Breaking in the new school year, preserving that new car smell

School is in full swing with homework assignments flying and fall sports teams hitting the field, but it still feels like a new school year. How do you preserve that 'new car smell'? 

Stephan Savoia/AP
Gairy Bruce walks his daughter Shairy out of the gate at the Thomas J. Kenny Elementary School in Boston while picking her up from school, Oct. 8.

It’s October, but it’s still a new school year for us all: teachers, parents, and students. For some of us it’s also a new year in a new school – or the very first school year ever, if you’re just getting started in kindergarten or preschool.

At any rate, we’re all driving “this year’s model” off the show room floor! As we stand here, let’s think about this next chapter in our relationship with school. Here’s a School Principal’s metaphor that might help.

Thank you for making [Insert your school name here] Motors your family’s car company. Yes, we are your new car. However, we are actually an old car, with millions of road-tested safe miles and thousands of (mostly) satisfied customers. But for you, we are brand new.

We smell great. We’re still under factory warranty: tuned up, driving every bit like the car you imagined, getting the gas mileage you hoped for. You haven’t even checked the owner’s manual (at least the guys haven’t), nor filled up your second tank of gas. Your kids have not yet put their muddy feet on the back of the seat. You haven’t changed the oil – yet. You look marvelous in your new car!

But I must prepare you for the following fact: there is going to come a day when you will get your first ding in your new car. Someone in the proverbial parking lot will let a shopping cart hit your driver’s side door and chip the paint. A bird is going to poop on the hood. You are going to park under a tree that drops sticky sap on it. You are going to hit a bump in the road and jostle the passengers. You are going to spill on the front seat, and lose gummy bears down the defroster vent. Your children are going to change the preset radio station buttons.

Try as we might to control your total driving experience, here at Your School Motors, there are many, many factors of this ride that are actually forces beyond our control, or that we will have to analyze together to understanding and mitigate. And appreciate. Mostly appreciate, because the fuel and momentum here is the mojo of childhood and learning. And a sense of joy for the ride. This is a driving experience, after all. We are going somewhere.

I expect that you are going to suddenly realize that maintenance, steering, navigating, washing, vacuuming are required to keep this car looking shiny and new. Your new car is going to get dirty. Don’t be disappointed. Be prepared. Don’t despair. This is normal. And hopefully your friends will say, “that’s a great car! You’re going to get 250,000 miles out of it – easy.” Call up Click and Clack with a Puzzler question. You’ll hear: “You drive a What? That’s a great car. Stick with it. And you’ve actually found an honest dealership mechanic? Way to go, man!”

Fact of life and law of thermo-dynamics caveat: there’s a break-in period for anything new. The time and distance between being smitten in the show room, kicking the tires, or starting the real driving relationship under actual road conditions will vary for each driver. Don’t worry if you are unaccustomed to manual transmission – it’s standard with this package…you don’t want automatic. You have made an informed and intelligent purchase and are paying a fair price for your new education vehicle. Your new school experience can give you years of trustworthy, loyal, wise service. And hopefully you and your children or students will come to feel like the luckiest of passengers and drivers; that your new school will get you where you want to go! Life offers very few such commitments to product and process. The break-in process should be concluded by the time your car is, say, 25 years old, and miles away from school. So it goes.

Did I mention that you got the model with the turbo-charged 6.0 litre V-8, chrome rims, sunroof, moon roof, leather upholstery, Satellite radio, mini-fridge, sound proofing between front and rear seats, seat warmers, deluxe racing paint job – at no additional cost – and million-mile warranty? And a trailer hitch! But please remember that it’s really about the drive train: the power plant, transmission, gearing ratios, torque for all of life’s experiences – the open road ahead. You will be “good to go” on any road!

Full speed ahead! Well, not full speed – actually, watch the speed bumps, stay alert, do not attempt to drive when tired and cranky. Keep it under 15 MPH on our road during school hours. Change the oil every 3,000 miles. Look both ways twice when you turn left out the driveway. See you further on down the road. You all have a complimentary road service protection policy – call if you get stuck. We’ll send the tow truck. There is no E-Z Pass. Beware oncoming extended metaphors. Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear. “Keep your eyes on the road; your hands upon the wheel.” 10-4, good buddies.

Todd R. Nelson is Head of School at The School in Rose Valley, Pennsylvania. 

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