So I did my first school visit this morning.
Boston has an interesting public school system, where you don't send your kid to a neighborhood school. There is no such thing as a neighborhood school. There are dozens of elementary schools in your "zone" and a lottery system where you rank the schools by preference and hope that your lottery number is good enough to get your kid into a school at the top of the list. You find out in the spring which school your child will attend that next fall. Of course, if you're on a waitlist, you may get in after school starts. Or not at all. It's hard to know, really. It's a bit nerve-wracking for parents like me who like to plan in advance. Or like to feel like we have some semblance of control over our children's education.
We applied last year for K0, which is like public preschool. Of course we didn't get in.
So this year we're back to try for K1, which is 4 yr old kindergarten. We may not get in. But I want us to at least try. My plan is to visit as many of the schools as possible that are either close or interesting. There are quite a few to visit. Currently, there are 3 zones across Boston, and you attend schools within your geographic zone. This system will remain in place for the 2013-2014 school year, the year that HeyMama could potentially enter K1. But that system will change for the 2014-2015 school year, the year that MeToo could potentially enter K1. We don't know what that system will look like. We may not know until after we register HeyMama for schools. So there will likely be a smaller pool of schools available for MeToo to register for. We're not sure what those schools will be yet. And we may not for a while. The school district may continue the practice of prioritizing younger siblings to be in the same school as the rest of their family members. Or they may not. So we could potentially have 2 kids, just one year apart, attending different schools. The whole thing is like a multivariable equation where the variables shift and change at undetermined intervals. Needless to say, Boston parents are stressed.
So I visited the Kilmer lower school today. The school is across 2 campuses, with K1-3rd grade at the lower campus and 4th-8th grades at the upper campus. These campuses are 2 miles from each other. But it's still all the Kilmer School. Ok... I did not see the upper campus, but I heard it's very recently renovated. The lower campus, that I visited today, is not newly renovated. Built in the 1940's, it's a bit old-school. Both in appearance, and as I learned from a mom who sent both of her kids there, in practice as well. She describes the school as "structured", with high expectations for performance and behavior. She described standards that are higher than those mandated by the state. The school had the best 3rd grade MCAS reading scores in Boston, and some of the highest in the state. And, unlike other elementary schools, it offers multiple "specials", including art, music, drama, and phys ed. Optional string instrument classes start at the 2nd grade for a nominal fee. Now, growing up, we just called those things "classes". They were just part of the curriculum. (Joy, you're not in the 'burbs anymore! Get over it!) There was no indoor gym, no auditorium. But apparently, this is also normal for BPS. They had a nice school yard, with a fun playground structure. It was in a quiet residential neighborhood. The classrooms were all cheerful, orderly, and vibrant. I could see the girls learning a lot there. Apparently others can, too. It's a popular school. There are 2 classrooms for K1, with a total of 44 seats. In any given year, up to half of those seats can be filled with siblings of older students there. And there's always a wait list.
It's a school that I would be thrilled to send HeyMama to. But it's a bit further away, out of our "walk zone" (an area that is a 1-mile radius from our house and grants some preferential seating to kids in a school's neighborhood). So any school assignment changes would likely take it out of the running for MeToo the following year. Dang.
The Assistant Principal and I had a wonderful conversation about why we wanted our kids to grow up in a city school. We can offer our kids educational enrichments at home. They won't suffer academically, regardless of where they go to school. They will travel and see the world to learn history, geography, art. But we can't offer them the life lessons of growing up with kids that are different from them: kids that speak different languages at home, kids that come from different religious backgrounds, kids that struggle with the challenges of poverty and broken homes. There is something to be learned from growing up in a diverse city that we can't provide as parents. And isn't that my job as a parent? To provide my kids with as many advantages as possible? I know it sounds strange, but perhaps putting my children in urban schools actually does give them more than putting them in homogenous and safe suburban schools would. I don't know...
There are 2 more schools that I plan to visit this week, with more scheduled over the next month. I'll report in regularly, mostly to just help myself organize the info. Sometimes choice can be a great thing, but at the moment, it feels like quite a burden.