Monday, October 15, 2007

I wasn't prepared when my daughter asked me . . .

Over the summer, my kids and I were playing on the jungle gym at a public elementary school one block from our home. I was showing Alice how to play hopscotch, when she asked, "Mommy, is this where I'll go to kindergarten?"

"Woah! Wait a minute!" I remember thinking, "I'm not prepared for this question."

At that point, I hadn't started my frenzied search—kindergarten wasn't on my mind 24/7. But I was reading Alice Ramona the Pest, a book in which Beverly Cleary's central character starts kindergarten—so this is what was on Alice's mind.

I can't remember exactly how I responded to Alice's question. I'm sure I stumbled through a lame explanation: "Well maybe, but I'm not sure. I . . . uh . . . I'm figuring that out. Ask me again in a month."

Alice's question makes a strong point. She used logical reasoning to assume that she would go to the kindergarten that's a two-minute walk from her house. She also assumed that all the kids on our street would go to the same school because she went on to tell me that she would be attending school with the twin boys living next door. "We could walk to school together, Mama," she said. Alice's vision is logical—but unrealistic in our city.

It makes me sad that Alice won't go to the school down the street with the neighborhood kids. This is something that I enjoyed in a suburb in the South Bay. I walked to grade school with a group of kids. On the way, we hid in the bushes from Doberman pinschers, collected rocks, and ran through sprinklers. After school, we gathered at one of the kid's houses and ransacked the refrigerator before heading outside to make mud pies or build forts. I don't keep in touch with any of these kids or have a clue where any of them are, but they helped define who I am today.

If we stay in San Francisco, which I'm 99.9 percent sure we will, Alice and her brother won't ever experience that neighborhood school community. It's unfortunate but actually I think I'm OK with it. I'm trying to be enthusiastic about the fact that I have many options and that I can find a school that's a great fit for my family. I can send my kids to a Chinese immersion program or an arts-based school or a place that emphasizes reading—the choices are endless. Plus, Alice can always meet the kids next door at the park on the weekend.


  1. I hear you! I'm in my early 40s, my kids are 5 & 7. My childhood was very different from theirs. I grew up in the Northeast, in the 'burbs.

    I walked to school with my mom, siblings and neighborhood kids. On snowy days we used to wait by the radio hoping to hear our school's name called. I can't describe the joy when it was and we had a snow day!!

    My kids will never experience much of what I did. But then I didn't experience what my parents did (they were immigrants).

    But on the other hand, my kids are experiencing the richness of diversity, of culture. The SF Symphony holds concerts for the kids in the spring, I went with them last year. There we were, in Davies, box seats, listening to a world class symphony! For $4.

    They visit the de Young, they visit the Asian Art museum, the Exploratorium, etc. All these things are in their back yard.

    We also, as a family, have found we build our community regardless. Good friends may not live next door, but my kids create close connections at school, we have playdates, etc. It's not the same, my children do not have the same freedoms I had growing up. But sadly, no matter where they lived, I wouldn't be able to give them that freedom. Society in general has changed a lot since I was a little girl.

    When I looked at Kindergarten for my oldest (2nd grade now), I looked for small schools with a community feel, for some of these reasons. I couldn't give my child a neighborhood experience, but we could create a facsimile of sorts! I'm very happy with the results.

  2. I'm an SF parent too, and my daughter is going to kindergarten next year also. Our goal is to send our kids to one of our neighborhood schools (that's one of the major criteria -- can we walk there or take one bus). We live right where Noe Valley, Glen Park, Bernal and the Mission meet, so I guess we're lucky in that there are lots of schools nearby (especially Spanish or Mandarin immersion, our other priority). Having toured four schools already, I've been pleasantly surprised; we won't have any trouble finding seven, most of which will be an easy walk, with a couple of longer ones. Right now at least, I believe my kids *will* have the same sort of neighborhood school experience I had growing up in Southern California. It's very possible!

  3. In hindsight (since my kids are now 13 and almost-17), I don't think it's that big a deal for kids when you say, "We don't know yet."

    I know it can seems a little hard on them when some of their friends DO know. I still remember, at my son's preschool "graduation" ceremony (this is my now-high-school junior), the director asked each child where he or she was going to kindergarten. Most knew by that point. One very bright boy who was tuned into the details said earnestly: "Well, I was assigned to West Portal, but we really want Lakeshore, and we didn't get in on the appeal, but now we're on the waiting list." (I'm recasting the quote, but honestly, it was just like that.) (This was when West Portal wasn't as popular as it is today.) After that, the director stopped asking that question in the graduation ceremony.

    We only applied to public school, and so did our closest friends (though of course we have many friends who do private as well). For SFUSD applicants, it's totally the luck of the draw. The thing I wonder about is families applying to private. The kids have been tested and interviewed and watched in those "playdate" sessions, so I would guess that some bright kids understand that they're being personally judged as to whether they're worthy of admission. So then how do parents tell them if they're rejected?

    That's REALLY hard on older kids, needless to say. Right now we have friends whose older child was rejected by a hip private high school -- she's at Lowell and happy there, but she's still smarting at the rejection. And now their younger child is applying to the asme private school -- so it's gonna get UGGG-LEEE if the younger gets in.

  4. I am enjoying your blog, and have so many thoughts.

    One thing that is important to keep in mind since you have 2 children is if the school you are looking at will be the logical choice for BOTH of your kids. I remember speaking to a woman whose older daughter goes to AFY (her name is Jackie and her husband started Great which I was addicted to last year during my search.) She felt at the time of our conversation that AFY would probably not be a good choice for her less verbal younger daughter. I think they did end up sending the little one there in the end, but she brought up such a good point. AFY might be the PERFECT school for your daughter, but if it might be a terrible choice for your son, then maybe there is a better compromise school where both would do well.

    Reading your initial posts about what you'd like in a school it strikes me that Alvarado is a great choice for you. I know it's hard to get in there (although demand may be less going forward both because of their changes in principal - lack of stability, and with the other immersion schools doing so well). But they do have a good arts program, it's close to your home, and if language immersion is not wihin your son's aptitude then they also have a strong English side.