My older two kids have attended a charter school in our city since Kindergarten. It really is a great school and the students achieve high test scores. It's a School of Excellence, with a 9/10 rating. And we've had an overall great four years there. My kids are happy, they are doing well academically, they have good buddies.
But next year, we're leaving. We're enrolling them in our neighborhood school. It's a Title I school; the majority of students are at or below the poverty level. The students don't typically get very high test scores. It's rating is 3/10.
Well that certainly sounds crazy, huh?
I've been doing a LOT of thinking lately. And I've realized that there are some things I say I believe and it's time for me to act upon them.
- there's no such thing as "other people's children."
- following Jesus means working to break down barriers like race & class.
I believe Jesus really meant it when he said "love your neighbor as yourself." I believe that means that all those good things I want for my family I should also want for my neighbors. All the things I want for my own children, all those things I'm willing to work hard for: food, clothing, a safe & loving place to live, a great school... I'm supposed to want and work for those things for "other people's children" too. Which means maybe there's really no such thing as "other people's children" at all. And the past four years, I haven't been able to stop thinking about all the kids at our local school who have been left behind as more and more families choose private and charter schools. I fear that maybe we're asking the wrong question when we ask "What's best for my family?" instead of "How can I be part of making my community better for all of us?"
Jesus came to love all of us, but he paid particular attention to the "outcasts" - the members of society who weren't highly esteemed. He broke barriers by valuing the poor, giving esteem to women and dignity to the "unclean"and the non-religious, he broke the rules by spending time with different people-groups or "races." To follow his lead means I need to be about breaking down those barriers too.
So for the remainder of our elementary school years, we are choosing to be part of a school where not all of the kids' parents are able to be as involved (for a multitude of reasons). We are leaving a school that is 78% white and choosing instead a school that's 46% white. I won't have to worry about my black child being one of only a few black children in his class. I can't tell you how much relief that brings me. I've spent a lot of hours volunteering at my kids' current charter school where I am one of many many parents who are up there all the time. Going forward, I won't see a million other moms when I come in to volunteer. But my hope is that I'll be able to be a meaningful adult in the lives of some kids who might really need it. Not because my race or my socio-economic status is any better than theirs, but because I want to partner with Mamas from other races, from other socio-economic classes, to raise our children together. I want to be a part of breaking down barriers and helping a school that needs some families to help it become great. Because all kids deserve great schools. Because life's not fair but if I have a chance to make things more fair, I want to take it.
There's one more thing I have always said I believe: Test scores do not reflect teacher quality. And I've been thrilled as I've met with the principal and parents from our local school to hear about fabulous teachers, about great programs, about ways that students there are thriving. I can honestly say that I truly regret not looking at this school earlier. I am sad that I let the "rating" scare me from choosing to be part of my local public school when doing so better reflects my own beliefs in what makes a great education.
And you know what? I'm scared. The challenges we'll face at school going forward will be different. Change is hard and even good change comes with loss. We are sad to leave our school and we really hope we can maintain the relationships we've built there (tears streaming as I type this). But I'm also ready and excited about our next adventure. And if there's anything I've learned, it's that following Jesus is hard, but worth every second.