Saturday, October 12, 2013

Different Schools

Last year the girls attended Nederland Elementary School, which despite some mountain living quirks and a few polar extremes of income, was mostly filled with upper middle class white kids from stable homes with older fairly well off parents.

Out of both the morning and afternoon kindergarten classes, there was one kid besides mine who had a single parent. Add in the preschool families and anyone else I knew of existing in that town with children, you got a total of three single parents and one step dad. The only families that weren't screamingly Caucasian had adopted. A few families were poor, and all the single parents were getting state assistance for child care.

I worried a little bit. It might be hard for the girls if (when?) they become socially aware of how their family is different from everybody else. It was certainly hard for me, everything from being 20 years younger than all the other parents to living with my own parents to working a blue collar job to being divorced.

Ironically, moving to Boulder (a city somewhat renowned for crunchy upper middle class white people presiding in excess) put the girls into a home school that is very different.

The school is bilingual (Kristina has Spanish class every morning along with reading and math) and 80% of the kids who go there are Hispanic, for starters. I haven't pulled up the income statistics online, but just from the amount of food Kristina gets fed, they are trying to take care of these children in a very fundamental way the Nederland school never did.

For example, they give all the kids breakfast regardless of whether they're on the free-lunch meal plan as the routine for starting the day. They let Kristina have milk at lunch time if she asks for it, even though she's still not on the free-lunch meal plan and I pack her a lunch every day, just because I sent a juice box and she wanted milk instead. Last year Adrianna pulled a stunt of asking for breakfast a couple times, and since the Nederland school policy was to never let a child be hungry (even though she had been fed breakfast before school and wasn't on the free-lunch-and-breakfast meal plan), they fed her breakfast and billed me for it.

Kristina is in soccer again this fall, and it is a completely different experience.

At Nederland, every single parent showed up at the elementary school to get their kids into soccer gear, as it was required by the school until they were in third grade or so, and then intently watched their children practice on small teams of 6-8 kids with volunteer parent coaches.

Here in Boulder, they will waive the fees if the child is on the free-meal plan, bus the kids home after practice if you want, the kids play in jeans and sneakers, and there about thirty of them with the one coach who is also the gym teacher. I have seen exactly four parents watching practice over the past month, and Kristina is one of two girls out there.

So now I got them that diversity. Low income, non-traditional, multiracial and multicultural families surround them every day.

And I'm not quite so sure I like it as much as I abstractly thought I would....

This would be the middle class white kid part of my own childhood talking who is slightly concerned over stuff like "jacket theft" actually being a thing among six year olds. Stuff like Kristina holding up her middle finger and asking me what it means, and her using questionable vocabulary she did not know before starting school there, it just makes me twinge a little.

You cannot bubble wrap kids from life (well, you can a little, but it would require homeschooling and I am just not cut out for that). There is absolutely no reason to think Kristina wouldn't have picked up on the middle finger right about her 6th birthday regardless of schools or regional location, and kids will learn the bad words whether or not you personally say them.

Perks of the change in school means I can send fruit snacks in lunches occasionally without guilt or fear of scorn from the okra-filled lunchboxes of her peers. Kristina will not be the kid in her class with the most worn out sneakers, or the only one who's entire wardrobe was procured as hand-me-downs. My sometimes-sorta-sucky-because-I-am-not-small-person-teacher-material help on her homework is perfectly sufficient when other parents don't (or can't) help their kids at all.

And because they have lots of kids who haven't had the stringent academic focus during the preschool years (c'mon, I know I'm not the only one who spent stupid amounts of time trying to get a child under the age of four to be able to write their name), the school has all sorts of individualized services set up to help get them up to grade level quickly.

Kristina is in one of their specialized reading groups because I am terrible at teaching her to read because she is still struggling with it. Every day, she sits down with two classmates and one specialized early-lit teacher to work on her reading. She then gets specific reading books sent home for me to read with her again that evening. And it's totally the norm, because at least half her class is in the program, and they have the programs set up to take kids who are behind and catch them up because they deal with those children en mass every year.

Kristina did not have specialized reading groups last year. Even though she struggled with it. Even though she was just barely squeaking through assessments. Even though her teacher told me at each conference that she needed more work on it.

They are different schools, and they come with different experiences. 


  1. It's a minefield. Your children are the most precious things and you don't want other hideous children tainting them! You are not alone, EVERY mum has felt like that!! I agonised where to send mine! They did absolutely fine where I picked and yours will too. Those upper middle class snooty family kids are THE WORST! I know - I've taught in both kinds of schools - and I have to say the school yours are at now sounds like THE place I'd choose to work in EVERYTIME!

  2. Last year, Batman started his third new school in three years. (private K, neighborhood school, new neighborhood school) His first two schools were incredibly diverse. We lived in an area with active military and a lot of those kids were in his school. The school held an International Night and something like 20+ countries were represented. Flash forward to our new neighborhood school: they are nearly all white. Like 90%. Everyone looks like us, their parents make about as much money as we do. We have comparable houses and cars.

    I'm not sure that this is a good thing. I miss the diversity. I miss the interactions with parents who aren't exactly like me. At times, I feel like we have moved to Stepford.

  3. HEY! I homeschool my kids and they're not bubblewrapped. And they know swear words. I taught them those swear words. "JESUS, MARY AND JOSEPH -- WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE?!" being a favourite of mine.