Friday, June 28, 2013

The School Around the Corner

Katie is starting kindergarten in the fall, and she'll be attending the school two blocks from our home.  You'd think that wouldn't be a big deal.  We live in a swanky school district in one of the wealthiest counties in the country.  Median income is very high.  We're not in a food desert, but food oasis.  Folks are very well educated.  Crime is low.  And we have great snow removal**!

But this particular school has a bit of a bad reputation, and many of my neighbors choose not to send their kids there.  There are lots of children who qualify for reduced or free lunch, and many are English language learners.  The school is Title 1.  The police are there all the time.  Public beatings? Par for the course.  There are drugs put in the food to subdue the riotous population.  Test scores are frighteningly terrible.  It feeds into an even scarier middle school (our area was gerrymandered into its zone despite the fact we live much closer to a wealthier school).

Okay, I *might* be exaggerating about a few of those items, but I did hear rumors about the police and drugs.  What's funny, though, is that except for one person whose child really did have a hard time, none of the statements were made by people whose kids attend the school, have attended the school, or will ever attend the school.  It was mostly "friend of a friend" type stuff, like the kid named Shithead (shuh-theed) everyone seems to know but no one has ever met.

Rumors in hand, I contacted the PTA co-presidents to hear another side of the story.  Both ladies told me how great their experiences have been and welcomed me into the circle of involved parents at the school.  I left that encounter resolved to at least give the school a shot, especially since all I saw at the Kindergarten Round-up were parents who were thirsty to dig right in and participate actively in their kids' educations.  I mean, I could hear them revving up their helicopter engines and mentally preparing their mile-long lists of sports and activities for their kids (competitive meatball rolling? Check!).  If those aren't signs of a great school, I don't know what is.

Everyone has their own sore points on schooling.  Some prefer homogeneity (white, rich, whatever, although many would never admit to that), others want strict academics even for the youngest children, high test scores, award winning sports teams, longer school days, exclusivity, legacy, yoga programs, organic food, language immersion, religious instruction, high hipster quotient, yaddah yaddah yaddah.  I only have three main desires: safety, proximity, and mandated recess and free play.  Yeah, I said proximity and did not mention achievement.  Walking to school has been a fantasy of mine for years, and I love that we're so close, in part to avoid the dreaded carpool line.    That might even be the primary reason we're choosing Roesland over the "better" schools further south.  If that sounds silly, well, there's a blogger who recently said she limited her family size to two kids in part because it's easier to seat a party of four in a restaurant.  Odd reasoning to me, but it works for her, and I don't really think she was joking. Anyway, another thing that I keep thinking about is that our part of the county is hemorrhaging young families--we're at risk of losing our public library branch, city revenue is down due to a large business moving down the street to a different town.  We moved here to stay, not to move out after a few years, and I'd like to put some faith in what my city has to offer, including its school.

I've thought about my own schooling experience, which was a mix of private and public schools.  The school I attended for 5th and 6th grade was in Memphis, TN, in a system that has now collapsed (to the horror of the county schools that were forced to merge with it).  Urban, kind of poor, ultra diverse, this school was a gem, supported by a very active PTA and some really awesome teachers (including Barbara Knight, who put on the greatest musicals ever.  I only remember one "formal" lesson taught by her, and that was when the principal was watching. Otherwise, it was loads of fun.  That was the year we also had this crazy substitute teacher who talked a lot about the show All My Children.  I have vague memories of this woman also talking about menstruation, and we were all appropriately grossed out and fascinated at the same time).  There was a bit of a culture shock, when I showed up on my first day wearing a freshly pressed sailor dress with my hair in braided pigtails--many of my classmates were amazed I didn't own a pair of jeans. The teachers called us by our last names, and the cafeteria food was very different from what I was used to. Despite losing a classmate (5th grade) and a teacher (6th),  I count that school as my personal favorite, although the "optional" (similar to "magnet") high school I went to was a close second, both a better match than the private all-girls middle school I attended for the next two years.  While our neighborhood school is distinctly suburban, I have a feeling it will be quite similar to the ones I attended (and I really hope there are some fun teachers and even crazy subs).  At least, I hope it will be.

Of course, with the introduction of high stakes testing, school environments are very different from when I was a child.  Maybe it'll be a bore for Katie or a social nightmare.  Perhaps there will be too much homework assigned or an emphasis on tasks that are a waste of time.  I won't know these things until we're there, though.  A school is more than its PTA President or its test scores (which are quite good, by the way), and we'll be learning if the culture is a fit.  If it's not, there are plenty of other public schools around (although they are a little homogeneous for my taste), and we could try out a private school since we would probably qualify for financial aid. And there's always homeschooling--eeek! Don't give me the usual arguments against it. Some of the weirdest people I know are products of public or private schools, including yours truly.  We have a huge secular homeschooling population 'round here, so there's plenty of socialization.

Whatever happens, we're blessed to live in an area where we're choosing between good and (possibly) better, not scary and struggling.  All the schools are accredited, and the facilities are beautifully well-maintained.  Even though we have a very tight budget, my family benefits from a lot of privilege and flexibility since I'm at home with the kids.  My children will enter school with great vocabularies and full bellies.  And their momma is a certified pain in the ass.  They will be just fine. Better than fine, in fact.

**I didn't appreciate that until I moved to Kansas City, where it does actually snow rather than like in the South, where we had pretend snow, accumulating a centimeter and throwing the entire space-time continuum into a singularity vortex composed of empty bread shelves and hundreds of wrecked 4WD SUVs.


  1. It seems very wise to give the school a chance and then make your own decision about whether it works for your family. Your children are beautiful, by the way :)

  2. I walked to school (both elementary and highschool) and I loved it! Well, sometimes I didn't love it. But looking back it was a great way to either wake up or wind down depending on what time of day it was and which direction we were walking.

    I'm kind of bummed that my future spawn are destined to be bus kids.


Thank you for your comments. We appreciate sincerity, snark, and general praise.

Blogging tips