Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Well, I'm a tad appalled. Hopeful, but appalled.

Part of the application process for the Montessori school we want my son to attend involves attendance on the parents' part: a classroom observation meeting and a curriculum meeting for the parents of prospective kids. I scrambled to get to the school early this morning to find the cafeteria chock full of parents, most of them attending for the pre-K observation meeting, about sixty-plus parents in that group alone. We were split into two groups and shown around a couple of classrooms.

My group ended up in the pre-K gifted Montessori classroom with an instructor who had been there for twenty-plus years and kept exclaiming, and not in a good way, at how many parents were in the room. He was grateful that his kids were in the library at that moment, or else they would have been freaked out by the sheer numbers of the parents in the room. He explained the Montessori method, a very short synopsis of the things kids work on in the class and the philosophy behind the method, and at how the program itself had been built up at Audubon physically by involved parents over the years. I told him at the end of the talk to brace himself, that another group of parents was coming. He was not enthused.

We all wandered on to the school library to see a storytelling session in progress, with the gifted pre-K teacher's kids sitting in a circle around the librarian, and then most of us crowded into the cafeteria again to sign forms saying we had attended the classroom observations. I joked with a fellow parent that they should just let us all write "We were here" on the walls and date that. I turned in my form and grabbed some breakfast stuff on a nearby table to nosh on, and sat down, watching all the other parents assembled in the room, signing forms and schmoozing with one another.

The enormity of what I was trying to do hit me then. This was not going to be a cakewalk, for sure. My son could have what it takes (and he does) in terms of his intellect and preparedness for this program, but the luck of the draw and the lack of space and resources, good as they are, in this one school building would make his chances of attending next fall at best fifty-fifty. The crowds of parents at the meeting today are signs of good and bad things to come in the future. near and far. So many parents are in this city wanting a great education for their young 'uns on the cusp of school age - how great is that for a recovering city such as this? So many of them were busting the seams of the school today largely because the prospects for good early education in the remnants of this city's public school system are pretty piddly - how scary is that?

I've said it in a previous post - and after what I've seen today, I'd amend the need for public education to the need for child care as a must for the economic rebounding of New Orleans. Save the school system down here, please. Somebody, anybody. Everyone we can possibly get to teach, to help administrate, to hustle for funds now that all of the public schools here, including the Montessori school I went to today, are charter schools - just COME ON DOWN. This is a new frontier in terms of our kids and their education and well-being. What needs to be kick-started is some sort of educational subsidy to teaching programs across this country - come down here and blaze a new trail in education, please.

What I saw in that room was a lot of hope, faith, and a certain determination to play the odds on the parents' part, because in the end, that is what attendance at this one school will come down to. I know this deep down.

Friends had warned me about this, namely Edie. She had just quit from the school where she had worked for umpteen years as teacher and administrator, and she told me it would be hard to get my son into this Montessori school. I chalked it up to her general rants about "the school system in shambles", most of which were dead-on analyses. Yes, a lot of teachers retired or relocated after Katrina. Yes, the charter school system is effective only with the right combination of affiliation with a benevolent sponsor(s) and crack fundraising administrators. However, Edie is a champion kvetch on any and all things, and after a certain point, it can be easier to just tune her out.

I joked with Justine yesterday that I had already put in a deposit for next year with my son's current preschool, and if Edie's worst scenarios came to pass, well, we had a backup. This is no longer a joke.

A parent departing the meeting wished me good luck, and I wished her the same, because we are all going to need it, big time. We are paying so much in so many ways to be here. Why should prying at the doors to good public education be any different?

The thing is, it can be different. And that's what makes all this so infuriating.

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