On Winning the Pre-K Lottery

Two Friday’s ago we won the lottery. The Pre-K lottery that is. We walked through the lines and filled out the paper work (twice actually because if you fill it out in purple pen and had to start over again, oops). Juliet will be attending our local elementary school for state funded four year old preschool five days a week next school year.

I’ve written a lot about the public school system and giving it a chance. I have had strangers email me and private message me and ask me to Skype about what to do for Kindergarten. Over and over again I start here, go see what is up at your local elementary school. Don’t depend on the test scores or the rumors you here at your local YMCA. (Hey ladies in the Tuesday Pilates class, kindly shut your mouth about a school you have never set your manicured feet into.) Show up, see what’s up. Make an educated decision about education.

So we did, we are. My small group has had a relationship with the head of the kindergarten team and I really like her. I like the vibe of the projects we have been given. Their library is beautiful, I like their courtyard, we are going to give it a go.

We didn’t move into our neighborhood because we were being purposefully “missional.” When we moved into our house, we didn’t even know that was a word, or a thing that churches did. We just moved into the nicest house we knew we could pay for. I never thought that choosing the free, local elementary school would be some sort of major statement, but it seems to have become that.

In the time between Juliet’s name going into the box, and her name being placed on the “made it” list on the front of the elementary school, I began to question everything. Is this the right school for us? Am I disadvantaging my kid? Will I regret what my daughter may be exposed to next year?

I am not going into this thing blind.

I know that the school we are zoned for has a really high poverty rate. I know that poverty rates mean more than money. I know that kids who live in poverty are exposed to higher rates of abuse and violence. I know that this can come out in the way that children interact with other children. I know I am going to need to be really careful about who Juliet goes home with, but I don’t think I would let my four-year-old go to a home I wasn’t familiar with regardless of the poverty rates at the school. Working at a upper-middle class suburban school has taught me that abuse crosses all boundaries. But statistically speaking, my daughters classmates are at a higher risk.

Then, (deep breath) there is the  issue of race. We live in a predominantly black neighborhood. We were welcomed so warmly I don’t even think about it anymore. But as we stood in line, I realized that we were the only white people in the entire building. All of the teachers, the librarian, the principal, the other parents, all of the kids. I think my sweet girl is likely to be the only white person in the whole place. Am I okay with this?

I know that even asking the question puts me firmly in a place of privilege.

I was 24 and teaching the first time I was ever in a position where I was the minority. Even then, there were other white teachers I could bounce my fears off of. I’ve taught three kids who were the only white kids in the school. Again, I am not doing this thing blind. I’ve seen the impact of a white kid learning how to navigate as the non-majority. Two out of three times, I knew it was for the best. Being in a place where I was the only was one of the most profound experiences I have had. It taught me things books never could. I hope my kids will see it as the same gift.

Both my girls, but my oldest especially is bright and outgoing. She has never met a stranger and is completely socially fearless. She has learned that the ladies will talk to you on MARTA if you open the conversation with either “you are beautiful” or “I like your pretty earrings.” I wonder if she will even notice that she is the only kid who has to put on sunscreen to go out to recess.

And what about me? Am I strong enough to parent my kids as the only white mom around? I know what my students used to say about white parents, that we were too soft, that we let our kids get away with too much. There is a deep internal cringe, that for me, is reserved for when my kid is acting crazy and I am the only white parent around. I know that being able to opt out of this experience says all I need to say about my privilege. I know my neighbors don’t have that choice.

Then there are the social fears. What will I say to the raised eyebrows of the ladies in the pilates class when I walk in wearing a t-shirt sporting the elementary school name? Will the other school moms accept me? I say that the term “failing school” is more often than not a giant lie, do I believe it enough to send my kid there, or is that just something I believe in theory?

Turns out, I do believe in the neighborhood school, in the likelihood that this “failing school” will be a radical success for my daughter. When I got the text that she was on the list I was relieved. I wish I could say something more confident than “we’ll give it a try.” But I suppose every mother has mixed feelings about her baby going to school.

15 thoughts on “On Winning the Pre-K Lottery

  1. Abby, I do appreciate your honesty! I’m with you. Its strange to me to know someone on the opposite side of this issue. Bump the negative naysayers. They font matter anyway. What matters is you and your family leaning in to this right now life and reality.

  2. Like you, I was 24- (actually working at Grady) when I had my “oh THIS is what it feels like!” moment. I wish I could have had that earlier, don’t you? Your daughter is lucky. My kids are in their 7th and 10th year in public schools. They are more worldy-wise than I ever was, and I can’t say that I’m at all sorry about that. We aren’t in ATL anymore, but I wouldn’t trade the richness of my experience there not only in the hospital but in home health (downtown and surrounding) for anything.

  3. I love your heart! We have been in a similar place and all I know is that if your heart is telling you it’s the right thing, it’s the right thing and your heart is golden!

  4. You’re going in with your eyes (and your heart) wide open – that’s what counts. You pay close attention, you see how your girl responds, how the kids and the teachers treat her and see what happens. It could be FABULOUS and I’ll pray with you that it will be. It could also be tough, in ways you cannot now foresee (although I think you’re better prepped for this than almost anyone I know.) If it becomes difficult, then you have to carefully and prayerfully decide how to proceed. I think she’s going to do GREAT. Thanks for writing this out, Abby. As I said at the beginning – that heart of yours is big enough for just about anything. I have a hunch Juliet takes after her mama.

  5. Thank you for sharing this. For stepping into the places where many fear to tread. For speaking truth and for wearing your tender and beautiful heart out in front of the wide world. You bless and inspire me. And make me think deeply about all the questions that go along with education and privilege. May you have grace and clarity for each day and each decision and continued courage in your pursuit of justice in education.

  6. We sent our daughters to a school with a very high poverty rate for 4 years — 4k thru 2nd grade. They were little blue-eyed blonde minorities in that school. It wasn’t always easy, they did see and hear things from classmates that gave me pause. But I felt like it was the right place for them. After 2nd grade, they would have moved up to a different school, and I dreaded and feared that. Luckily, we moved home to GA and avoided the issue. I wish your little family all the best. You are living out your beliefs, and that will be a lesson in itself for your daughter.

  7. We still say that, and my oldest is in 5th grade. You get to reevaluate all the time and figure out what’s best- but I agree that oh so often, your local public school is.
    There’s nothing like your kid getting old enough to start playing outside with kids they know from school who live on your street and you don’t have to drive to meet.
    My youngest is in a 3 year old program at the same school (model child for a class of developmentally delayed 3 year olds) and next year will be doing the 4 year old program.

    Good luck with it!

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