Back when we were filling out school applications for L. for next year, we also decided to throw a few into the mix for T., because we like to complicte things, I suppose. We are pleased with her school experience overall, but not with this school year. Maybe it's just one year, we told ourselves, and next will be better. But we learned the hard way with L. that sometimes things just don't get better. It took us a few years to "see" the divisions within L.'s school--how the posted grade lists each year had a pattern to them: here are the AG students, here are the academically competent students, here are the struggling students, here are the we-don't-know-what-to-do-with-them students. L.'s kindergarten year was the last one in which he had a small peer group of friends. Every year we explored other options, and wondered about what to do. Every year we applied to magnet school lotteries and every year he has never won a seat at any of our choices.We were left without options. We don't want to make the same mistakes again.
In the course of exploring a coveted small K-through 8th grade charter school for L. (one we've tried to apply to before, one I thought would be the answer to our dreams), and discovering that there would be zero seats available next year for the sixth grade (and the seventh and the eighth) we found out that there would be a few openings for second grade. We filled out an application for T., and threw her name into the mix. I wasn't too hopeful. I had heard through the grapevine that the school received over 400 applications this year for a mere 23 seats available across the elementary school.
But T. won a seat.
I couldn't believe it. I checked the posted list on the website a hundred times, certain there was a mistake. I was on cloud nine that her number had been picked. I couldn't believe our luck! I texted friends and they replied, enviously. Before we applied to Charter X I always swore that if either kid ever got accepted to that school it would be a no-brainer for us--of course they would go! Admission to Charter X? Of course! Of course! Of course!
In the meantime, to further complicate matters, we also found out that she won a seat at a good public magnet school, one that promotes diversity, and cultural, racial, and ethnic awareness, is academically sound and thriving, has an engaging arts program: basically, all the things we look for in a school.
With the other school suddenly in the picture, little by little things about Charter X began to bother me. I couldn't find any reviews of it online--no matter how hard I searched. There was evidence that a couple of reviews had once appeared on the GreatSchools site, but the reviews had been pulled, even though they appeared to be positive. Charter X is not listed in a leading free school directory that the county publishes. Most of the people who know about the school know about it through word-of-mouth. I did stumble on one piece of information-- a passing reference to the school that appeared on an education blog in the context of a discussion on racial diversity in our county’s schools. Look around Charter X, the poster commented. All you'll see are white students.
Scott and I hadn't yet visited Charter X, so we were eager to get inside. I was eager to see the place for myself, and hoped that what I did see would dispel that growing feeling of unease (oh please oh please) that was developing inside of me. Yet when we did get inside the school for a tour, I felt my heart drop. All I did see were white students. And white teachers. Except for one African-American student in one upper school classroom, and a handful of Indian students spread throughout the other classrooms, there was no diversity in what would have been T.'s second grade class next year, hardly any diversity in the student population and what looked like none among the staff.
As a parent considering school choices for your child(ren) you have to rank and prioritize what's important for your family--what is unacceptable, and what you are willing to live with. Diversity is important for us. I want my children to go to schools where they see diversity in the classroom because this is the world I want them to know, love, and respect. I want them to develop an awareness and appreciation of different cultures, and an awareness of how we are all different, and that these differences are what make people unique and extraordinary. I want my kids to have access to well-trained and well-educated, caring, and empathetic teachers. I want them to be in a safe environment, and I want their schools to foster in my kids a strong sense of social and environmental responsibility.
Charter X did some of these things, and some of them well--but not all.
I tossed and turned many nights thinking about our priorities, and questions raced through my head. Charter X is a relatively young school, I told myself, maybe it will take a few more years to build up a racially diverse school and staff population. But wait--why? Why would it take a few years? And what bothered me was the question of WHY it wasn’t racially diverse, given that its admission is run through a lottery. Are African-American and Hispanic families not applying? Why? What about the fact that the school seems to work at keeping a low-profile? Is this contributing to the lack of diversity? Why isn’t anything done to change this? What would it mean to send our child to a school lacking racial diversity, a school whose face is almost exclusively white? More importantly, what answer will my daughter give herself when (for it’s not a question of if, but when) one day, she looks around and wonders why the kids at her school are all white?
This is not to say in the least that if you send your child to Charter X you are a racist; nor is it a criticism of that choice at all. Every parent must decide for themselves what factors are important in considering the best school for their child’s education. But for us, when given the choice between two schools: one academically competitive school with a vibrant and colorful student and teacher population, a school that promotes international awareness and global, cultural, and racial diversity, and one academically competitive school that is racially non-diverse we knew which one we had to pick.
I let go of the dream of Charter X. It was a hard and painful thing to do, for reasons I hadn't expected.