Hello, internets, from Amtrak train 171, currently somewhere is gloriously green Virginia. There were some cows just now, and a heron in that tiny pond by the tracks where I often see a heron. I am coming to see Starrhillgirl. I have new sunglasses. It is a good day.
It is spring break now, and that means I have a glorious week of no classes and so does the Bean and, when I get back home after this blessed weekend away, we will go do some fun things with every other person in New York, since they will also be having spring break. Ah, cities. There are so many people in them.
It also means that I can’t tour any schools, which is very frustrating, since I am back in touring schools mode. Let me bring you up to date:
Offers went out some time ago for kindergarten in general education programs in the public schools. We were offered a spot at our third choice, one choice higher than where we had put the school around the corner, where the Bean currently attends pre-k. Sugar went with me to fill out the paperwork, and she liked the school, too. It’s a bit of a schlep from our place and in the opposite direction from work, but the city would bus him. The test scores are terrible, but the student population is exactly the sort the tests are meant to punish, and the work on the walls is good. There is a uniform and there isn’t real arts programming, but there is a lot of science, the kids seem happy, and there are plenty of opportunities to work independently, which is what Beans do best. Its open-classroom sort of model makes it perhaps a bit loud for our kiddo, who like his Mama, has difficulty with loud.
Meanwhile, we remain on the waiting lists at our first and second choice schools. He’ll never get into the first choice one — wrong district, wrong demographics in various ways that I approve of in principle — but you can’t see a school like that and just not even mention that you’d like to go there. Second choice, more of a shot. Progressive place, more established, a library, more arts. A much better district to be in when it comes to applying to middle school, where your school address matters for placement, not just your home address. Whiter, but still not bad on diversity — about a third each white/black/Hispanic, with some Asian. (Plurality white, but not by a huge amount.) Our choosiest neighbor is happier there, the fourth school she’s tried. No bus — not our district — but doable on the subway and on the way to work. I tried to follow advice to drop in with the Bean and make nice with the parent coordinator, but that was one of those days when everything goes just wrong enough that nothing works, yet not enough that you sensibly give up the doomed effort. We’ll try again.
Last week, we got the results of the test he took for eligibility in the city gifted and talented program. Yes, it’s a terrible name and a retrogressive way to run a school district — to say nothing of the racist and classist elements involved — and testing four-year-olds is, as previously noted in this space, asinine. But he’s my kid, and sometimes I have to admit that my principles don’t run the world. Sometimes I have to choose my kid over my politics. Anyway, he did well. Very, very well. (Can I note here how proud I am of him? Not just for being good at puzzles and patterns and having patience, but in particular for this kid, for being nervous and going to a strange place and being led off by a stranger and not being thrown by all of that? So proud.) And so now we are, without giving up our gen ed plans noted above, also looking at other programs.
I know which one I want him to go to. I was predisposed to like it before the visit, but at the visit, oh, Lord, I fell in love. It’s clean and sunny and feels so full of life to me. There is a library and art every week and music and science labs for different ages and a block room. A block room! They have to practice, you see, for when they build a scale model Brooklynn Bridge in the yard every spring. The second graders run a post office, so people write letters to each other. The younger grades don’t have homework because they should be building with Legos and cooking after school, resting and learning things in other ways. The children were happy and the science teacher just laughed when she got distracted and poured an entire watering can of water on the floor. It’s a little far from us, but there is a private bus he could take. There’s a middle school. It hugely white and almost all the rest Asian. I don’t love that — besides my precious principles, I think growing up in largely white school environments did leave me with a lot of things I had to learn as an adult. We would have to think carefully about how to compensate.
The real problem is that there’s nothing we can do to make him more likely to get in. It’s not impossible. First come the high-scoring siblings of current students. The Bean is in the next group, priority-wise, with, and here’s the rub, many hundreds of other children across the city. Some of them live far from here or will want other schools, but still: there are 50 kindergarten seats.
And I gotta tell you, the whole thing puts me in mind of TTC: that state of helpless hoping. Everyone who can do a thing to help is doing it. The rest is just chance.
Meanwhile, there are other programs. There is another citywide one we will likely rank. It’s less my style but still clearly a good school. Our neighbors like it. It’s very…Mandarin in kindergarten. There are district level ones, much easier to get into, as the score range they accept is greater. The one in our district is…not an option. That school is nearby but gives me the howling fantods. There’s one we could walk to, where we have a friend, that isn’t in our district but might let us in eventually. I toured it this morning and did not fall in love, though I admit being riveted by the spectacle of one of the anole lizards in the fourth grade’s MEET OUR ANOLES tank being eaten, eyeball first, but an ambitious mealworm. The people there are warm, the classrooms are small and cluttered, and there is acres of homework, starting in kindergarten. There are arts but no foreign language, which is odd since the school has a dual language program. It seems like a very rule-following place, rather than an exploring one. But we could walk. There are a couple other district ones I should look at, but there is only so much I could rearrange my life without notice for these tours, so there you are.
And I know, I know, the Bean “will be fine.” Everyone says so. He’s bright and he follows rules and people like him. And he’s gone this year from a kid who loved school to a kid who begs not to go. He loves his teacher and he has friends; I think he’s bored. The school has an academic focus, but the work they do he’s been able to do for years, in almost all cases. I think he’s an anxious kid who ties himself in knots to follow rules at school and the strain sure shows at home. I think he needs to be somewhere that people can see that, not just that he obeys. I think he needs to be somewhere the work is fun for him and challenging. And in the longer term, I think he needs to learn — as I never did — that it’s okay not to already know everything, that learning is about trying and failing and finding out. I want him to be so much more than fine.