My newspaper, local television stations, and Facebook feeds are flaming with irate parents throwing temper tantrums over our local elementary school rezoning proposals. It happens every few years, it’s just another round of shouting, fist pounding, and chest beating; in the past I’ve calmly turned my back on it just as I ignored my 2-year-old’s fits. Of course no one wants to shift their kids from the schools they love or move them to a bad school, but one of the schools they are outraged their kids may attend is…OUR school.
Why is my son’s elementary school worthy of such contempt and outrage? We’re not talking about a destitute inner-city facility. It’s just another highly-rated suburban neighborhood school. Most of us who send our kids there are not dirt poor, nor are we wealthy. We have a slightly higher percentage of students who receive free or reduced lunch. Some believe that means the education their precious babes might receive at our school would be inferior, and they fear their property values will nosedive if their children are forced to attend a slightly less affluent school.
And frankly, I’m insulted.
A large chunk of the kids come from my neighborhood. And I love my neighborhood. We painstakingly chose this place to be our forever home, the place where we’d settle and raise our family long before we began buying pregnancy tests and pacifiers.
The average home here has 3.5 bedrooms, a two-car garage, a Honda in the driveway, and a swing-set nestled beside an in-ground pool in the backyard. We have basketball hoops instead of tennis courts. Our homes are around my age—and like women my age, some have undergone extensive remodeling and look peppier than when they were twenty; some have let themselves go a bit.
It’s a neighborhood where I feel safe with my windows open and my glass door spread wide to let in the babble of the pool and the aroma of orange blossoms.
At the heart of this neighborhood sits a park, where I’m spread out on a blanked with a book in my lap on a gorgeous January afternoon. Sunlight filters through a canopy of oak leaves and shines a puzzle of shapes over the kids tearing up the slide during a fierce game of tag. Over on the baseball diamond, a father plays Frisbee with his kids; he calls out each toss and catch like a Mexican soccer announcer. Another father/son pair passes by wearing matching crisp golf tournament visors.
A toddler’s birthday party spills from the new pavilion. Festive balloons and streamers billow in the breeze, and the aroma of something slightly more exotic than hot dog carries on a drift of balmy air. Bratwurst? Chorizo? It smells like heaven.
The kids are as colorful as the party decor; smiles radiate from faces of every shade between marshmallow pale to an ebony rich as dark chocolate. You’re more likely to hear the kids calling out names like Aiden or Jack, but chances are you’ll hear a Lashawn and a Jose, too. The kids don’t care. You are welcome as long as you know how to play freeze tag.
A girl striking enough to be on the cover of Teen Vogue (should she trade Nike trainers for heels) bickers with her mom in a sing-song Portuguese. Later, when she chats on her iPhone, every cadence of accent evaporates.
Yes, the teens and moms carry far more Coach bags than Louis Vuittons. I myself am sporting a metal bike basket passed down from my Grandfather, now loaded down with picnic gear. No one has given it a second glance.
Families arrive pushing strollers and pulling wagons, by foot, by mini van, or on bicycles, like us. This park backs up to a 14-mile paved trail, and we’re still recovering from our 7-mile bike ride under its cathedral of trees. There’s nowhere I’d rather be on a Sunday afternoon than soaking in this tranquility.
During the sweltering summer months, day campers descend upon our park; my son and a few hundred other kids run wild over the four-square court and the kickball fields. It’s not a formally structured educational camp; the
kid wranglers counselors are local teens. There are no equestrian lessons or overnight escapes to the mountains, but there are plenty of trips to the theme parks and Chuck E. Cheese. He loves it.
This park, this neighborhood, this school brims with good kids and hard-working families. More of us may be social workers than CEO’s, but we are good enough for you.
We love our school, our teachers, our staff. They graciously receive more homemade cookie baskets than day spa certificates come Christmas, but they not only teach our kids, but love our kids just the same. Our PTA does not run the school with a bejeweled fist. I rather like it better that way.
I pity those parents who chose to hold themselves above us, who waste so much precious time fretting over how our school may be detrimental to their kids lives. It’s their loss.
If their PTA is better than ours—fine—please come share your success stories and help build our group up. We’ll listen. Volunteer here, share your time and knowledge; you’ll see you are no better or worse than us. You’ll be welcome—if you are kind, and if you care about your kids as much as we care about ours.
We all want our kids to succeed. But the people of this county voted for the elected officials who have gutted the education budget. The school system must adjust to the cuts whether we like it or not. Why cause our school board to spend any of its insufficient funds fighting these battles? Let’s take that time, that energy, and use it to help our kids instead of dividing them. Let’s keep that money in the classroom instead of the courthouse.
And if my kid somehow ends up shifting schools… Will I be “happy?” No. I’m sure many tears will fall. No one likes change. But we’ll accept our fate. We will support our child and his school no matter what.