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Fiona Highet on the joys and not-joys of school fundraising

givins/shaw public school

One afternoon we precooked 600 sausages. We started at 3:30 and finished around 7:30. We went back to the school at 6am the next morning, still reeking of pork, to reheat those selfsame sausages. What we learned by 9am was that we really only needed 400.

The next pancake breakfast, we bypassed the pancake mix in the overcrowded aisle at Costco because we were certain we already had two full bags. That night, as we were cooking the 400 sausages we realized that the pancake mix was probably “compromised by vermin” in the months that had passed and we were now at 7pm – batterless. What we learned was a little about taking inventory and much more than we wanted to know about vermin in the school.

pancake breakfast

In a mad rush to be ready for the Holiday concert, we organized some very talented artist parents to prepare and print a lovely “donation card” that could be purchased to give as gifts. We sold five. What we learned is that people don’t want these things. In a stroke of genius, we organized a t-shirt design competition, open to students, staff and parents and had altogether too many fabulous designs to choose from. We made a shirt that we could not keep in stock and that every child has been incredibly proud to wear all year long. What we learned was that selection  processes are never fair and that some fundraising is better than others.

I hereby propose that in the realm of fundraising for elementary schools we simply acknowledge that the process essentially sucks the FUN right out of it. I propose we go right ahead and  change the term to ‘DRAISING. It sounds more like it is: draining + razing: a kind of long, slow burning down of something that contains your very heart,and soul, and costs your money as well  as your blood, sweat and tears (plus, it sounds vaguely street –“ omg, my mum won’t stop ‘draising, WTF, I guess it’s another late night party at the school” all the kids will say).

It’s tough fundraising for schools; the parents only care as long as their kids are at the school. Yet for those few years, we care deeply and passionately. After all, it’s our children we’re talking about here: we are ‘draising for our kids: for their education, their right to a variety of experiences, the best opportunities we can provide, a nurturing school life replete with all the things we had or didn’t have that together create our idea of a happy, memorable, golden childhood. What could be more important? And goddamit, they’re worth it.

So we bake cupcakes, we raffle wine, we donate our old tchotchkes and fill our kids pockets with money to buy new tchotchkes, we bring in old clothes, we pledge for something-a-thons, we buy flower bulbs, chocolates, seeds, giftcards, magazines we would never have even looked at did they not promise a better school for our kids, we have pancake breakfasts, barbecues, fun fairs.

Some of these ‘draising opportunities are sexier than others. There’s no question the parents at our school get a helluva lot more out of drinking wildly and childlessly at a bar while our Parent  Band cranks out the hits (I have to say: this is a band freakishly stacked with more talent than any one school should have easy access to), than they do standing in the baking heat of late May  while their kids eat nothing but sno cones and jump around inside a bouncer ’til nausea gets the better of them (kids and parents alike).

But that’s the way it is. We are building community as well as raising money. We are raising money so that the school becomes a community. Raising money for playgrounds: so all kids have something to do at recess; for sports teams: so kids of all grades can come together to do something they love for their school; for field trips, visiting scientists and artists in the classroom: so all the kids in the school have access to the myriad of resources a city as vibrant as Toronto has to offer; for music: so all kids who want to play music can do so whether or not their parents can  provide music lessons.

I am the co-Chair of the School Council at our sweet little school and as such have the privilege of involvement in almost every ‘draising initiative that goes on. I often wonder, “What have I  gotten myself into?” I wonder if School Councils do anything BUT ‘draise. I get exhausted by the number of emails required to get things going, the constant cajoling of other parents and the discouraging attendance at Council meetings. Yet as we witness the school board debate the possibility of putting advertising in the schools, hear about the potential for more school closures, watch the cap on classroom size disappear without a word of protest, witness the confusion and chaos of a school forced to implement Full Day Kindergarten and the financial stress this will bring to dwindling operations budgets, I find myself energized by indignation and feel convinced that most parents share values around public education that include playgrounds, sports, music and field trips.

I know I am in fact privileged to have the time and energy to devote to this crucial part of my kids lives and I’m honoured to be involved in the cooking of every single sausage.

‘Draise a little Hell! Is my new battle cry.

Givins/Shaw Public School Fun Fair is Saturday May 26 from 11- 4, the All-Star Givins/Shaw Parent Band Night is May 17, 7pm, at the Cadillac Lounge on Queen West.

Fiona Highet is an actress in Toronto and is married to Sloan’s Andrew Scott.

Top photo via Givins/Shaw, other photos by Robert Banh, cookiespi and jmbmommy via Flickr

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