Monday, August 25, 2008

The drop-off

On October 2, 2007, I launched The SF K Files and wrote my first post that started with the paragraph below.

"Every few nights my sleep gets disrupted by a recurring nightmare. I go to drop my daughter off at school on her first day of kindergarten. It's our dream school--the one I ranked first among the seven on my San Francisco Unified School District enrollment application or the private school where I'm certain my daughter will thrive. We walk up to the front door, I'm holding her little hand, and the school suddenly grows legs and runs away from us. We chase after the school, running as fast as we possibly can, but we're unable to catch up. Finally, we give up, our tired bodies flopping down onto the ground."

I'm happy to say that when I dropped Alice off at Jose Ortega this morning the school didn't grow legs and sprint off. Instead it reached out and gave our family a great big hug. In fact, Alice's first day of school was near perfect--and it was truly one of the happiest and most memorable days of my life. People kept telling me that there's an end to the school madness, and now I finally believe them.


The alarm clock rang at 6:30 a.m. I went into Alice's room and cuddled up next to her in bed. She opened her big dewy brown eyes.

"It's the first day of kindergarten! Yeah!" she squealed.

Alice popped out of bed and put on the navy jumper she picked out at Children's Place. (Of course, she rejected the cute second-hand dress I bought at Chloe's Closet.) While Alice was getting ready, I asked her what she wanted for breakfast. I'm almost certain she said honey and peanut butter toast with cinnamon. But when she walked into the kitchen, she screamed, "I don't want peanut butter! I said only honey and cinnamon!" And then Alice stormed into the living room, flopped down on the couch, and burst into tears. No day can be entirely perfect, right?

Somehow we made it out the door at 7:30 a.m.

We found a parking spot at the bottom of a steep hill several blocks from the school. Alice spotted some of the girls we got to know at summer play dates. She raced up the hill and I trailed behind. Sam and Ryan were left in the dust and Sam started wailing. JoLynn Washington, the principal, stood in front of the school, greeting students: "Hello, Alice! Hi Kate!" And then JoLynn hollered, "Is that Sam I hear crying?" Sam came huffing and puffing up the hill, tears streaming down his cheeks. "Is that Sam crying? Hello, Sam!" My little guy immediately perked up.

We gathered in the cafeteria. The school typically begins the day on the playground but it was wet and drippy outside so the party moved inside. We mingled with a group of kindergarten families, who we got to know at summer events. After only a few play dates, a school picnic, and a school clean-up, I already felt like these people were family. We exchanged hugs and words of congratulations.

JoLynn got up on the stage and welcomed us all. She apologized for the weather and went over some logistics. And then she ended by saying, "Don't worry. Your kids are safe with us. We'll care for them and we will love them."

Love? Love? Did she say love? Her words stopped me. I spent the past two years on a serious hunt for the perfect kindergarten. I analyzed schools' academics, studied playgrounds, closely observed teachers. I looked for schools that were outstanding, high-scoring, creative, ecofriendly, cutting-edge, well-funded, beautifully landscaped, innovative. I dreamed of going to one of the city's top public or private schools. And then I ended up at Jose Ortega, a school that I now think is the most outstanding school in SFUSD, but it's certainly not one of the big names (based on wait list numbers).

At this moment, it all clicked and I finally realized why I was attracted to the school--it's loving. Yes, it sounds corny, but Jose Ortega is a warm, fuzzy place that seems perfect for young kids adventuring off into the big world (not to mention parents who are excited yet sad about their little ones growing up). It's nurturing, comfy, and intimate.

As JoLynn declared that the school was going to love my child, I had all of these flashbacks. I remembered when I nervously enrolled at JOES and the school secretary grabbed my hands and said that she understood how scary it is and that everything was going to be alright. I remembered when Alice met her kindergarten teacher over the summer and her teacher gave her a huge hug. And I remembered when a returning student raced down a hallway and jumped into JoLynn's arms at the summer clean-up. Jose Ortega is full of caring, good-natured people who welcome everyone with open arms. They are people who I know will love my daughter and when I was actually dropping Alice off at school that seemed to be the only thing that really mattered.

Alice's teacher held up a sign, and her students along with their parents lined up behind her. We marched to the classroom in a far corner of the labyrinthian school. We remained in a line outside the door as the kindergarten teacher greeted each student individually and brought them one by one into the classroom. When Alice's turn was up, I broke down into tears and she wiped the drips off my face. "It's OK Mommy," she said--and then she was off.

I walked away, holding Sam tightly in my arms and crying. An older lady in the hallway stopped me. She gave me a hug and asked if I was OK. She told me that she used to teach at Jose Ortega and I guess she was there helping out on the first day, providing support to kids and parents. Just another one of the warm fuzzies at Jose Ortega.

