My kids go to “that” school. You know, the one about about which people who have never set foot inside exclaim, ““I would NEVER send my kids there.” I keep hearing people say, “No one goes to that school,” with more than a hint of disdain. But as a friend of mine recently noted, “That’s strange, because the classrooms are all full.”
Although my daughter moved on after six years, my son is still there. When I think about next year being his last, I want to cry. We have invested our time, our love, and our children into our neighborhood public school, which I recently realized is considered an “urban school.”
It is also a Title I school, which means that a lot of kids there qualify for free or reduced lunch because of their parents’ low income. Many of our kids have to deal with violence, drugs, hunger, and more at home, but when they come to school, they get free or reduced cost meals, time to play safely outside every day, exposure to art and music, the opportunity to be surrounded by books, and teachers who are committed to them and their education.
Public school is the great equalizer. The kids there make friends regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or parental income. We are white Christians. Among my son’s best friends are another white Christian, a Bangladeshi Muslim, and twin Latino boys. He has celebrated Eid, spent lots of time in households where English is spoken poorly or not at all, learned to love Bangladeshi food (despite a picky palate), and even gone fishing for that night’s dinner. None of which would have happened if he hadn’t gone to “that” school.
My children are outraged by racism and prejudice in all its forms, comfortable with people regardless of their apparent differences, and on target to be successful in the adult world in large part because they will be able to travel in many different circles and easily connect with people in them, much of which will be traced back directly to their experiences in “that” school.
I know many parents won’t consider sending their kids to our school, even though they are zoned for it. They won’t even visit it to determine its reality vs. its reputation. I could list a number of the moments that have affirmed my choice to stay at a school many parents snub — and I have!— but the school I love is more than just my family’s experience.
When we attend our neighborhood schools, we invest back in a community that has invested in us. Every time we volunteer in the classroom, drop off food for a teacher function, or show up for a PTA meeting, we are bolstering a system that truly needs our support. Teachers and administrators don’t function in a vacuum. When parents opt out of their neighborhood schools, they deny much-needed resources to the places that need them most.
Do not judge a school by its reputation. “That” school is likely a hub of affection and innovation — a place where teachers meet challenges and serve because they truly want to affect change. Go see it for yourself. You may or may not decide it is right for your child and your family, but if you don’t go see it and talk to teachers and current parents, you may be accidentally cheating your child out of great experiences and valuable opportunities to grow in many different ways. I am so thankful that we gave ours a chance.
Cathy Emrick is a wife, (soccer) mom, daughter, and public school volunteer in Durham, NC. She works part-time at UNC-Chapel Hill to support her volunteer habit. Her lifestyle blog can be found here.