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The Dual-Earner Scheduling Challenge: ‘Hey, Boss, Can I Bring My Kid to Work?’

by on November 03, 2010 7:00 AM

My kindergartner goes back to preschool today. Thursday he’s home with me. And Friday he’s going to work with daddy.

What gives? According to the State College Area School District calendar, my son—along with every other student in grades K-5—has three days off of school this week.

Considering my newbie status with the State College Area School District—I don’t rattle off the SCASD acronym as quickly as some of my more seasoned mom friends—I was a bit flummoxed.

A note in his folder had alerted us to the parent-teacher conferences on Wednesday and Thursday, but the reason for Friday’s day off was a mystery.

I glanced at the calendar for a clue. Next to the days off was the phrase “Act 80.”

A quick Google search led me to the website for the Pennsylvania Department of Education. According to the site, public schools are supposed to be open each year for at least 180 days of instruction.

Essentially, Act 80 authorizes the Secretary of Education to grant an exception to this 180-day requirement "when in his opinion a meritorious educational program warrants." That broad category covers parent-teacher meetings, strategic planning, in-service programs addressing new subjects and other activities.

I don’t doubt the value of these activities, nor do I underestimate the amount of work that goes into a public school system. We have many friends who are teachers and administrators, and we’ve seen firsthand the amount of energy that goes into the world’s hardest job.

But I can’t help wishing my son could be in school this day—and the nearly 20 other “Act 80 days” on the calendar.

For a dual-income household, getting three consecutive days off in a school week can have the same effect as pulling the bottom piece out of a Jenga puzzle. (I can only imagine the logistical gymnastics that ensue when a child has a day off from school, but his teacher parents don’t.)

Since I went back to work, my husband and I have constructed a schedule for our two children that requires flexibility on the part of both of our employers, impeccable time-management skills and a little help from our friends. We shuffle from the office to the playground to the preschool so we can bring home two incomes, while grabbing a few hours of quality time when they aren’t in the care of someone else.

I’m not the only one trying to manipulate a Google calendar. Four out of five couples are dual-earner couples today, according to the Families and Work Institute, a nonprofit research center. Just yesterday I received an SOS from a friend and his wife, who both work in demanding jobs at the university. On Thursday I’ll be watching their son; later that day, both my kids will go down the street to a different friend.

By many measures, my schedule is a luxury. I’m lucky even to have a job in this economy. And being part of a (mostly) well-oiled tag team means my husband and I look out for each other, providing that safety net that’s missing from a single-family household.

For three days this week nearly every working parent in this town with a child in K-5 will do some extra juggling. Before I went back to work I looked forward to these days as a chance to spend more time with my son. Now I’m scrambling to find someone else who can watch him.

The turn of events underscores the everyday trade-offs we make as parents, and the incredible satisfaction we find in that rare day in which everything runs on schedule.



Michele Marchetti is a freelance writer and the former managing editor of StateCollege.com. Prior to moving to State College, she spent more than 10 years writing for national magazines. Her work has appeared in a wide variety of publications, including Fortune, Fortune Small Business, Glamour, U.S. News & World Report, Runner's World, Good Housekeeping, Working Mother, Yoga Life and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MMStateCollege or contact her at mi[email protected]
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