Back-to-school: Crayons, Chaos and Connectivity

There’s a lot more to back-to-school than backpacks and lunchboxes. In today’s blog, Jessica Olstad explores the connectivity that keeps schools and students in check…and first-time parents in the loop.

Jess_daughterMy mom has been right about so many things.

  • I do regret that tattoo.
  • That boyfriend in high school was indeed no good for me.
  • My daughter shouldn’t have eaten that whole jar of prunes in one sitting.

Never was that more on display than when I took that same daughter, our firstborn, to the bus stop for kindergarten. She wasn’t scared. She wasn’t shy. And no, she didn’t miss me. I cried more. Mom was right again. She was a kindergarten teacher for many years, so I’m not quite sure why I questioned her. She knows how little people are when they arrive at school. Apprehensive, sure. But scared? Nah. They’re so happy to be there.

So much is the same as when my mom was in the classroom. Yet, so much has changed. The biggest evolution is the network of networks that our schools use, and how we as parents rely on them to understand and follow along with what our kids do every day.

I’ll admit I was very overwhelmed when things started happening. Sign up for this program online. Remember your password for that software. Pay for lunches here. Get your bus stop location there. Geesh, if we think the kids are uneasy, that’s nothing compared to parents’ nerves.

Jess_2Perhaps I wouldn’t even think about it as much if I did anything else for a living. Our lives at CommScope – in the office and in the field – revolve around networks, so I notice them more. Now I have a whole new appreciation for the Connected and Efficient Building! My child has a computer-generated ID number that stays with her through high school. She has a lunch code to remember. My husband and I have several different websites we need to check to get calendars, lunch menus and pay for field trips. Teachers encourage email over phone calls. Our school has its own app. The parent-teacher organization has a private Facebook page.

I’ll play the “back in my day…” card and say – we showed up for school, got lunch by standing in line and paying with cash, and got on the bus to come home. If teachers needed to talk to parents, they waited until after school hours to call (gasp!) the land line. Our biggest piece of technology was the huge calculator I needed for Trig and Calculus, and man, my folks were not thrilled to shell out the cash for that monstrosity. Now, Network World has its own back-to-school gadget list for kids, and elementary school kids have a newer version of the iPhone than I do.

I’m actually not complaining; I’m impressed. Some people might say all of this technology takes the teaching away from teachers. I believe that the opposite is true – it brings them together. The connectivity it takes to run a school is awe-inspiring. It also forces parents to become even more involved; transparency is stronger than ever. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says both parents worked out of the home in nearly 61 percent of married-couple families. It’s nice to know that a mouse click can alert me to a late bus or if our daughter’s lunch money is running low – all from my desk at work.

People run networks, and I’m proud to work for a company that helps them do that. It keeps the first-time kindergarten moms like me from pulling their gray hairs out, even if my own mother said I had nothing to worry about.