Yesterday I reported the facts related with our process in registering our son for kindergarten. Today I want to share some of my background thoughts and inner emotions.
First, I’m a little sad that Aaron won’t be at Penn Alexander right away, even if he may only have to wait a year or less to get in. Both of my kids have developmental delays, and Jada soared as a result of kindergarten at Penn Alexander (thanks, Ms. Silver!). Aaron could have really used the help.
That said, Lea is a pretty darn good school, and by all accounts a school on the rise. A lot of kudos go to the West Philly Coalition for Neighborhood Schools for galvanizing parental involvement and pushing for improvements. I and the families of Aaron’s kindergarten classmates are the grateful beneficiaries of those tireless efforts, and I don’t doubt that Aaron will have a very good educational experience.
I have a special affinity with Lea, as it was one of two schools I used to run a tutoring program at. (Drew, which was recently closed, was the other.) Being in the main office filling out paperwork brought back a flood of memories, mostly positive.
I took my kids past Lea last month when we were walking home from summer camp at the Y one evening, and pointed the school out to them as a possible landing place for Aaron. Jada noticed how grungier the building was and how much smaller the playground was, and she couldn’t quite understand how there could be such a difference between this school and her school. Talk about a complicated topic to discuss with a five-year-old and seven-year-old.
Lea and Locke are actually quite similar in terms of demographics, test scores, and behavioral incidents. (While I was in the Lea office filling out paperwork, a mother and her 1st grade son came in and, when asked by the secretary how she could be helped, said, “My son was kicked in the penis yesterday, and that was on the third day of school, and that’s a problem.” Yikes!) But I was much more nervous about Aaron going to Locke than Lea. My world is so small that two blocks away feels much more manageable than one mile away, especially since Locke is ringed by several housing projects.
When I thought we would end up at Locke, Amy and I started exploring some private school options. My first call was to St. Francis de Sales, since Aaron’s after-school program does pick up from there. The person who picked up the phone there couldn’t have been nicer. Tuition was dirt cheap. Aaron would look cute in a tie. And there were openings. But Catholic schools don’t have the same schedule as public schools, so juggling Aaron and Jada would have been tricky. Ultimately, we’re happier with Lea than with de Sales. But it was interesting to explore it for a minute.
I felt very conflicted about taking the initiative in calling and then going to Lea to get Aaron enrolled, rather than waiting for the District to make its placements. On the one hand, it felt really good to do something positive for a boy who could use the help and who I love dearly and want to see happy and thriving. On the other hand, it felt like I was cutting the line, and in doing so cheating someone else out of a spot that they deserved but did not get because they were not as connected or savvy or available as I was. For as cutthroat and capitalist as I am, I am so only if you’re talking about playing fields that are level and within a set of rules that is fairly applied to all. So while I am happy about our personal outcome, I lament that others may not be so happy about their outcome, and even worse that that their loss was directly correlated with my gain.
As a Christian, I firmly believe God is in control, and that sometimes we are asked to risk valuable things and we don’t always get an immediate or satisfactory answer. In a sermon I preached last month at my church, I talked about three personal examples: letting go of my career aspirations, worrying over my wife’s health issues, and wondering about where Aaron would end up at school. I am not in a position to judge others, because I don’t know their situations, but I am disappointed in us Christians (myself included) when we opt out of being bold in our faith in certain aspects of our lives, unfortunately oftentimes the most important aspects of our lives. We’ll be faithful to God in most things, but it’s clear from our actions and mindsets who is ruling over our jobs or our schools or our love life or whatever else we exclude God from and choose to be our own gods over. Look, I’m not talking about being bad parents and sacrificing our children in pursuit of lofty ideals. But if we are to be people of faith, that faith ought to pervade the totality of our lives, and especially those very things that are hard to trust God with. Like where our children will be going to school.
It’s been stressful to go through all this, but there have been positives. I have felt more calmness about uncertainty than is normal for this hyper-planner. I have had ample opportunity to share my faith perspective with others. And I am more keenly aware of my idols, the things I elevate over God when it comes to where I derive my peace, my purpose, and my power. These are all unqualifiably good things. But I will be glad for the weekend and for the chance to sleep soundly. Fellow parents of Lea kindergarteners, see you all starting on Wednesday!