News - Administration

Sue Mika Interview

04.18.12

IMG_0588-300px Sue Mika is the mother of Jaklyn, Kirsten, Alek, Eric, Jacob, and Kyle. (Her oldest daughter, Stephanie , graduated from high school back in Boston before the Mikas moved here). Sue has been president of the Parents’ Association for three years now (that’s a long time!), and we took the opportunity, as her tenure draws to a close, to steal Sue from her VERY busy schedule and catch up with her for a few minutes about parenting, Waterford, sports, the antics of her kids, that endless commute from Alpine, and the other parents she’s worked with over the years. Following are excerpts from the interview.

So how did you hear about Waterford? Why did you choose it for your kids?
Well, when we moved here from Boston we were looking for the right school for our girls, who had been day students at a boarding school outside of Boston, and the girls chose Waterford. It was a good fit; the curriculum was like the curriculum at Dana Hall, the size was right (they found the size of public schools overwhelming), and they liked it when they visited the campus. We ended up settling in Alpine rather than Salt Lake because there’s more land down there, and Ron insisted on having a view of the mountains. Why live in Utah, he said, if you can’t even see the mountains? We still have boxes we haven’t unpacked.

Has education been a tradition in your family?
Yes! It’s been huge! Both of my grandmothers graduated from college, which really was unusual in those days. The biggest example to me of dedication to education was my dad: when I was five he went back to law school, taking classes at night, even though he already had five children, and had eight by the time he graduated. That made a big impression on all of us. Out of eight children in my family (one has Down Syndrome), seven went to college, and there are five advanced degrees. (None of them mine, of course.) It’s been fun to watch the next generation carry that on.

You’re awfully involved in the school, and have been for a long time. Was there ever a time when you weren’t able to be involved — for instance, when your children were young? I’m thinking of all those moms out there who can’t quite make it to campus.
Well, when they were little it was hard, and there were games and events my older kids participated in that I didn’t get to go to; when Stephanie played sports and had events I had six kids I was dragging around, and that was hard to attend things or get involved at the school level. But once they were all in school, involvement in their school was a great way to meet people. I wouldn’t have known otherwise; your social circle becomes more limited when you have kids, and this was a way for me to break out of that. Becoming involved also gives you an inside perspective on why the school is doing what it is — and, of course, you’re supporting your kids.

Another time I wasn’t as involved, thinking back on it, was back in 2004, the year we moved here. It was a whirlwind year of settling in: finding doctors and dentists and things. There was a lot of responsibility on our oldest high school student, Jaklyn, who had to drive herself and five siblings to school every morning (I picked them up in the afternoon), and I wanted to spend my energy supporting her, so I wasn’t as visible at school.

So how did you eventually become involved? What was the trajectory?
Well, first of all I got pulled in as a Lower Schools class representative, and then I moved into helping other class reps in Middle School; eventually I was the class rep coordinator in the Upper School for two years.

What, exactly, does the Parents’ Association president do, anyway?
I co-ordinate the Parents’ Association meeting that meets on the first Wednesday morning of every month (you should all come – it’s really fun!). I also run the Parents’ Association Executive Committee, which is a board of parent volunteers, coordinating class reps and other parent volunteers. I’m lucky, because the people whose jobs I co-ordinate more than put in their time. They are the ones who actually run the events — Fathers’ Day, Photo Day, Teacher Appreciation Days, Book Fair, Auction, Country Fair… We have monthly stewardship meetings.

What sorts of new programs have you created as president of Parents’ Association?
Well, there are things that have been implemented during my time, but I certainly can’t take all the credit for them! I would say that there are things that have evolved during my tenure; I have largely helped by co-ordinating them — others have done the hard work.

What kinds of things?
One thing is having a concerted outreach to new families; we want them to have multiple contacts with the school, so that they realize that they are part of the Waterford community. It can be hard to figure out how things work when you’re new. So we’ve introduced a new parents’ pie party in the fall, to which only new parents are invited, and we have an open house at a parent’s home, just for the parents; they have an opportunity to start to know what to expect, and are able to meet their students’ class reps. We want them to know who they can seek out if they need help.

What else is new?
We have instituted tailgate parties in the spring and fall, emphasizing that everyone is invited. It is a way for the whole school to celebrate our athletics. Kathy Etcheverry runs it; we provide the meat for grilling, and the buns, and parents volunteer to bring all kinds of things. And we provide concessions during the games. Everyone should come; the Friday “My Waterford News” emails tell when these events are coming up.

