Integration and Community Schools

Three days a week this school year, I dropped my kids off this morning over by the side door. The man at the door waves hello but does not come to open the doors, he has already learned which mini-vans have automatic doors. I roll down the window so I can hear his music. This man has gotten himself a portable blue tooth speaker and he plays funk classics every morning, just to get the kids’ day started off right. He runs a tiny gentlemen’s school where he instructs the boys to tuck in their shirts and let the ladies go first. He looks the boys in the eye, man to man. He notices and compliments the color of the new bows on top of the girls heads. He is just so good at his job.

My youngest has become especially close with her para-pro. This doesn’t surprise me. Priscilla has been welcome in that classroom since Juliet was there 2 years ago. The para-pro hasn’t changed and she has always been fond of Priscilla. In my girl’s school, when they say that they are a community school, they mean that. If you are part of the community, you are in, even if that means that your sister goes to the school and you hang around when your dad is volunteering in the cafeteria.

This winter I led a coat drive for the kids in the school who needed one. I put a link on the internet in, and in three hours the coats were on the way to my house. I packed them into my mini van and delivered them to a social worker who had been praying for God to provide for the children in her care.

A week later Juliet came home with a new coat. I knew hers was a little short in the arms but we  live in Georgia and I figured it wouldn’t hurt to wait one more year. After outfitting everyone who had no coat, they moved on to the kids who had coats that were obviously too small. My daughter jumped into my van after school totally thrilled “Mom! Look! I got a new coat! It has a heart on it!” She was thrilled. I was horrified.

I could have gotten my daughter a coat. I could have taken care of that. I did not need a hand out. They didn’t see it like that. The community saw me as a member of the family. They had something we could use, so they gave it to us. We all gave and we all took and everyone got what they needed.

I have been in the church my whole life, and I think I have learned more about community at this school than I have at any other church I have attended. I learned how good it was to be able to say “we love our coat too!” when someone thanked me for theres. It wasn’t charity that I gave and they received. It was just a community thing that we all benefit from.

This morning I heard yet another program on NPR lamenting the fact that American schools are segregated. I read somewhere else recently that most people want the schools their kids attend to be integrated. And yet, many choose vouchers and charters and moving into a different district before they will send their kids to a school that is less than thirty percent white. We want integrated schools in theory. We want a better system but we don’t want to do the things that would change the system we currently have. We want schools that are comfortable to us, that work like white schools, but have kids of color in them. We still want to be in charge. We want a community school that values efficiency above teaching boys how to open doors and noticing hair bows.

I am so grateful that I am learning a new way from my kids school, that my girls are being taught this community way while they are young enough to absorb it as simply the way things are done. Where you notice, and care for, and invite in, and welcome, and share. I am glad for the ways my community is patient with me, in learning those things alongside my girls. I too want integrated schools, but I don’t want a white take over of a school that is already beautifully functioning. I don’t want things my way, I want to do better. I want people to join me who want to do better too.

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