This year, my two school-aged children made the switch from private to public because I’m a bleeding heart idealist who firmly believes that when families flee the public education system, taking their support dollars, volunteer hours and children elsewhere, we decrease the probability of an American public education come-back and, we limit our children’s ability to experience the world as it truly exists – diverse, economically and socially. Also, with four children, we couldn’t afford it. See what happened there? Ideology and then, cold, hard facts.
I do miss the small community of private school, but, my lingering fears about moving did not equate into tangible moments. We are fortunate to live in a fairly safe community considered rural by big-city standards. The teachers care deeply. The administration provided parents with 24 ounce coffee cups on the first day of school (this is important). The PTO is currently small and actively recruiting but, made up of parents who have a vested interest in taking lemons and making the best damn lemonade you’ve ever had. No, not that one with the vodka. Think of the children!
We made the choice to be incredibly involved because we have the luxury of being an active presence at their school. I’m able to work from home on a flexible schedule. My husband has a schedule that allows him to play once a week with the school band for all-school-sing. I can join the PTO because I don’t have to start my night-shift 20 minutes into ‘new business’. The mantra of, “the parents aren’t involved in public school!” is all about perception. People aren’t necessarily less involved. A lot of them are just working. Damn hard.
There are several walking paths to the school. I asked a mother yesterday where one of the wooded paths led. She responded that it was direct access to a public housing community in town. “Isn’t that great?” she said, “The kids get to walk safely to school and they don’t even need to walk on the road. I just love that.”
“I do too.” I said, and a very sudden and urgent lump in my throat made its way to my eyes. I didn’t truly grasp why I was dropping tears on number 68 of the painted caterpillar’s “count to 100!” body on the black-top until I started writing this piece.
My inner idealist knows this is why we’re here. Because a teacher in 3rd grade told me I could write. She gave me a pen as a gift on the last day of school. I was told I was special; I could be and do anything I held as a dream in my heart. No matter what was happening at home, I had school. School changed my life. I know that not every family and every child at this school lives in peace and comfort and I know that, for a lot of children, this is probably the best 6 hours of their day. In these halls are children who just met the teacher that is going to change their world for the better. Simply by being here, we get to be a part of that.
Our money-starved, flawed public education system takes everyone. It’s imperfect and needs help, but, it takes those with all of the choices and those with no other choice. That is an ideal that, at the very least, deserves my absolute best.