Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Getting What You Want

I tried to be as strategic as possible in dealing with Dolores Umbridge, and I think it has mostly worked out.  I'm not getting everything I was advocating for, but I think I'm probably getting what I need most, and sometimes being a grownup is like that.  Sometimes people disappoint you, and you just have to be graceful about it, get what you can out of the situation, and move on.  So I'm trying to both be graceful and move on, although I know that if I have calculated wrong and I have not gotten as much as I think I did out of this exchange, there will be possibly major fallout for me a few months from now.  But hopefully I have not calculated wrong.

Changing gears entirely, my other big obsession of late has been the school stuff for the kids.  We are moving to a city that holds a lottery for school.  You always have the right to attend your nearly local school (your so-called "in boundary school") for kindergarten and higher, so for Miss M, we could have simply moved to the neighborhood of the school we wanted.  Except, this city also has many charter schools, for which there is no "in boundary" status.  And, there is only "in boundary" preference for K and up--for PK3, there are some public programs, but not every school has one, and there is no in boundary or other preference (unless an older sibling gets in, in which case the younger sibling gets pulled to the top of the wait list, if there is one, which there is for any place decent).  And, it's almost impossible to get a slot anywhere "good," and the wait lists number in the hundreds for PK3, especially. So, we dutifully selected a dozen schools for each child, and waited, expecting very little.

We were ultimately matched with our #6 choice, and both girls were matched, which frankly was a shock.  It turned out that we had pretty good lottery numbers for both kids (and we have fairly low wait list numbers at the other 5 schools we listed as higher priority).  The school ticked many boxes for us:  it's bilingual, it's small, the test scores are pretty good (especially compared to many other bilingual schools, which generally have a lot of English language learners who score poorly on English language standardized tests), and the commute, while not ideal, is also not too terrible.  When we visited the school, I really liked the vibe. The principal knew all of the kids' names, and interrupted our tour to say hello to them.  The facilities are nice.  The kids were happy, animated, engaged, well behaved, and one little second grader that I spoke to had good Spanish despite not being a native speaker.  The teachers are native Spanish speakers.  My girls' classrooms are big and bright and beautiful, and right across the hall from each other.  It's like a little educational oasis in the middle of the city.

But there's that downside:  it's a small, very urban school.  It's not in the greatest neighborhood in the world.  And what I keep hearing from my colleagues and acquaintances is "you are sending your kids to school WHERE?  The schools in that city are terrible!"  One woman actually said to me "Are you going to live in X [nearby upscale suburban area outside of the city] or Y [another even more suburban neighborhood a further distance from the city, known for its excellent schools], completely ignoring the possibility that I might actually choose to live IN the city.  I had to tell her three times that we were going to be living in the city, and sending our kids to school there.  It was literally like she could not comprehend the information that I was delivering.  And behind the words, behind what people actually say to me, lies what I can tell they are really thinking:  my kids are white and we are doing okay, and the city school kids are brown and poor, and what the hell are you thinking?  Race and class tinge the discussion every time, even if no one mentions them.

If it were just one or two people, I could ignore the noise, but it's basically been every person I've spoken to.  To be honest, none of them seem to be overly well versed on the city schools--they are going off old stereotypes.  I believe this school to be solid.  But it's more than just the cacophony of incredulous voices.  It's that there is a liquor store down the street, with people loitering outside.  It's that the commute will most likely have to be by public transportation, with all that entails.  I was by myself on the subway while we were back, and a woman (either high or mentally ill--I couldn't decide) spent the entire ride screaming at me (I was dressed in a suit), saying silly things, like that I had "been born with a silver spoon in [my] mouth," and that she wasn't "going to steal [my] purse--I don't need your purse lady!"  Etc., etc.  It was starting to get a little aggressive when I got off.  It's nothing that would make me think twice normally, but combined with everything else. . .it made me wonder if I am making too difficult of a decision for my children.  If life in the big city is maybe a bit too much at their young age.  And yes, it's also that my kids will be the minority, by a long shot.  Not like that's odd to them--they are the minority here, too, by far.  But I worry that I am kidding my liberal self that this is really no big deal back in the U.S..  Because I think it's really no big deal.   But what if I'm wrong?  Baltimore was unfolding while we were back, and it gave me pause.

There is one more thing, too.  The house that we are renting happens to be located in boundary for one of the "best" schools in the city.  It's a school that people seem to aspire to.  But, it's basically entirely white, it's not at all diverse socioeconomically, and it's not bilingual, which isn't what I want for my kids.  I want them to know diversity from a young age, and I want them to retain their Spanish.  And, we don't know how long we will live in this house.  If you move out of the boundary, you lose your school spots.  Whereas, if you win a spot via lottery, you can live wherever you want in the city.  Finally, the school doesn't have PK3, so I would have to send SB somewhere else, and drop off at two different schools is something that makes my head explode.  But when people heard that we are in boundary for School A and intentionally chose School B for our children. . .well, it was not pretty.  I felt like a laboratory specimen every time this came up, the likes of which no one had ever seen before.

Anyway, it's no one thing, really, but the sum total of all of this had me doubting myself about our decision.  I feel like a little fish, swimming upstream against the expectations and prejudices of other people.  This school feels like a good fit for my family, the right fit for us given where we are right now, and where we expect to head.  But it feels like at every turn, someone is telling me that I've made a bad choice, that I don't belong there.

Now that we are back here and away from people who are questioning our choices, the self-doubts have subsided a bit.  My friends have been supportive, telling me that I've researched it thoroughly, chosen it for a reason, and that I always have the choice of making different decisions if it doesn't work out.  And they are right.  It's funny. . .I was so worried that we wouldn't get accepted into a bilingual school, and now that it has actually happened, I have way more doubts than I ever would have imagined.  Life is funny.


JustHeather said...

*hugs* You are doing what you think is best for your girls! No one else knows what that is (besides your husband, maybe), so it is unfortunate that they have so much to say on the topic.
If all goes to pots, are you able to switch schools during the year? I know that would suck, but would it be possible?

I think your girls won't know any different than what you show them. They won't know that "the best school" in the city is in their boundry unless they are told so. (Will it mean anything to them at this point? Probably not.) They will just see kids that don't have the same skin color as them and think it is normal. It's what they see now, right? I am sure all will be fine! You've thought this out and have chosen the best you can. I look forward to reading updates about the schools and your new experiences back in the US.

Anonymous said...

Hi - I don't think I've ever commented before - but I TEACH in one of "those" schools and I when I wear one of "those" school's shirts in public (almost daily) I get people clucking in sympathy. I don't understand why. There are amazing teachers at my school. There are super amazing students at my school. My class has the best test scores in the city ( I do teach mostly upper academic kids so I have an advantage within my school) - outscoring the white schools with my black, and brown and ELL kids. Only 3 of my kids are native speakers, all but those same 3 are free or reduced lunch students and they out perform every other school in the city. Are there kids in the school whose circumstances make it hard for them to learn - yes. But those kids have dedicated professionals who work magic for them as well. If the school feels right please don't discount it, no matter what the naysayers say. Having a mix of kids makes everything work better - and it will be a great experience for your kids. Also remember that really you are choosing a school for ONE year. You can change if the situation doesn't work out! Good luck - but trust your instincts. It sounds like the professionals at the school you choose love kids.

Heather Wilson said...

Being bilingual and understanding diversity are a very important part of an education. You know that, don't listen to the other people that don't recognize that. You are the parent and you know best! XOXO