“You can’t live out your educational ideals at the price of your child’s education.” —One of my Patron Saints of Life
E will enroll in preschool once this school year ends. For the last several years, we’ve enjoyed a near-perfect relationship with his current childcare facility. It’s housed within my school, so we commute together, are in the same building together, and then I fetch him and we commute back home.
Note: I’ve also been having these inexplicable moments when I’ll think: wow. These are the last few months when we’ll be doing this together: reading on the train, walking to the subway, racing through Harvard Yard. Insert regular reference to the insane speed of the passage of time here.
I am attempting to get really clear on what kind of next place I want for him. I want play-based learning. I want trained, committed teachers. I want him to learn to develop his socio-emotional skills, for instance.
Then, there comes the other desires that are harder for me to articulate, but are of equal importance (if not even more important). I want him to be in a diverse place. I do not want him to be the only child of color in his class or in the school. I want him to see himself reflected in the materials, the teaching staff, the school’s mission statement. And I want that school to do more than say they value those things. I want to know and feel it and believe that the school holds those values dear, even on the hard days.
I visited a place when E was a year old, loved it, and put ourselves on the wait list. People I respected suggested I do just that given the school’s popularity. On a whim in early January, I sent an email to the preschool director, just to check in, expecting that she would tell me to begin making preparations for matriculation.
Instead, she told me that, despite being number one on the waitlist for TWO YEARS, we would most likely not be getting a spot because none of the current children were leaving.
Cue immediate panic and a moment of paralysis.
I am a list-crosser-outer. Find boypie a preschool that meets all the criteria? Check. Think nothing else about that until it was time to show up when he was three? Check!
Now, though, with that succinct email, I had to reconsider our preschool options. Do other places like that one exist?
I began reaching out to friends, who were quick to offer suggestions, thankfully. Things got a bit harder when I stressed that I wanted a place that was diverse and then defined what that meant–what that had to mean–to me and to my kid.
Once I settled on a short list, I started visiting places. My three potential favorites include an Afrocentric independent school in the city; a place that feels like how I envision a preschool fitting what I want would; and one much like the one I loved at first that is a few blocks away from where we live.
Each has its own pluses and minuses, but what I keep coming back to is: will my boy be one of a few kids of color in this place? What will that mean for his identity development? For the way he learns to look at the world? For how he begins to think about who and what counts and who/what don’t count?
I need him to be in a place that values all of him, that doesn’t make him think he is exceptional, that lets him develop a love of himself and of other people.
And for a Black boy, these questions are as important, if not more important, than the ones I ask about the curriculum and the expertise of the teachers.
Then, as for the broader school communities, I need to know, also, that the parents who are the parents of his classmates will push beyond platitudes to really fight for equity and justice for all kids and not just their own. By that, I mean I need them to act on the acknowledgement that they value diversity and inclusivity and install systems that support those goals. I have a hard time believing rhetoric when there is no evidence of change underlying it.
Now, after visiting these schools, I don’t know how much closer I am to deciding which one to select. Oh, and none of them are free, so there’s that part of the equation to also configure.
I grumble that this process should not be so taxing. This isn’t college, after all! That reminder usually brings me back to earth, thankfully, at least long enough to catch my breath before I start the worry all over again.
One year ago: #sol16: My Life Now
This post is part of the Slice of Life Challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers, who have created a space for writers and teachers of writers to come together. To learn more about this challenge, click here.