My kids go to public school.
Living in Los Angeles, this is a big statement, one that has the power to alienate scores of people and touch off heated debates around the punch bowl at kids' birthday parties, one that is almost as shocking as admitting that you're a fan of Tara Reid (I'm not) or that you feed your kids Cheetos (I do, but then lie about it.) It's also the reason Rigel practically forbids me to talk to other parents at neighborhood parties, since I have been known to exclaim loudly, over the strains of the John Mayer CD playing pleasantly in the background, "Give me one good reason why your kids aren't going to our local public school." This is usually followed by the sound of breaking glass, the shrieks and litigation threats from the other parent and the sight of everyone in the room deleting our names from their phone books.
(I was reading Mom-101's excellent post today where she talks about the implications of school fundraising. And while I agree that our schools are woefully underfunded, I have to confess an unnatural zeal for these shameful plugs for cash, because in reality it's the only way our school would be able to afford some of the extras we've enjoyed during the past few years. If the pimping of sweet treats is the only way we could afford a performance by a Taiko Drum ensemble or six extra weeks of sculpture workshop for kids that would normally have no exposure to the arts, then I'm your pusher, baby. She ended her post with her conflicted feelings about sending her daughter to a public school, and it got me thinking about my own fierce allegiance to our local public elementary.)
I grew up in South Central L.A., not exactly the most glamorous of neighborhoods, and my siblings and I are products of our public school system. What I usually hear after divulging my public school background is, "Oh, things weren't so bad then. Now, we have gangs." 'Gangs' is usually said in a low whisper, as if the utterance of the word is likely to bring AK47-wielding hoodlums bursting through the doors, knocking over bottles of expensive shiraz and wreaking havoc on our little suburban soiree. And my answer? I'm usually doubled over in laughter, rudely snorting as I fight to keep my teeny plate of crudités from spilling onto the floor.
Because we had gangs then, people. The Crips. The Bloods. Another one that I vaguely remember being named the '39th Street Hoods.' And every Friday the rule was that you don't wear blue jeans because either the Crips or the Bloods or perhaps some confused soul who was actually a member of both gangs, would show up at school and cut you. And your mother. And if you had a dog, or a cat, or even a fish they would cut them too, and make their skins into slipcovers.
But we stayed in those schools, partly because we couldn't afford private school, but mostly because this was our neighborhood, and attending your local school was what everyone did back then. While they certainly had their complaints, for the most part my parents felt that we were getting a good education. They had high standards and we were expected to bring home good grades and stay out of trouble. They key factor is that they were involved in our lives, and with our schooling, and it seemed to have paid off because all five of us went on to college and successful careers. (Okay, I admit - I still don't wear jeans on Fridays.) All of us, at least to my knowledge, have avoided prison, drug addiction and prostitution, all things we've been told to expect from our children should we be so naive as to send them to public school.
And now my girls attend our local elementary. We live in a fairly affluent area, and the school sits on a street with multi-million dollar homes. But few of the families in our neighborhood send their kids to this school, because it also happens to be a part of a district where many of the people don't live in multi-million dollar homes where in fact, a large percentage of our school families are at poverty level. (Yes, Sweatpantsmom's kids go to school with poor people! One wonders what that will do for my demographic profile if I decide to run ads on my site.)
And I put up with the comments from other parents. And the pity - oh the pity, when I tell people where my kids go to school and they are almost guaranteed to answer, "Ohhhhh. Really? And how is that?" as if I had just confided that I was suffering from scabies or revealed a gargantuan wart on my neck.
So why do I send my kids there? Because when we moved into this neighborhood almost four years ago, I was determined not to be part of the majority of people who had turned their backs on the school. I hoped and prayed it would be a good one, and if it wasn't I vowed to stick it out and do whatever I could to make it, at the very least, a safe and decent place for my kids to go.
To my relief, it was a decent school. Not the best, but one with rising test scores and one that showed signs of steady improvement. It won me over completely. I like the principal and I like the teachers. I like the fact that it takes us exactly nine minutes to walk to school. And I like the fact that my kids have friends who are Latino, Caucasian, African-American, Armenian, Russian, Bulgarian, Polish, Chinese, Pilipino and Japanese. In the three-and-a-half years we've been there, the test scores have risen steadily, the school has won academic achievement awards two years running and our principal was just named one of the top ten principals in the city. Not bad for a local public school, one that many of my neighbors are afraid to send their kids to.
And while a majority of the neighborhood children still attend schools out of the area, I'm enjoying that our little school is one of the best-kept secrets in the district. While the others may have brand new iMacs in every classroom and an organic juice bar in the cafeteria, we're relieved that we made enough off of our candy sale to pay for a drama teacher for eight weeks and cake and balloons for the 5th grade graduation party that we have on the school front lawn. Most importantly, at the end of the day my girls are happy, and I'm grateful for that.
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Monday, September 18, 2006
My kids go to public school.