Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The evolution of prom April 28, 2015

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Me in the dress I stitched for prom in 1974, my senior year of high school.

Me in the dress I stitched for prom in 1974, my senior year of high school. I went with a date that year.

THERE WAS A TIME when prom was as simple as a bunch of girls and guys dressing up, dining in the school cafeteria and then dancing the night away under crepe paper streamers. No need to have a date, no flowers required, no professional photos, no getting your hair and nails done. No spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars for an evening of fun which, decades later, is mostly forgotten.

I recall few details of my high school proms except the dresses I stitched from flocked gingham and dotted Swiss fabrics.

If there was a grand march at the prom site, the Wanda American Legion, I don’t remember it and my parents were certainly not there to watch. My friends and I snapped pictures of each other with our Instamatic cameras. Many of us came with friends, not dates.

Today’s proms, with expensive formals and flowers and photos and everything else, are nothing like those of 40 years ago. Today even asking someone to prom is a big deal. Take Faribault High School. Student organizers set up a Twitter account encouraging prom goers to submit their promposals. The entry with the most “favorites” won a prize at prom, which was held on Saturday.

I amused myself scrolling through the creative prom invitations. Using Van shoes to arrows to cats, tennis balls, a watch, balloons, dinner out at a Japanese restaurant, bananas, Girl Scout cookies, a horse and more, these students asked each other to prom.

The winner popped his promposal during previews to a movie.

But if I was to choose the winner, I would have selected David, who penned lyrics to his girlfriend, Katie, to the tune of “Marry Me” by Jason Derulo. I don’t know the song. I don’t know the artist. But I do know that writing a song takes time and thought. And I have, as you would expect, an affinity for words.

What are your thoughts on prom and promposals? Have they gone over the top, gotten too expensive, become too important? Or do you like how prom has evolved to what it is today?

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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No first day of school tears here September 6, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:35 AM
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My oldest daughter and my son in a photo taken in May.

MY YOUNGEST STARTED his first day of his final year of high school this morning.

I feel as if I should be crying or something. But I’m not.

By now, by the third child, after 20 years of first days of school, it’s not such a big deal any more. The excitement and the anticipation just aren’t there.

It’s not that I’m a negligent mom who doesn’t care about her child or her child’s education. Rather, the first day of school novelty wore off long ago.

Last night in our house, there was no last-minute packing of the backpack, no pre-school-day jitters. Rather my concern leaned more toward making sure the 17-year-old got to sleep at a reasonable hour.

He is a night owl. If my teen had his way, classes would start around 11 a.m. So today, really, begins the battle of trying to get him to get enough sleep. This issue causes much strife in our household. Next year, at college, he’s on his own.

My focus right now is directed in guiding my son toward selecting a college. He has the smarts—an ACT test score of 32 and nearly a 4.0 GPA—to get in anywhere. But he certainly doesn’t have the money. However, I’ve encouraged him to apply wherever he wishes because maybe, just maybe, he’ll get a financial aid package that will allow him to afford a school he couldn’t otherwise afford.

I’ve suggested he make two college lists: a dream list and a realistic list.

In the meantime, during the first semester of his senior year of high school, my boy is enrolled in a rigorous course of study: Introduction to Economics, Advanced Placement Calculus, Advanced Chemistry and CIS Anatomy/Physiology. He’s also taking speech and logic at the local community technical college. By graduation in June, my son should have more than a semester of college credits earned.

I’ve encouraged him to pursue these college credits. They’re free, I keep telling him. Why wouldn’t you? He understands.

And so these are my thoughts this morning as my last child, who is eight years younger than his oldest sister and six years younger than his other sister, begins his senior year of high school.

No tears shed in this household. But next year at this time, when my husband and I are dropping our youngest off at his dorm, or seeing him off at the airport—if he manages to get into a college on his dream list—I expect the tears will fall fast and steady.

IF YOU’RE A PARENT with school-age children, how did the first day of school go for you? Share your thoughts and/or experiences in a comment.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Why the discrepancies in AP class offerings? July 12, 2011

STATISTICS CERTAINLY DON’T tell the whole story when you’re reading a compilation of numbers. But neither do they lie.

That said, I’d like to direct you to a report by ProPublica, “an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest.”

The topic of ProPublica’s investigation (click here to read), advanced placement class offerings in public schools, certainly interests me. I’ve often wondered why Faribault Senior High School, the school my children attended (and one still does) offers so few advanced placement classes. These college-level classes give students an opportunity to test for college credit upon course completion. That, in my parental opinion, equals academic challenges for students and money saved for those who pass the AP exams and continue on to college.

Faribault High offers four AP classes in physics, English literature and composition, calculus and psychology.

Now, compare that to neighboring Northfield and Owatonna, each about a 15-mile drive away. Northfield Senior High School students can choose from 14 AP classes. In Owatonna, the number is even higher at 20 courses.

The three high schools are similar in size: Faribault, 1,230 students; Owatonna, 1,595; and Northfield, 1,300. They are also located in similar-sized communities. However, anyone who lives in the area knows that Faribault is clearly a blue collar town and Northfield is white collar. I’m not sure about Owatonna, but I would peg it as more blue than white collar.