In the Lower Schools, we had a LS Basketball Night where LS students were invited to watch the US boys play a basketball game and then participate in a halftime activity. This encouraged parents of younger students to be involved in a school-wide event and catch a glimpse of what lay ahead for their child. Tim Pettus orchestrated the halftime skill challenge with the LS students. What a great way for the whole school to enjoy an athletic event. We enticed them with pizza and soda, but they didn’t need much enticing — seventy-five kids showed up! Athletics is a part of this school where you can support the team in a day-to-day way that you can’t do with, say, fine arts or academics. Everyone can get behind a certain team and cheer for it, even if your child isn’t on the team.

Haven’t you brought back the tradition of Work Days? Tell me about those.
Work Days are a chance for families to give back to Waterford — to serve alongside families and classmates, and to thank the school for what it’s given us. We organize a day to help with projects on campus. Now that the garden is back, it provides a natural chance to help, and we’ve done a lot of work there.

If I were a parent who didn’t know how to get involved, what would you recommend?
Go to the Parents’ Association meetings! They’re on the first Wednesday of every month, and everyone who can should go. Read the Friday emails. Pay attention to events at school. Go to things your children aren’t in — plays, and concerts, and athletic events. Come to conferences, which develop a one-on-one relationship between you and your child’s teacher.

What about the parent who has a full-time job, and doesn’t have the luxury of doing some of those things?
You can volunteer at whatever level you want to, in a way that fits into your lifestyle; you can offer to provide materials for a community service, for instance, or actually help in the classroom; you can volunteer to help run an event, or just bid at a school auction. We try so hard to reach out and make a connection with all the parents, but at some point in the process the parents need to reach out to the school, and become involved in a way that supports the school in whatever way they choose.

The most important thing is to support your children, and to interact with the people they are with every day. It helps to know what’s happening in their lives, and there are so many ways to stay connected with the school, even if you can’t make it to campus very often. The weekly email and the website are both great resources.

So have your kids ever been really naughty?
Well, one of my sons received an in-school suspension after setting off a stink-bomb on April Fools’ Day. He called me that afternoon and said that he’d had an “interesting” day, which immediately put my antennae up. Oh, and there was the time that one of my sons was sent to the Lower Schools Director’s office for peeing on the playground. But fortunately the errors were quickly corrected and continued poor behavior choices faded.

And when have you been particularly proud of them?
Fine Arts is not a path that my kids have really gone down in the same way that they’ve done, say, athletics, and I am most proud of those things they have done that have challenged them. In ceramics, for instance, Eric did a project that he had to do three or four times over — once it was broken in the kiln, and once it was burnt — and he was really proud of that project. In ninth grade the kids make these great mandalas, which are sort of like coats of arms that display what’s most important to them. I love those. And Jaklyn made a dog once, in ceramics too, that she was really proud of; ceramics wasn’t her forte, but she loves that we display this at home.

Jacob and Kyle have worked hard on the cello, which is impressive, because no one in our family can even sing. They started in fourth grade, and they would sit there with their cellos for half an hour every day— I’m not going to say that they actually practiced during the week, but they did put in the time during the lesson.

And they’ve loved the bird projects, and bug projects, that they’ve done in science. They’ve learned all the birds and their calls, and recognize them when we’re traveling (they all sound the same to me!). They really get into what they’re doing; my older son even takes his cousins out to hunt bugs, even though he hasn’t been in that class for more than two years. They made a makeshift net out of a lacrosse stick.

What’s your greatest strength been as president of the Parents’ Association?
I think I’ve been a good recruiter. We have a great parent body, and I have been able to choose responsible, bright, creative people, and I haven’t had to worry about anyone not following through on their assignments. Truly this makes what I do easy. And once we have great people in place, there are ripples through the community.
I think it’s so nice that there are going to be new people running the Parents’ Association. Everyone has different strengths. Everyone connects with different people. You need to draw in different people so that the organization doesn’t get stagnant.

Now that you’re getting your life back by handing off Parents’ Association to someone else, what are you going to do? Take a long nap? Get a pedicure?
I actually have two dreams; one is to open up an Einstein’s, and one is to study German again. The family laughs at me, but I love German — it’s like a puzzle to me, with all the verbs and tenses. I studied in Vienna for a period during college, and I loved it. I don’t know, though; I just took the placement test up at the U, and I’m really mad, because they said they’d only put me in a first-year second-semester class. So maybe a bagel place; I think that running a business would be really fun — sort of like running a school. There are all the different pieces to it.

Any final thoughts?
Just to take advantage of your time at the school! Get involved in whatever way works for you and your family; it is such a wonderful opportunity to be part of your child’s life.

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