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Getting kids ready for school is a painful process. I imagine it is harder now than it has ever been. Before junior high, I don’t remember having to go to school to stand in line after line to pay for the privilege of attending a free public school. Now that I have children of my own, I have learned that this extortion is a yearly ritual.

For the last eight years, I have known the registration process as Walk Thru Registration. Every year since Gavin was in kindergarten, I have shown proof of residency. I have signed my name multiple times on forms that all say the same thing. I have paid for this that and the other. Every year it is the same dance. These are the hoops parents jump through for their child to be assigned to a classroom. It’s how public education works.

The good news is that public education works the same way in Washington as it did in California. There is still an annual registration process. The bad news is they don’t call it Registration. They call it Orientation.

I was so excited when I saw that there were two orientation dates for my boys. Parker was scheduled to go on Monday (yesterday) while Gavin was scheduled for Tuesday (today). Great! They could get some assistance with navigating a new school.

Then I heard that everyone goes to Orientation. When I turned in the forms to the middle school office secretary, she told me about the Orientation dates. I asked if I needed to stay with my boys or simply drop them off. You know, because I was thinking of the Oxford Dictionary definition for the word.

  1. o·ri·en·ta·tion


    1. the determination of the relative position of something or someone (especially oneself):
      “the child’s surroundings provide clues to help in orientation”

    The secretary was nice enough to not give me a strange look or laugh in my face. She simply and sweetly told me to stay with the boys because that was when I would pay for things like their student planners, PE clothes, and ID cards.

    It all hit me. Orientation meant Registration.

    The word has been bugging me ever since. It doesn’t make sense to call what I just spent two days doing orientation. Especially for returning students. They aren’t being oriented on anything. They are paying their dues and their right to a free public education. We’ll leave the free part of it all alone for now. That’s a piquant post I’m sure I have written many times over.

    Parker’s Orientation process was easy. I paid everything online so I could skip the massive line to pay in person. I was actually amazed by the number of parents who didn’t pay online. Maybe it’s a new development here. It has been an option in our old schools for at least two years now. Paying online and printing a receipt is a godsend. I find it ridiculous that parents are still required to take time out of their busy lives to go to the school, stand in line, and present that receipt. But whatever.

    At least with Parker I was able to show my receipt and get his planner and PE clothes. There was a point to my being there. That is not the case in elementary school. The upper grade students get planners but they don’t pass them out at Walk Thru Registration. They are carefully placed on the students’ desks for the first day of school! Basically parents were presenting receipts to get a schedule. Something that could be mailed to the students. Just saying.

    I did like that the middle school here had a much simpler process. Less lines and no wandering around the school looking for signatures. And certainly no need to stand in line twice the same day for two separate students. Although I did have to go back today for Gavin. I was fine with that though. If we weren’t new I would have tried to do it all at the same time.

    What was most interesting to me was that they started the Orientation block with a general gathering in the Commons (otherwise known as the lunchroom). The principal explained how the Orientation lines worked in the gym. That was the entire purpose of gathering everyone together. It looks like they do it for the incoming 6th grade students and new students. I went to it twice but I don’t mind. I thought it was nice that they would go out of their way to explain things to the parents thus avoiding confusion and frustration.

    Our last schools did no such service. It was a complicated mess and I will always be grateful for Erin S. who happened to be there the same time I was every single year and could help me figure things out.

    As I said, Parker was easy. I picked up the items I paid for. We stood in line to get his schedule. He could have waited in line while I picked up his items but he wanted me by his side. I would have been the same way so I was fine being his moral support. Then we got his picture taken. ID cards were immediately printed so I know how cute his smile will be when the pictures are ready! Then we headed back to the gym for a tour of the school.

    We watched a group leave so we decided to wait for the next tour. Two tour guide students took pity on us. They didn’t make us wait ten minutes for another tour. They gave us a private tour! It was nice. They looked at Parker’s schedule and took him to every single one of his classes. Parker didn’t want to do a tour but I talked him into it. I think it will help him on the first day even if he forgets everything between now and next Wednesday.

    Gavin was a little trickier. Every time I pulled up his student account online to pay, it showed him as a 6th grader. I called the school about it. The secretary transferred me to the registrar who made a note. She claimed it was an easy fix and she would get to it in a couple hours. I logged in this morning and saw he was still listed as a 6th grader. So I prepared myself to just stand in line to pay. I talked to a secretary about it on our way into the Commons. She triumphantly exclaimed the problem had been fixed.

    The nice part of being new was that the new students gathered in the Commons 30 minutes before all returning 7th and 8th grade students were invited to Orientation. Or Registration. I still can’t get behind the misuse of the word Orientation! So the pay line was significantly shorter. Particularly the debit/credit lines, which I stood in because it seemed more convenient than writing a check.

    Gavin bravely stood in line on his own to pick up his schedule. He found me when he was finished. That schedule line was hello long yesterday with Parker but not so bad today for Gavin. As my line slowly progressed I realized there were two laptops on the table. The debit/credit line was the same thing parents should have just done at home in their pajamas at their own convenience.

    The vice principal had said that parents could even pay on their phones right then and there if they wanted to. Just show the receipt on their phone and they could skip the line. So I got on my phone and paid that way. I was next up for the computer by the time I was finished on my phone so we stepped out of line.

    I hope I paid for what I needed to since Gavin still showed up as a 6th grader! At the last second I removed the $10 fee for the art class. Gavin is taking a technology class that I think includes robotics. It’s not the same as the art class Parker is taking. But the description online seemed to be the same thing I paid for Parker. I figure I can pay whatever the course fee is later.

    We picked up his planner and PE clothes. Adult medium shirt and adult small shorts. The guy helping me suggested exactly what Heath and I had agreed to try just before Gavin and I left for the school! Then he got his picture taken and ID card printed. Great smile.

    I didn’t see any tour guides but the vice principal had given the new students a map. Gavin and I did our own tour. It’s not too tough to find things at that school. He will be fine. I’m going to make a copy of the map for Parker though.

    All three kids are registered to take the bus. It will hurt the boys a little to have to be there at 7:30. Gwen doesn’t have to be at her stop for another hour. That was an easy registration and phone call. At the grocery store today I had a blissful thought. Never again will I have to pay for my children to take the bus to school! They will get on a yellow school bus with the rest of the neighborhood kids and life will be grand.

    I won’t ever have to cut up my day to pick them up from school. I will meet them at the bus stop. The boys won’t need me to but I will a couple of times. Gwen probably won’t let me soon enough. She will have all her friends to collect on the way in the morning and to drop off at their houses on the way home. Why would she need me?

    It’s been such a strange summer. I can’t wait for school to start so we can have some sense of normalcy. I know the house will feel very empty that first day and I will feel very sad even though Heath is working in one of the back bedrooms we have turned into an office.