A new school has been tough, for my daughter… AND me.

Early this spring, I watched anxiously as lottery numbers were drawn for the magnet school my girls were attending. We had just bought a house in a zone across town, and I was crossing my fingers that both my girls would get a lottery slot and would be able to stay at what many argue is the best public magnet school in town. To my dismay, my upcoming Kindergartener got a spot, but her sister – along with 5 other siblings moving into 2nd grade – was out of luck.

I walked into our neighborhood elementary school on Monday morning to register her for 2nd grade, and felt anxious the entire time I was there. The school is MUCH larger, with over 1,000 students. It’s much more diverse, has low test scores, is a Title I school, hasn’t had art for the last two years, and, well…. just isn’t their last school. The past few days have been very emotional for me and my daughter, and I’ve thought about a lot of things.

school is tough

I’m more judgemental and biased than I thought I was.

A Hispanic man with tattoos covering his entire body walked his son into the school and got in the registration line. Walking past him on their way out was another father-son pair. The father was a tall black man with gold teeth and large gold cross necklace. I won’t lie; if I were alone on a dark street with either of them, I’d feel nervous. Standing in those registration lines were many Hispanics, Blacks, Whites… and me.

When I left the school that morning, I was disgusted with myself. I do not believe that any single race or ethnicity is more valuable than another, or deserves different treatment. Even if I find myself feeling uncomfortable with someone, I always try to be kind and compassionate, treating them as I would hope to be treated myself. But when I found myself in a situation that also involved my children, and who they will be surrounded by every day, my own biases and judgements came bubbling up to the surface.

Even though it made me feel terribly human to come face-to-face with my own faults, I reminded myself that humanity is a work in progress. I might feel uncomfortable. I might judge others prematurely. But, I am aware of it. It’s not who I want to be and it’s not how I want to raise my children. I won’t try to influence who my daughter befriends at school. We’ll invite those friends over no matter what their skin color or socioeconomic status. And I’ll do my best to judge less and accept more.

It’s really hard to feel as though you’re not giving your child the best.

I was a homeschooling mom only a year ago. I felt frustrated when I read about a lot of public school policy, and vowed to give my children a good education – one that fosters a love of learning through art, projects, play, and interest-based units of study. When we moved back from Japan, I rented a house in the zone for arguably the best magnet school in the city. It was the perfect transition from homeschooling – projects galore, unit study, and “exhibit nights” for showing off student work, art, and music. I felt good about what my kids were doing when they were away from me during the day. I knew the families at that school were promoting education at home, and were heavily involved in the school’s operations.

Watching my eldest transition to a school which is focused on “intervention for low-performing students,” that spends most of the day on reading and writing intervention and only 30-35 minutes of combined science and social studies, has no art class, and which, in my daughter’s words, consists of “only paperwork every day,” has been really difficult for me. I feel like I’ve failed her.

It’s also really hard to watch your child feel scared and sad, knowing you can’t make those feelings go away.

Welcome to one of the suckiest parts of parenting: not being able to protect your children from everything. My kids are going to feel scared, disappointed, sad, grief-stricken, embarrassed, angry, and panicked. I can’t protect them from feeling those emotions at some point in their life. However, when I can’t protect them, I want to help them figure out how to get through it. When my daughter cries about missing her friends, threatens to run away from the school if she gets bored, and begs to go back to her old school, all I can do is tell her, “Yeah kid, it sucks. And it’s okay for you to feel all those things.” I give her extra hugs, I plan playdates with her old friends, and I take her out for ice-cream on exceptionally difficult days. I let her feel those difficult feelings, and I remind her that she’ll be loved and supported through the good days and the bad.

I didn’t feel compelled to fix public schools when my children were both going to a good one.

It’s easy to think that someone else is doing the hard work for you. Sure, I knew that public schools had their problems and needed some help, but my kids were at a good public school. I was fine with sitting back and letting someone else fix the bad schools. Now that my kid is at a not-so-good school, I feel a little differently and I know that’s not fair. Perhaps I’ve been a little obsessed with the school situation this year, but it’s made me start doing some research about how I can become involved in our county’s educational system and how I can personally help my daughter’s school.

Not being able to afford a school art teacher is a shame, so I started looking for other art options. I found a local business that provides art classes to kids after school, AT public schools, and I gave the owner a call in addition to emailing our principal. The following week, the owner and principal were having a meeting and they’re now 99% sure they’ll be sending home flyers for the new program within the next two weeks. My daughter is thrilled.

My daughter’s teacher has a pretty strict homework policy as well, and with little research showing any benefit of homework in the early grades, I’m thinking of asking for a meeting with her to see why the policy was created. Are there other ways to make sure that kids are learning what they need to, without having to send home a lot of homework and penalizing kids with a loss of recess if homework isn’t done or correct? I’d like to think so.

I knew the transition to a new school wouldn’t be easy, but I’m surprised at how difficult it has been for ME. It’s comforting, however, to remind myself that I don’t have a lot of bad memories of school – despite going to four schools in four years from K-3rd grade when I was a child, including a school right smack dab in the middle of the projects. I actually loved that school. We’ll keep taking one day at a time, and we’ll make it the best year we can.

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Did your child’s education plans change this year? How has the transition been for your child, and your family? I’d love to hear your comments.

One thought on “A new school has been tough, for my daughter… AND me.

  1. Melissa Miller says:

    Kudos for getting involved. Society and behaviors cause us to profile and sometimes even our best efforts to change are still met with resistance from deep in our gut.

    We ended up taking our kiddo out of school 1. Due to catching all the bugs that cause havoc on her. 2. Curriculum changed from teaching kids like her life skills and things within there ability to a structured plan that required her to test for naming presidents, computing math, etc. then sending home a 6 week report that she scored 100.

    Good luck, hope things get better

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