Confessions of a First-Time Kindergarten Mom
Step into the inbox of a first-time Kindergarten mom as Ashley Winter, CEL Content Marketing Coordinator, navigates the realities of school communication.
I hate school drop-off. It’s not the car line or the ungodly early hours that have me rolling my eyes. No, it’s the moment when my 5-year-old hops out of the car, disappears into the elementary school, and leaves me in the dust. For the next nine hours, he’s in the capable hands of the school, and I won’t see him until the whirlwind of evening activities begins.
I trust the school to keep our child safe and sound, but there’s always that nagging worry in the back of my mind. After all, I work in school marketing, and I’ve seen my fair share of school-related nightmares. When the tragedy in Uvalde struck, I helped a client write a message about it to their own school community. Then I went into the bathroom at work and sobbed. Can I trust my son’s school? I have no choice.
Each school day, there’s a non-zero chance I’ll read a terrifying newspaper headline and keep our son home with me, and I’m definitely not cut out for homeschooling. So for school drop-off, my husband handles that part.
Every morning, as my husband pulls out of our driveway, my son rolls down the car window and hollers, “I love you, Mom! I hope you have a good day today!” He blows me kisses and holds his hands up in a heart shape. It’s a moment I hold dear, knowing it won’t last forever. I love him more than words can express.
The Email Avalanche
Our school has care of the most precious thing in my life. And so, when the school sends updates on his learning and activities, I love that too. It’s another layer of feeling secure about my son. The teacher posts pictures on her website, sends weekly newsletters about their learning, and emails important classroom news.
But oh, the emails. The emails! Today as I write this, it’s the 19th day of Kindergarten. I’ve just counted, and I have 66 emails from the school in those 19 days (and I’ve certainly missed some). If I’m doing the math correctly, that means I’m on track to receive over 600 emails this year.
For working parents like me, time is precious. Between school and bedtime, we can reclaim maybe 3 hours of time together. And those hours are not exactly “quality time.” It’s more like a mad rush to get dinner on the table, tackle the dishes, take out the trash, and somehow muster up the energy to play a board game – because, of course, we will.
These few hours with our children in the evening are invaluable. It’s not just about quantity; it’s about quality. Our evenings should be filled with meaningful moments where we can fit them in, not spent sifting through a barrage of last-minute emails. And I can’t help but wonder how families with less flexibility manage these constant communication demands.
Most of these emails contain valuable information—assuming I can find them in my spam box. They come from so many different people, and half of them come only to me as the primary parent contact. And the timing often leaves me perplexed. Schools—you do the same things every year, so why do email communications come only a day or two before big events? Homecoming can’t possibly be a surprise to you.
My inbox is a frenzy of district announcements, community flyers, job openings, transportation updates, welcome emails, district newsletters, parent-teacher conference sign-ups, donation emails, PTA emails, school newsletters, teacher newsletters, after-school program updates, fundraiser emails, volunteer requests, event notifications, and don’t even get me started on illness notes (this week it’s the great pinkeye outbreak). And we only have one child! I can’t imagine adding multiple children, sports, after-school activities, and special services into this mix.
Here’s a head-scratcher – the only email I didn’t receive was from the school nurse, informing me that my son had punctured his leg with a piece of metal on the playground. He came home wearing his band-aid like a badge of honor, but the school stayed silent. I toyed with the idea of firing off an angry email, but I held my tongue. One mistake does not a pattern make.
As a first-time Kindergarten parent, I’m already treading water here. Thank goodness I have access to my email all day long—otherwise, these first-come, first-serve email sign-ups would be brutal. I’m able to secure one of the limited time slots that don’t require us to take time off work. Sorry, other families and multi-child families—this can’t be easy.
Timing Is Everything
These emails are useful, no doubt about it. A whole week of dressing up for Homecoming? That’s fine. But sending me the list the Friday before the dress-up week? Sometimes I wonder if the people sending these emails are parents themselves.
I also need to acknowledge my place of privilege here—my husband and I have weekends off and jobs that allow us to do things like run to Target to buy a flannel shirt for Flannel Friday. I have to imagine there are other families without the same flexibility that dread these last-minute emails. It doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for creativity or planning.
I said it above, but it bears repeating—schools do the same events every single year. You should have templates for these common communications and a schedule for sending them out/updating the information on your website. Homecoming, prom, graduation—these shouldn’t be last-minute communications, barring unforeseen disasters (knock on wood).
How to Build School Spirit
If there’s one thing our home district excels at, it’s building school spirit. In just 19 days of school, my son has become a walking encyclopedia of school colors, mascots, and fight songs. He’s positively ecstatic to be a part of his school community. When the Homecoming shirt sale email hit my inbox, my son’s excitement reached stratospheric levels. I’m convinced that he still doesn’t really know what homecoming is, but the school fostered such a sense of pride in him that he’s been wearing his homecoming sweatshirt like a token of achievement. He even takes it off during lunch to prevent sauce-related mishaps.
