Wednesday, September 30, 2009


I write a lot about how my kids go to a low-income, diverse school. And I'd be lying if I didn't admit that once in a while, a scary thought sneaks into my head, a "Could they be getting a better education at (insert private school here) or (insert white suburban school here)?" thought.

This year, I am no longer PTA President, which is a very good thing. I love, love, love the school, but one can only run things for so long. And the two men (yes, men) who have replaced me are a thousand times more qualified and competent than I ever was.

They are brilliant and caring and have started doing "listening sessions" in the different neighborhoods of our school. Last night was the one for Spanish-speakers. Tomorrow night is the one for Hmong speakers. Those of us who sadly only speak English, can listen through the translators.

I was holding back tears last night when I heard, for the first time, the thoughts and dreams of our Spanish-speaking parent population. Guess what? Same as mine. We all want to have kids who enjoy school, behave for their teachers and learn to love learning.

The tears almost came when one of the fathers apologized to us through the translator. He wanted to make sure that we understood that if he didn't engage us (the native English speakers) in conversation at school, that it was only because English wasn't his first language and he wasn't always comfortable initiating conversations. He said this after delivering one of the most moving monologues about our school (again, through the translator) that I have ever heard. I really wish I could speak Spanish, because I'm sure something was probably lost in translation.

I was struck with an overwhelming feeling of how absolutely lucky my kids are - and how lucky I am - to be able to interact with families like his. And to go to a school like ours, that has this amazing community of committed teachers and families.

We lost 3-4 more families this year, they all transferred to the higher-income, whiter schools, so I've been feeling a bit blue. It's hard not to take it personally when we lose families. The schools we lose families to don't have any non-English speakers. (Hence, the test scores are higher.)

But I realized last night that wisdom can be found in unexpected places. And I think my kids are the luckiest kids in the world to go to a school with classmates who have origins from all over the world.

And I also realized that I really want to learn Spanish again. I want to be able to speak to the parents without a translator. My four years of high school Spanish aren't cutting it.

I've spent most of the the last few months feeling stressed about losing the families we have lost. But tonight, for one brief moment, I'm feeling sorry for them. They may be surrounded with higher test scores, but I suspect we might have something that matters more than test scores: community. Granted, we are a community of various skin colors, income levels, and languages...but I suspect that people aren't holding back tears at the private school PTA meeting.