Please feel free to share your drop-off stories.


  1. Truer words were never spoken. As a former teacher at Joes Ortega, I can honestly say it is the most loving work enviornment I've ever encountered.

    Jolynn Washing will love Kate and every single other student tha walks through that door. Not to mention every teacher, every parent, every custodian, and every crossing guard.

    It is, in my opinion was, is, and always will be the best school in SFUSD.

  2. We get to walk our child to school! A sweet 5 minute walk and we were there. He was so excited and happy. At pick-up time he was even more excited about school, and so very proud of himself. No problem getting him out the door the second day either.

    I never even bothered to tour our neighborhood school for the first round, but the competition for immersion slots this year landed us at the school we would have been assigned to w/o going through the enrollment process, and so far we are thrilled. All those months of stress for nothing! And it's a k-8 so we can focus our energy at one school for the next nine years...

    I'm a teacher in SFUSD. Being able to go to work and feel that my child is thriving in a safe and nurturing school environment makes it possible for me to be fully present for other people's children who are left in my charge. With the new district focus on caring school communities and joyful learning, I think both teachers and families are going to feel more supported and positive about our public schools. The pendulum of education is swinging back to a healthier model. I think this is a great time to have a child starting school in the good ol' SFUSD.

  3. 8:54- which school is it just out of curiousity?

  4. 8:54, I think I know who you are!

    Aside from the usual 5 minutes of, "I don't want to go to school," right when my son wakes up, the first two days of dropping-off have been smooth. As soon as the sleep is gone from his eyes he says, "Mom, I need my uniform!"

    I, too, am very excited about starting at our school. The staff is incredible, the kids are incredible, the parents I have met are incredible.

    Here's to nine more years at the wonderful Paul Revere! I couldn't be happier.

  5. This is 8:54. 9:06 you outed me! Maybe we should take our pom-poms to the blog you started at the beginning of summer (when I was fully angst ridden and you provided me w/ more comfort through your positive attitude than you'll ever know...)

  6. As one of the Flynarado23 for whom your nightmare, Kate, came true (" ... school walked off in the middle of the night") a month ago when SFUSD switched our lives around, yesterday was so sweet it almost made it all OK.

    The drop-off went better than expected (I wasn't expecting much!) and after school, our little guy was happy, making jokes about his day (which he rarely does), and was just plain happy as can be.

    Of course, morning number two started off with the age-old, "I don't want to go to school." and as we walked across the playground he asked, "Why do I have to go school every day?" (to which I didn't have much of a solid answer), but once we got there and saw all of the other kids that slowly subsided and he sat at his little desk and folded his hands and was quiet and peaceful. I wondered if I had the right kid ... ;-)

    It was so sweet I wanted the moment to just stick in time.

    Thanks for posting, Kate.

  7. Our family has had a wonderful experience at Dianne Feinstein so far. The school held a new families orientation night in May, and also invited new families to their auction fundraiser & pancake breakfast later that month. We received our class assignment in the mail along with a personalized note from the K teacher. There was also a playdate last Saturday.

    The first day of school went really well (the teacher remembered my child's name from the playdate), and another personal note from the K teacher came home in my child's backpack. The teachers I've met so far are wonderful and the PTA is active. It's only the school's 3rd year and it's off to a great start.

    My child also told me two children didn't show-up for class yesterday so they were 18/20. So, I'll keep my fingers crossed for anyone in the waitpool for this or any other school. It's terrible that even in a year like this, parents don't release their spots.

  8. Believe it or not, kids sometimes don't show up until after Labor Day, even though their parents have enrolled them.

  9. Congratulations on a wonderful first day experience, Kate! I had the same feelings about Jose Ortega when I toured it as a parent. They have a wonderful, warm staff who are truly dedicated to the kids. It really is a great school.

    My own son's first day in 4th grade started out with a grumpy "I can't believe summer is over!" and by the end of the day, he was looking forward to staying longer at afterschool. He is happy to be "back with my friends" and to see the same familiar teachers and staff.

  10. Starr King MI. Day 3 and my kid sang London Bridges to me in Chinese!

  11. Kate, so glad things are working out at JOES. We would have considered it had it not taken over half an hour to drive there from our house in no traffic. It felt very cozy. Congratulations.

  12. I was "dropped-off" there for Kindergarten back in 1979, and loved every minute of it. Such good memories! Great school...

  13. ^^Thanks!!


  14. It was very interesting for me to read the article. Thanks for it. I like such themes and anything connected to them. I would like to read a bit more on that blog soon.