Our school district might be an ace at school spirit, but consistent branding and communication clarity? Not their strong suit.
Picture this: my son is hyped about attending the Homecoming football game. Everyone’s going, so why shouldn’t he? I tried to buy tickets, but it was like hunting for treasure with a blindfold on. Nothing on the website, Google searches leading me down rabbit holes, and a football Facebook page that may or may not have been legit (there’s no branding or school logo to be seen!)
What’s a parent to do?
Facebook Mom Groups to the Rescue
I know what you’re thinking. As a school communicator, how could I? Just hear me out, in less than three minutes, I had my ticket dilemma sorted. That’s the magic of Facebook—quick answers without the digital maze. If your website and newsletters aren’t an easy font of information, parents will turn to social media to get quick answers. You can only hope those quick answers also happen to be accurate.
Flash forward to the morning of the Homecoming game, and the school district finally decided to grace us with an email about ticket sales and game details. It came from yet another unfamiliar email address and could have easily been lost in the ridiculous jungle that is my spam mailbox.
The Game That Wasn’t (or Was It?)
That Friday night as we rolled into the school parking lot, the sky split open, and a lightning bolt raced across the sky. There we were, sitting in the car, illuminated by lightning, refreshing every digital platform known to humanity to find out if the Homecoming football game was canceled or delayed. Nothing.
We gave up and took our disappointed kiddo out for ice cream. A good 40 minutes into game time, the district finally deemed it necessary to report on social media that the game was canceled. The next day, Saturday, they casually mentioned that the game had been rescheduled for that afternoon, with free admission. (But did those who had shelled out for Friday tickets get a refund? That, my friends, remains a mystery.)
The High Expectations of a Millennial
I’ll admit it; I’m a millennial. Articles say we have sky-high expectations for instant communication. Maybe it’s true because, in the grand scheme of things, the Homecoming weather debacle doesn’t ruffle my feathers. What does irk me, though, are the constant little communication hiccups. Every communication seems to come late or has missing information. I don’t know where to look for information because there are so many different channels to check. It makes me wonder about the overall state of the district. Is everything this chaotic and disorganized? And we’re only 19 days into our adventure with this district.
As a school communicator, I walk a fine line between sympathy and frustration. I help clients strategize website redesigns, write communications plans, develop marketing tactics, and quite literally redo their websites on a daily basis. I know firsthand it’s not a walk in the park to fine-tune your communication plan and social media strategy. But it’s not rocket science either, and it’s vital. Think of your digital presence as the Director of First Impressions. If your website and social media aren’t friendly and helpful, it’s like walking into an office and finding an empty reception desk.
Plotting a Course for Effective School Communication
I recently found myself deep in a conversation with a colleague on this very subject. While our parenting journeys might take different routes, we share a common gripe – communication, or the lack thereof.
You see, many schools seem to operate as if they’ve been around since the dawn of time and will endure for eternity. It’s a kind of complacency that seeps in. They’re accustomed to parents just sending children to their schools, and when enrollment starts to wane, panic sets in. Writing enrollment marketing plans? Refreshing websites? Selling themselves as the place parents want their kids to be? That’s uncharted territory. To remain not just afloat but relevant, schools must embrace proactive transparency and become masters of clear, concise communication.
If there’s a single piece of advice I could share with all school communicators, administrators or Superintendents, it’s this: effective communication isn’t achieved just by sending out messages. You must communicate in a way that reaches your audience. Have you ever caught yourself saying, “This population within our school is hard to reach?” If so, let’s toss that out of our vocabulary. Instead, our question should be, “Where are our communications failing our families, and what can we do to improve?”
I get it, times are tough. You likely don’t have enough staff. You don’t have enough time. Perhaps your district is grappling with funding woes, political dramas, declining enrollment, aging facilities, or school board clashes – there’s always something. But the work is so valuable. Do a communications audit. Send out surveys. Delve into analytics to understand what parents need and want from your website. It’s work that will reward you in the end.
Parents want to be a partner in their children’s learning. We’re trusting you to keep our kids safe, to teach them, to help them prepare for the real world AND to fill them with inspiration, aspirations, and dreams.
As a content marketing coordinator, I have the joy of helping many different types of schools. Whether it’s small niche charter schools, large institutions in big cities, small districts in rural areas, or virtual schools, one common thread unites them all: a shared commitment to the value of education, a genuine affection for the students they serve, and a strong desire to foster connections and engagement within their broader communities.
But families need to see these things in a way they can understand. You can’t take for granted that parents know your values, especially as competition is rising. On the rare days I do school drop-off, every time my son hops out of my car, I briefly contemplate switching to virtual school. I have options. Your families have options. Make communication a strategic priority to show them why you’re the best one.
Published on: October 4, 2023