WHY IS THAT IMPORTANT?

A link may exist between educational opportunities at a school and local poverty levels, some conclude. I don’t necessarily buy into the whole “we have X number of students getting free and reduced government lunches therefore we are offering fewer AP classes because students won’t take the courses anyway” philosophy. That’s an all-too-easy excuse to explain away the lack of AP classes and/or low student enrollment or interest in those classes.

Rather, I think the number of AP classes has more to do with funding, priorities and how much a school pushes, or doesn’t push, these advanced courses.

So let’s take a look at some of those statistics. ProPublica lets you type in your school and even compare it with neighboring districts. (Note: The database only includes public schools with a student population of more than 3,000 in the 2009 – 2010 school year.)

At Faribault High, 28 percent of students get free/reduced price lunches, compared to only 13 percent in Northfield. In Owatonna, 21 percent of students get those lunches that are targeted for low income households.

The statistics show high school minority populations of 21 percent in Faribault, 15 percent in Owatonna and only 11 percent in Northfield.

So you get the picture: Mostly wealthier white kids attend high school in Northfield. Not so much in Faribault and Owatonna.

Therefore you would conclude, if you adhere to the whole poverty-educational opportunities theory, that Northfield should outshine Faribault and Owatonna in the area of Advanced Placement classes and enrollment.

You would be wrong.

Owatonna shines with 20 AP classes and 29 percent of their students taking at least one AP course.

Northfield isn’t far behind with 26 percent of  students taking at least one of the school’s 14 AP classes.

Faribault doesn’t even come close with just five percent of students enrolled in at least one of the only four Advanced Placement courses offered.

WHAT’S GOING ON HERE?

I’ve discussed AP and Post Secondary Enrollment Option classes with several FHS teachers at various times and received answers ranging from an administration that doesn’t make AP or PSEO a priority to staff that prefer not to have class content dictated by AP guidelines. Whether those conclusions are accurate, I don’t know.

But as a parent, I am frustrated. Why shouldn’t any child attending Faribault High have the same educational opportunities afforded students in nearby Owatonna or Northfield?

Faribault also falls below the state-wide average of nine AP classes per high school and 23 percent of Minnesota high school students taking an AP course.

I repeat: Only five percent of FHS students take at least one AP class, of which only four are offered in Faribault.

What’s going on here?

NOTE: Statistics listed on ProPublica come from a nation-wide survey by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

THANKS TO Minnesota Public Radio’s Bob Collins for directing readers to ProPublica’s report in his Friday, July 1, News Cut column.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

An aha moment at parent-teacher conferences March 5, 2011

EVER SINCE OUR TEEN stopped accompanying us to parent-teacher conferences, my husband and I have felt more open to asking candid questions about him. Not that we’re trying to talk about him behind his back, but his absence certainly allows us to ask questions we probably wouldn’t ask in his presence.

He’s a great student, near the top of his class. He’s taking rigorous courses, earns straight As and scores exceptionally well on tests. In other words, academics are not an issue.

So, then, you might wonder why we even bother to attend parent-teacher conferences. First, it’s important to show our son that we care about his education.

Secondly, it’s important for his teachers to know we care and to connect with them.

Third, I want to know what he’s learning, because I certainly don’t hear that information from him.

I’ll qualify that, though, by saying that this time, when our 17-year-old was helping me with dishes the night before conferences, I asked for an academics primer. I wanted a list of the classes he’s taking, the names of his teachers and what he is currently studying. Surprisingly, he obliged and I felt better prepared for conferences.

Just a note. I could have pulled his course information from a file, but engaging him in conversation about school seemed the better alternative. Also, I wasn’t completely oblivious to his class schedule or assignments.

When my husband and I headed off to conferences on Thursday evening, I wasn’t sure exactly what information I wanted to glean from or exchange with his teachers. Last time we focused on his future—his main interests, career options and college choices.

This time, though, a conversation with a friend several days earlier niggled in my mind. We were discussing our sons, who are both wired with strong science and math brains. Neither one cares all that much about engaging in social activities. My husband and I have worried for some time about our teen’s lack of interest in socializing and minimal participation in extracurricular activities.

About now, if you’re the parent of a teen, you’re probably thinking, how lucky to have that “problem.”

Well, as parents, we want a well-adjusted teen.

We were reassured by every teacher we asked that our son is well-liked by his peers, participates in class and socializes, has a great sense of humor that they enjoy, loves to learn, etc. In other words, they alleviated our worries.

While talking with his journalism teacher, I had one of those aha moments. My son, I realized, is confident enough in himself that he doesn’t feel the need to conform, to give in to peer pressure, to be surrounded by a group of friends. All the while I’ve been focusing on the negative when I should have been focusing on the positive, seeing the strengths in his personality.

Not everyone is interested in sports or theater or music, etc. And just because we as parents, as educators, as a society, think every kid should be intensely involved in extracurricular activities, we must also accept and realize that not every teen wants to be so involved. Not every teen is a social butterfly outside of the classroom.

