I apologize for the lack of more frequent blog posts. We’ve been busy at Start School Later, delivering our petition to legislators in Washington, DC, watching our fledgling group grow in representation to over 100 members and building a vision for the future.
While we struggle against many hurdles with few resources, our Steering Board, comprised of mothers, knows that we have a mission to protect the health, safety and equity of public school children.
We are just ordinary moms, juggling to balance the demands of family, work and our newfound (or at least, publicized) activism. Some of us may be able to drive our kids to school or let them drive so they can sleep in. Some of us with older children remember how our kids disintegrated physically and mentally with sleep debt while attempting to meet all the demands placed on them to prepare for the future.
Some of us rally in the hope that our younger generation of children will not have to endure what two or more generations of young people have suffered before.
We look at our children and know how many blessings they have. Yet, we see that many children suffer needlessly as they walk or wait at dark bus stops, struggle to finish homework and go to sleep at a decent hour and wake at a time that would be inhumane for anyone by most standards, just to get to school.
We know that advocating for later school start times is like pushing an elephant - a really big elephant in the room that everyone would rather walk past.
Rose Mapendo is not a member of our Steering Board, but she is an inspiration. She has spearheaded change in her community, provided homes for the homeless, worked tirelessly to promote peace and was awarded the United Nations Humanitarian of the Year in 2009. She also recently founded a nonprofit organization, called Mapendo New Horizons.
She didn’t start out with any business strategy or silent partners. She didn’t have a business degree, a nanny, boatloads of money or investors. She was just an ordinary mom, overcoming extraordinary odds and filled with a need to reach out to her homeland to help others. Mapendo is a widow with 10 children, who escaped the ravages of war in her native Congo. After witnessing her husband’s brutal murder, she escaped the Congo with nine of her children, but one was left behind. She was able to reunite with her daughter and still felt compelled to go back to her homeland, to find a way to help others.
While she and her family were finally reunited and living peacefully in Peoria, Arizona, she couldn’t just leave well enough alone. Her kids were going to be fine. Her family’s future was bright. And yet, she longed to return to Congo, to scrape together pieces of hope for the many families that were still there, struggling to cope with a senseless life of war-torn violence.
How did this humanitarian hero start? She just went back. She talked to the women in local tribes and just opened the door for them to start talking together and supporting each other in the midst of suffering. Many of these women, raised with the idea that they did not have rights or the entitlement of their own opinions, had never heard of a woman speaking freely about a war-ravaged life that could be filled with promise, hope and peace. Armed with just her heart on her sleeve, Mapendo visited her homeland, made connections and shared her story with others.
Mapendo has helped over 4,000 refugees find a safe haven. She has also been able to bring her parents to her home in the United States. And she started just by sharing her story and giving others hope. She has also given Congo, a far away land that is alien to most Americans, a human face.
While we have not suffered untold tragedies in the midst of violence, we at Start School Later feel compelled to change the status quo. Some of our kids seem to cope with 6 or less hours of sleep and lots of coffee.
Our Blue Ribbon schools are churning out walking zombies that cram just to take tests and can’t recall what they learned the previous week. Young students have been killed at dark bus stops, or exposed to sexual advances while walking or waiting in the dark to go to school. Cheating by students and school staff is becoming more widespread.
We are ordinary moms, juggling families, careers, extra-curricular obligations, and everything else along with our mission, because we see that no one else will advocate for the health and safety of children when school bell schedules are established. As Rose Mapendo said, “One person alone cannot push the elephant, but many people together can.” At Start School Later, we just can’t leave well enough alone.
Maribel Ibrahim, The Frugal Writer, created www.StartSchoolLater.net and is a Co-Founder of Start School Later, a grassroots coalition dedicated to ensuring that the health, safety and equity of children are protected when determining school schedules. To get involved, visit Start School Later and join the effort to ensure that children do not start school before 8 a.m.