Thursday, June 11, 2009

Doing PR for PR

I am not a teacher. In my 28 years as a Mom, I’ve never been able to teach my kids anything. They have learned by example - mimicking me as I cook or throw in a load of wash. But I don’t have the patience to teach anything to anyone.

So I was surprised to find myself today volunteering at Career Day at Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School in North Philadelphia. My husband has taught at Bethune for seven years. I feel as if I know everyone at the school, but, in fact, today was the first time I’ve entered the building.

To impress the 25 middle schoolers with my slick public relations skills, I stayed up until 1 a.m. preparing a PowerPoint presentation. I had checked with the teacher running the Career Day program, and she assured me that I would have the equipment I needed.

When I arrived in the classroom, it turned out there was a miscommunication. They did have a screen and a projector, but no laptop. They had assumed I would bring mine. The teacher dug a laptop out of the closet and started to set it up, but I could see the kids didn’t want to wait, so I started talking. Preparing the PowerPoint had helped me focus on what I wanted to say. I told them how I had always wanted to be a writer - from the time I was their age. I regaled them with stories of my years in the newspaper business and then explained how I had moved into public relations and communications. Fortunately I had thought to bring copies of magazines I had written and press releases to show them. And they really looked at them.

I finished up by telling them how the business was changing. How newspapers were dying, and even television was weakening as a news source. We talked about Facebook and MySpace and Twitter.

The kids were engaged. They asked me good questions, and we had to end the session after half an hour, despite a half dozen hands still waving in the air with questions. I encouraged them to write, to learn to think strategically and to get as much education as they possibly can.

I don’t know what they thought of me - a middle aged white woman telling them about public relations. Other visitors that day included a chef and a plumber. I’m sure the kids could relate to them and their professions more than they could to me and mine. But I was very impressed with them. Philadelphia Public Schools take a bad rap. This was a bright moment in a school in a really bad neighborhood. If I worked for the school district, I would have publicized it.

I may not be able to teach, but I can still learn.

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