spanish must be from Mexico and that Vietnamese, Japanese and Chinese are just dialects of the same language. They wouldn’t know that the North Pole is smack in the middle of an ocean, and that the Middle East and Midwest probably have absolutely nothing in common.

These days, children not only have no clear idea where American landmarks like Mount Rushmore or the Washington Monument are located, they probably have never heard of these landmarks in the first place. However, they can immediately tell you were to find Forever 21 in the mall, or the nearest Starbucks or McDonalds. They are also quite deft at navigating their Facebook page.

Now that my daughters are in middle and high school, they are thankfully learning more about world geography. My own geographical cockiness bit me in the butt recently when Mary Belle came home talking about the five oceans of the world. I corrected her.

“There are four oceans.”

“No, mom. There are five.”

I immediately spewed off the oceans: “Pacific, Atlantic, Indian and Arctic.”

I asked her about the fifth, but she couldn’t remember what it was and said it was near Antarctica. I figured she was just thinking of some fictional body of water from Atlantis.

My husband called me over to the computer. He had Wikipedia open to Ocean, and wouldn’t you know – there’s a fifth ocean called the Southern Ocean, which is “sometimes considered an extension of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans which encircles Antarctica.”

Touché. I’d better start studying the globe a little better. And not the one that still shows USSR.

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Filed under Humor, Public Education, Public Schools

♪♫ The 12 Days of LAUSD ♪♫

3 kids + 3 LAUSD Schools

The term “hit the ground running” must have been coined by the parents of school-aged children during the weeks following Labor Day. The days of kids staying up til 10 or 11, eating pop tarts and chips and watching endless hours of the Disney Channel have come to a screeching halt.

No more hitting the snooze button three times before crawling out of bed. I pop up like a Jack-in-the-Box on the first ring, suddenly a Marine Drill Sergeant yelling, “Move! Move! Move!” as I coax my kids out the door using more stick than carrot.

That’s just the morning. My nights are now filled with parent meetings: orientation, back to school, PTA, Governance, committee meetings, and restaurant fundraisers as hundreds of my fellow parents huddle up like a pro football team, strategizing budget cuts, plotting ways to help our overworked teachers, and basically taking our already limited time from our little angels with the goal of improving public education.

Classes for most of the 2011-2012 Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) have been back in session for three weeks now, and with my kids’ ages of 5, 10 and 15, I am now a parent in three different LAUSD schools: Colfax Charter Elementary School in Valley Village; Millikan Middle School & Performing Arts Magnet in Sherman Oaks; and Cleveland High School Humanities Magnet in Reseda.

So in honor of the other LAUSD parents, here’s a little ditty you can sing to the tune of The 12 Days of Christmas. I’ve created an accompanying video with subtitles so you can sing along…

The 12 Days of LAUSD

By the 12th day of school at LAUSD

(we got)

12 discarded lunches

11 trips to Staples

10 forms to fill out

9 parent meetings

8 rescinded teachers

7 vaccinations

6 weekly emails

5 unanswered rings

4 requests for cash

3 dozen robo calls

2 buses broken down

and a lock down from a chemical spill

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Filed under Humor, Multitasking, Parenting, Public Schools, Volunteering