As a mother, one of the things I am constantly challenged with is being present in the here and now. For me, especially with my firstborn, I was constantly looking forward to what was next, to all of the “firsts.” One of my favorites was her first day of kindergarten, because it was also our first experience in the New Orleans’ school system.
When I was growing up, I went to the good public school down the street, along with most kids in my neighborhood. As we began navigating the school landscape in New Orleans 8 years ago looking for preschools, little did we know that we were just scratching the surface when it came to school placement and choice for our children.
As we moved on to applying to kindergarten, our process included many things. Conversations and school visits. Meetings with principals and teachers. Attending school info sessions. We did all of the pre-work we thought we needed, got our applications in early and then we waited. And waited. Finally, we got the first letter in the mail, and my husband and I excitedly sat down to read it.
“Dear Mr. and Mrs. Gibson,
We are very excited about your application for your child! After our lottery, your child has been placed at #157 on our wait list!”
Deep breath. No problem. That was only the first school.
Suffice it to say that by the time we got the last school’s letter in the mail we were hoping for a miracle!
“Dear Mr. and Mrs. Gibson,
We are excited about your application for your child! After our lottery, your child has been placed at #130 on our wait list.”
Deep breath. Loud SCREAM!! Let the brainstorming begin. Through the advice and input of trusted friends, we found another option, and our daughter had a wonderful kindergarten experience!
Flash forward to the present. This year, our 4 children have been in 5 different schools. To date, including pre-K programs and charter schools, we have been a part of 7 different schools in New Orleans. This was not our plan as we embarked on being parents. In fact, we didn’t have a plan, rather we had assumptions. We imagined all of our kids would go to the same school, like we did. However, as our kids grew, we started taking things one year at a time, one kid at a time and evaluating to make sure they were in the place that brought him/her the best support. Additionally, the options for us as parents grew in number as new schools continued to pop up in New Orleans post-Katrina. The end result was that we chose schools that fit our kids, and those didn’t always happen to be the same schools.
As an educator and a parent, I think about what our children will do in the years to come. I think it is imperative that they learn to be lifelong learners, problem solvers and critical thinkers. That they value learning empathy toward people of different backgrounds, cultures and ages and that they learn the importance of collaboration. I think they need hands-on-real-world experiences, because our kids are the ones who will change the world. They need to learn who they are and how to interact with others. Talk about pressure when trying to find a school that fits all of those criteria. For each child.
As you are deciding where to send your child(ren), here is what I humbly suggest. I think parents are the ones who know their children best and that our responsibility is to be as knowledgeable as possible regarding all of our school options. Do your research. Get feedback. Discover all of the schools that you can, and then trust your gut as a parent. Remember, you are not alone. Lean on those around you. Share your experiences with others. Ask for help. Create a supportive community. And when your child steps through the doors on their first day of kindergarten. First grade. Sixth grade. Take a deep breath. Smile. Your child is capable of so much!
As our oldest is finishing 6th grade this year, I’m wondering where the time has gone. This past fall, my youngest headed off to his first day of kindergarten. It was his first, but our last as parents. I’m already tearing up remembering the moment. He was ready. No doubt. But I was paying careful attention to remember every moment of that day. In the big scheme of things, we are just getting started on firsts, and I hope we have many more in the years to come. I plan to keep striving to experience the joy in the here and now and taking the “firsts” in stride. One at a time. To make it complete, adding some good friends and raising a glass to the kids who are the future.
About Kim Gibson
Kim is the Founder and Head of School of NOLA Micro Schools, a collaborative project with 4.0 Schools. Her education and community development background has directly influenced her role as an educator and a mom. She enjoys spending time with her family on the Bayou, running in City Park and experiencing as much as possible of the New Orleans culture.