I grew up in a town that had an ancient sign stating our population was 250. The population may have been 250 if one were counting the stray cats, dogs, piglets, and the occasional loose hog. (During the latter instances, our neighbors would utilize an informal phone tree to be certain all children were locked indoors. The phone tree was quick since, in 1988, one only had to dial four digits to reach anyone in town. Also, these were the only times I recall anyone in town – other than my mom – locking anything.)
Given my childhood, you might not be surprised at how steep my learning curve has been raising children in the city.
For one, I had no idea about public school lotteries. I learned about these lotteries a couple of months before our children came home through adoption. Both of our children were at prime ages to enter the lottery (Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten). This seemed fortuitous until I called the district and learned there was nothing I could do to register them unless I had physical custody (something I had no control over despite my best efforts).
The result: My children missed the opportunity to enter the first round of the lottery by a mere two weeks.
This meant my son entering Kindergarten was guaranteed a slot in one of our city’s worst performing schools- something our city still promises for children being displaced due to being in foster care – compounding trauma onto trauma. The students who need the best are reserved the worst. They’re left vulnerable and unprotected because they have nobody influential to fight for them.
We were still somewhat lucky. For one, my child who missed the Kindergarten lottery qualified for special education services and I happened to know people who helped us get him into a better performing school. His kindergarten team was incredible! However, things went downhill from there. At one point, knowing our child was on the sibling wait list at a high performing public charter school, a district teacher pulled me aside for a private conversation. As a parent of a Black male she disclosed, “THEY (the district) don’t do well with OUR (African-American, male) children.”
I had previously mentioned to her that although I was absolutely dissatisfied with the fact that my child was actually regressing in his district placement, I was hesitant to put him in the charter school because I had heard charters don’t serve students with special needs well. Her wisdom gave me the encouragement I needed to pull my son out of his district school without looking back.
Our child has since completed one year homeschooling with me followed by two years in his public charter school.
I thought some of you might be interested in the differences of our experiences:
In his charter school our child is given the structure he needs to feel safe and therefore he presents more typical than he ever did in his district school.
Because there are far less distractions in his charter school, he is not constantly worried about what is going to happen so he learns and retains more information.
Due to the fact the charter school supports each child as they set their own personal goals, he is encouraged for being himself and his peers celebrate his unique milestones with him.
Because behavioral standards are clear in his charter school, he doesn’t have any more difficulty following the rules than his typical peers do.
Sensory overload is unusual at his charter school so he comes home with more energy to connect with family members.
Since the staff at his charter school are able to design and modify their own curriculum and have freedom to modify behavioral and social/emotional interventions for each individual in their classrooms, I do not have to spend all my energy fighting a system for my child to get his needs met. Where I used to spend ninety-five percent of my parenting energy arguing with a district (that was honestly telling me they would have to watch him fail a bit more and I would have to get a good attorney because they did not have what he needed, but they weren’t ready to pay for what he needed yet), I now spend that energy being on a team with his teachers and collectively meeting his needs.
While in his district school, my child was isolated and teased consistently and the staff dismissed it, in his charter he is valued as a unique team member and is never alone on the playground.
In his district school he was regressing socially, academically, and emotionally and he had lost the will to even go to school, but in his charter school he is learning, making friends, and is happier than he’s ever been.
Some people who read this will see it as a political post. It is not. In fact, the politics of education reform leave me with a headache.
I just want to share my experience because I am the white mom of a Black child (formerly in foster care) who was failing in our district’s schools and, being a country girl, I really didn’t see any of this coming.
I never would have expected to see a battle of the most privileged parents in our city inadvertently fighting to deny quality education to children like my son because they truly believe the lies their district is selling them that school choice is a right-wing conspiracy to privatize public education. The funny thing is many of these folks place their own children in PRIVATE schools because the district isn’t good enough for their own children. Also, the implications of the aforementioned “right-wing conspiracy theory” of charter schools is disrespectful to the parents at my children’s school (98% people of color) because it implies that either we are ignorantly being duped by conservative conspirators or we have some destructive ulterior motive behind our school choice.
So, I guess the point is, I’m just learning as I go and I’m so grateful two of my children are currently in a public school that has high expectations of their students, instructs them individually, and respects them even when they’ve endured foster care. And, while there are positive and negative policies in district schools and positive and negative policies in charter schools, it’s unfortunate to see good parents fight against excelling schools – especially schools educating students that the other schools are not willing to do the hard work to educate. Reducing the education debate to good vs. evil is juvenile and distracts well-meaning people from working their hardest to ensure all of our children have access to quality education.
Fighting against quality schools is essentially fighting against the education of school children – school children who are unlikely to excel in our current district schools.
Children like my precious child.
Nicole Pritchard is a mother who blogs at Coffee Colored Sofa. This post was republished with permission.