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Workplace as teaching tool

The Baltimore Sun

Rosalind Abankwah of Ellicott City has never taken her two elementary-school-age children to work with her on Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, always the fourth Thursday in April.

"I didn't want to take them out of school for the day," said Abankwah, who works for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

But this year, the Howard County school system has scheduled a professional work day for April 24, specifically to accommodate the 15-year-old program. That means Abankwah's children, Naomi and Nathan, won't have school that day.

"It just got to be such a problem in some of the schools, we decided, let's take the opportunity to have a professional work day," said Patti Caplan, the school spokeswoman and chairwoman of the school calendar committee.

Caplan said teacher work days are nearly always Fridays - like today - and are usually earlier in the school year.

But school administrators, particularly in middle and high schools, had been complaining that Take Our Daughters and Sons To Work Day was becoming a waste of time for the students who went to school that day.

"It was becoming increasingly difficult for them to have a regular instructional day on Take Your Child to Work Day because so many students were out," Caplan said.

And she suspects that the cycle was perpetuating itself. Once students figured out that the classrooms were going to be empty, they figured they might as well take the day off, even if they weren't going to learn about what their parents did for a living.

"We were aware that not all of them were going to work with their parents," Caplan said. "Other students were able to convince their parents they didn't have to go to school because there wouldn't be anybody there." The situation, she said, was "getting to be more of a problem each year."

The change in the school calendar will be in effect at least for 2008 and 2009 because the calendar for the coming school year will be approved before officials see how the April change works out, Caplan noted. The 2008-2009 school calendar has been proposed, and a hearing on the schedule was held last week.

Caplan would like to see Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day moved to a day when school is out, either over the summer or one of the school holidays. But officials at the Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Foundation say they have no plans to change the day.

"When the program was being created, educators and various people were quizzed about what would be the best date to hold the program," said George McKecuen, who runs the foundation's support center. "Many teachers and educators felt it would be good to hold the program during the school year so the kids could come back to school and discuss what they have learned."

Thursday was considered the best day because students could share their experiences with the rest of the class the next day, he said. He also noted that Howard County is not alone in scheduling a teacher work day for the fourth Thursday in April. "Many school systems do plan it so their professional work days are on that day," he said.

The program was started in New York City 15 years ago by the Ms. Foundation. It was then called Take Our Daughters to Work Day, and the idea was to show girls the many career opportunities that were available to them.

The program soon gained appeal nationwide, and in 2003 it was expanded to include boys. Many companies have created programs to accommodate the children that come to work with their parents that day.

Last year, the program was shifted from the Ms. Foundation to the Take Our Sons and Daughters to Work Foundation.

This year's theme will be Making Choices for a Better World. Also this year, said McKecuen, the program is expanding to include students up to age 18. In the past, the day targeted students between the ages of 8 and 12.

Even though her children would not miss school, Abankwah said she probably will not take them with her to work April 24.

"It sounds wonderful that the Howard County school system will have a professional day on the Take Your Child to Work Day so that the kids will not miss a day from school," she said. "But I have to find something for my kids to do to fill most of the day. My employer offers a few activities for kids during the Take Your Child to Work Day, but it lasts only for about two hours. I'm still responsible for completing my assignments so I can meet my project's deadlines."

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