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.