Okay, I am a little scared to post this review, especially since this will make it two controversial posts in a row. Generally, thesfkfiles bloggers seem to be very neutral and observant, but I left the tour with my heart beating hard and I was actually angry. I asked my husband if I should post at all and he said that it’s an issue that should be talked about and that it’s worth putting out there. I agree, so here goes.
I entered the school doors of Alta Vista less than 7 minutes after I left my house. I basically wanted to love the school. It’s so close to our home, we could walk. We began the tour in empty Kindergarten classrooms and things looked great. The schedule was written in a mix of Spanish and English. They try to use Spanish in all the grades just to get the kids more exposure with the language and half the teachers have some fluency. There was science in every classroom and in the hallways. This is a big plus for me, because my daughter has shown such an interest in learning about how her body works, the weather, astronomy, etc. She also has a love for maps and there were large maps in every classroom. One class had a huge map of the United States and the students are using it to plan a cross-country road trip as one of their projects. Students at all grade levels do presentations about current events. There were lots of interesting and innovate projects that were explained throughout the tour about ants, cars, weather, etc.
There seemed to be a growing check-list of things that the school has: Music, PE, Fine Arts, Spanish-exposure, small class sizes, after school program, nice library, community service projects, an easy way to drop-off kids, etc. (Things to note that they don’t have yet or may be an issue to some are: They are still working on creating an outdoor play area. There is no librarian. They will outgrow the space in 5-7 years.)
So one question I ask myself at all the school tours is, can I see my daughter here? In the empty classrooms and with all the great science talk, I probably could. But what I started to notice when I saw all the children and the teachers was that visually, nearly everyone, looked white. Now this is not always a deal breaker for me. I just wanted to know more about diversity.
So as we ended the tour, I asked the head of school, “What is your approach to diversity?” (Okay, so I am totally outing myself to those on the tour and the staff who were there.) And the head of school's answer was something like this… (I’m putting quotes on this, but it’s really not what he said word-for-word. It’s just the easiest way I can explain it.)
“I was helping a high school student trying to get admitted to college and I was speaking to someone about it and he said the student had high test scores and high grades, but that they needed an oboe player and he wasn’t an oboe player. We're not like that.” Then he mentioned something about financial aid.
And, when I followed-up with a question about how student might have opportunities to explore their ethnic backgrounds and culture, he said that there was no structure for that, but that families could share their ethnic celebrations with the school.
Did he really just answer my diversity question with a strike against affirmative action quotas? He did NOT say anything about how the school values diversity, how kids can bring their whole selves to the classroom, how diversity in the classroom creates a more vibrant learning environment, how they do projects on family histories, how they lean into any issues that might arise about racism or cultural misunderstanding, how they know it’s important for kids to see themselves reflected back in their teachers, how kids learn about the diverse histories of people throughout the world, how they are trying to diversify more, how they make it a point to celebrate diverse holidays, how… anything. But there was nothing. Everything would be left for the parents to ask for or to bring in. I guess I should at least appreciate the honesty.
And don’t forget, first and foremost, their approach to diversity is that they are not going to let you in just because you are a person of color. I never thought that in the first place. And, actually, I felt really offended. While the head of school boasted that the school is not on “the beaten path,” and in many ways I can agree, in many ways it is behind the times. Science cannot be without context and without a strong social studies education (really an ethnic studies education) that will help students think critically about how science, society and the individual student come together.