My son doesn’t think like most teens. That’s OK. But he’s strong, smart, confident, inquisitive and more. When he focuses on a task, he wants his efforts to be invested in a real project, with real results. He doesn’t want to do something just to compete, although when he competes he’s very competitive. I finally understand that about him.

It just took asking the right questions at parent-teacher conferences to get there.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Dressing up like Cinderella on the cheap March 1, 2011

TOUGH ECONOMIC TIMES prompt us to look for creative ways to save money.

That stated, if you are the parent of a high school age daughter who will attend prom in a month or two, listen up. Your girl can dress up like Cinderella without breaking the bank.

I would love to take credit for the following thrifty idea, but I can’t. I’m sure it’s been tried many other places. But this is the first time I’ve heard of a Prom Dress Drive in Faribault.

I learned of the drive, sponsored by the Faribault High School National Honor Society, via an insert included with my son’s mid-quarter grades.

NHS members are accepting donations of formal dresses that are in “good, sellable condition.” They promise to reasonably price and sell the formals to prom-goers.

I didn’t see any other restrictions listed…which means maybe I can get rid of that purple and lavender bridesmaid dress hanging in my closet since, oh, 1984. I actually loved the dress when I wore it. A young woman who is a size 12 might like it too. I have no use for the formal and when I slipped the cinching waistband around my waist, let’s just say I couldn’t button it in place.

A belted waistband buttons at the back of the bridesmaid dress I wore in 1984.

Ruffles accent the neckline of the dress.

Layers and bows define the full skirt. Follow this post to the end for a view of the entire dress.

Anyone may donate dresses to the Prom Dress Drive from 4 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. on Friday, March 11, and from 12:30 p.m. – 4 p.m. on Saturday, March 12, at the FHS Black Box Theater. Enter through the northeast doors at the front of the building.

Then, from 3:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 16, and Thursday, March 17, doors on the northeast side of FHS will be open for prom-goers to try on and purchase dresses.

To me this seems like a win-win situation. Donors clear their closets of unwanted formals given to a good cause. NHS kids earn money. And prom-goers save money.

The NHS students are also accepting cash donations, although they don’t explain why they want cash too. Are they giving out a random cash prize? Are they donating the cash to charity? How will the money be used?

For now, women, check your closets and consider donating to this project. I’m all for a drive like this that will help make prom more affordable. I don’t know the costs of attending prom. But with attire, flowers, food, photos, salon and transportation expenses, I bet attendees who don’t penny-pinch easily spend $500.

Other affordable options for dresses include borrowing a formal, shopping at a thrift or second-hand store or browsing the classified ads. In local recently-published classifieds, I saw a candy apple green dress advertised for $90. It cost $300 new. Another seller was pushing a baby blue ballroom-style prom dress for $150. I expect lots more of these ads as prom time draws nearer.

Those who wish to save even more money can consider foregoing the dining out experience by dining in. Back in the 1980s, my youngest brother and his date, now his wife of 22 years, sat down to a pre-prom dinner at my parents’ house. This year my niece and her friends plan to gather at her dad’s house for a prom dinner.

(The in-house dining has the added benefit of parental supervision and keeping kids safer by cutting out the long-distance travel to dine out.)

Nothing says you have to follow the expected norm.

I say when times are tough, and even when they’re not tough, curtail your spending at prom time. Be proud of your frugality.

I hope young women and parents embrace this recycled prom dress idea and realize that prom can be just as enjoyable in a second-hand dress as in a new dress.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS on this dress drive and/or the cost of attending prom? Do you have any money-saving tips for prom to pass along?

 

Should I donate this 1984 formal to the Prom Dress Drive? Will today's teen think it cool vintage chic or totally outdated? I value honesty. I paid $124 for this dress 27 years ago and wore it once.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Trying to sort through educational options February 16, 2011

I’M UNCERTAIN WHETHER I should admit this given I could be labeled as a “bad parent.” But I’ll risk criticism.

I am weary/tired/exhausted from trying to figure out every detail that goes into educating today’s child.

Can you blame me? I’ve had children in school for 20 years.

So…, given that, I felt a sense of relief last Thursday evening when my husband and I walked into Faribault High School to help our 17-year-old register for his last year of high school. I’m not sure why we had to be there, except to sign the registration paper. Our son knew, for the most part, what classes he wanted. He input the information into a media center computer without our assistance and questioned aloud why he couldn’t register online from home. I wondered too.

His Dad and I waited and pulled a few books from the library shelves. I scanned the magazine shelves—O, the Oprah Magazine; People; and periodicals about cats and dogs. I yawned, more than once. I was tired and really hadn’t wanted to venture outside on such a brutally cold winter night.

But I am the parent and this was required of me, to be here. I also had questions about AP classes, PSEO, SAT, PSAT and CLEP. Acronyms. So many. So much to consider and decide regarding my son’s education.

I’ve been pushing him to earn as many college credits as he can in high school. I know he’s capable and I also know he won’t get as much financial aid as his sisters given we have only one dependent now.

If all goes as planned, meaning he scores well on Advanced Placement tests, successfully completes several college classes and passes College Level Examination Program tests, my son should have a good semester of college behind him when he graduates from high school.

But we’re still trying to sort through the process, and it’s like panning for gold.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling