A few months ago Alaina Fields, a third grader at Oyster Elementary School, knew little of her mother's job at the District Building.
Now the 9-year-old says with assurance, "She's an attorney-at-law. She makes decisions to help [City Council member] Mrs. Charlene Drew Jarvis to make the community better."
But Alaina thinks her mother Beatrix's work is not very interesting, so she wants to be a doctor, or a model and singer "like Whitney Houston."
For the past eight weeks, as part of a "Program on Work," Alaina and the other students at Oyster have studied work by interviewing their parents about their jobs and by learning about workers' rights. "Program on Work." Many of the parents work as maids, low-level hotel employes and construction workers, but others are ambassadors or high-ranking diplomats representing their countries in the United States.
Oyster, at 29th and Calvert streets NW, is the city's only bilingual school -- all students learn English and Spanish. Its 325 students represent at least 25 nationalities. More than two-thirds of the children are from Central America, South America, Asia or the Middle East and now live in Adams-Morgan.
The "Program on Work," conceived by the American Labor Education Center, a nonprofit group, was funded through a $12,000 grant from the D.C. Community Humanities Council, local unions and the center.
The program concluded last Wednesday with an evening forum at which the children listened to workers, including Ron Richardson, the localpresident of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union. They also unveiled a 52-page book of containing each student's essay, poem or drawings on work, and pictures of their parents at their jobs.
To understand what work is all about, the students interviewed their parents and other adults to find out "what do you do while I'm in school," and they discussed labor unions, racism, sexism and why minorities are concentrated in certain kinds of jobs.
Third and fourth graders visited a nursery school to see how the teachers there work.
After the Wednesday night program, Beatrix Fields praised the exercise, saying children need to know what their parents do and "what it takes to earn the money that they so readily spend."
The book of student work included a poem by second grader Marsha Jones, 7,My mother works five days a week, Always standing on her feet, Helping patients all the time, I'm really glad her job's not mine. Taking temperatures and blood pressures, too, These are just a few thing s my mother can do. By this time you guess my mother's a nurse. Always carrying an empty purse.
At the program Marsha said, "My mother works very hard; she doesn't make a lot of money."
Michelle Bauder, a second grader, said she wants to enter the same profession as her mother, who she said earns "medium money."
Gladys Bauder, who teaches Spanish at Oyster, said that now that the children are more aware of what the parents do, they are very proud of them.
"Her job's not easy," said Michelle, 8, as she looked at her mother's hair. "I found a white hair."
Gladys Bauder explained to her daughter that work brings benefits, such as a salary, but also stress -- and gray hair.