A Lesson in Language and Empathy

Today I’m over at SheLoves Magazine, as they look at Legacy this month. As I ponder that word, I remember my own experiences of struggling as a cultural outsider and how that has translated into parenting choices we are faced with.

Here’s an excerpt – I hope you click over to SheLoves to read the whole thing.

Sending my kids to the neighborhood school, just a block away, isn’t a simple decision. Because of the way our education system is run, we are able to apply to any school–public, charter, or private—and hope our children are accepted to the one that best meets their needs. We are able to research the highest-performing schools in our district, as well as the surrounding ones. We are able to take the time to drive our children anywhere without worrying about gas money or making it to a job on time. We are able to ignore our neighbors in order to give our children the best education.

But I still remember my own struggles as a language learner. I remember my tongue would get tied and I would stress about not being fast enough. I would worry about grammar and pronunciation and being the dumbest student in class or the last to understand. I longed for a teacher or fellow student to say, “I get it. This is tough. Let me help you.”

I’m interested to see how my bright, eager-to-learn daughter adjusts to kindergarten next year. She has a thirst for learning that is contagious, and I hope it is nurtured, especially during these early years. But beyond being challenged in school, I hope her classroom is filled with kids who might not speak English at home. Who need to take a little extra time as they translate their thoughts. Who are every bit as bright and eager as my daughter, but have the added hurdle of navigating a new language.

How have your life experiences shaped the decisions you make for your family? Go over to SheLoves to join the conversation!

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Public Schools and Redemption

We are currently in the market for a new house. We finally decided our little ranch is getting too small and we want to move before we actually outgrow it. So, we’re getting ready to sell this one and are looking at a variety of homes across Denver and even in (gasp!) the suburbs.

Looking for this next house has been interesting. We could potentially remain there for the next twenty or so years, through our kids’ schooling, and it’s been interesting prioritizing what we want and what we need. It’s brought about some feelings about how privileged we are and how we best want to spend our money and use our resources as wisely as possible. (This means we won’t be looking in the cool, sexy neighborhoods of Denver but in the quieter, more family oriented ones…)

One thing that has brought about a lot of discussion is schools. Frank spent all twelve years in a private Catholic school. In fact, the three oldest siblings in his family were privately educated through high school. His youngest sister attended the local public schools and traveled a rougher road, which is often blamed on the school.

I grew up attending all public schools. In California, I was in bilingual classrooms before bilingual education became what it is today. Back then, one teacher would give instructions in English and an aide would repeat them in Spanish. Needless to say, progress was slow in those classrooms because instruction took twice as long. When my parents moved to Colorado Springs, they chose a house in a monochromatic neighborhood based on the high quality of the public schools. While I had an amazing education, I regret that my classmates mostly looked alike.

Bea is ready for school!
Bea is ready for school!

We’ve been grappling with what the best school looks like for Bea and our future kids. My Master’s degree has an emphasis in Urban Education, so I always assumed my kids would just go to the neighborhood school – if it’s good enough for the kids around us, it’s good enough for our own kids. How will we even begin to change hundreds of years of exclusion based on race and income if we don’t start with our own kids? Besides, if we feel comfortable enough to buy a home in a certain neighborhood, I’d like to think that I’d feel comfortable doing life and education with those neighbors.

Frank is worried that we’ll sacrifice our own children on the altar of change, rather than doing what’s best for them. I see it less as a sacrifice and more as bringing redemption to a broken system. How will any change occur if we leave it to others to enact? And, in my years as an educator, school success is based less on skin color and economic level and more on parent involvement and support. It’s not that parents have to stay home and volunteer in classrooms, but as long as we find a community where parents do what they can for their children’s education, the school will (most likely) be successful. (We also got into a big discussion on success: Is it just based off of test scores or is it more than that?)

Plus, my big picture view is that a school can quickly change in three years, ten years, twelve years… (And, since Colorado is a choice state, if we don’t like our neighborhood school, it is not uncommon to choice into a different school.) It’s so hard to predict what our child’s specific needs will be, but I do know that wherever we end up, I want Bea to learn empathy and acceptance as equally as she learns traditional academics.

We’ll see where we end up – both in neighborhood choice and in where we send Bea. One of the top house contenders is about a block away from the elementary school and within about a half mile of the middle and high schools. I love the idea of walking to school, knowing our neighbors as school friends, and really investing in our community.

Are you a public school kid or a private school kid? Did that influence where you sent your own kids? Do they go to the neighborhood school?