“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.” ~Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!
Educators, riddle me this: How many of us actually send our personal children to attend the schools where we teach? Seriously, if we asked this question during a staff meeting on our campuses, and we asked our colleagues to stand up if any of their personal children have attended the schools in which we teach… how many of us would be standing? What if we broadened the question to: How many of us educators live within the neighborhoods or boundaries of the schools/districts where we teach? If so, do we send our personal children to the schools within those school/district boundaries?
These questions have been on my mind as I’ve allowed my personal kiddo to use the brains in her head and the feet in her shoes to steer her high school education. During her 8th grade year, she thought about attending the high school where I taught: a large, urban campus on the outer edge of our neighborhood district boundary. She happily entertained this thought as she could ride into work with me and had already been on the campus many times over the years to help me clean and decorate classrooms during summers. But then… the future freshmen nights started… and then she wanted to attend some of them… and then… I let her.
The result? She didn’t end up attending the school where I taught or our neighborhood school. As an incoming freshman, she had multiple passions. One was to learn many different languages, so we seriously considered a foreign language magnet program within my own school district. Another was to further her music career (she plays 3 different instruments and sings), so she applied to a performing arts public charter school and got accepted. After a few weeks of continued thought, however, she realized that she didn’t want to have to pick/stick to one track of singing, piano, or stringed instrument for 4 years – so she declined the offer. After attending a frosh night at a nearby public high school, in another district just outside of my district boundary (but actually closer to our house), she fell in love with a Career and Technical Education (CTE) music program that would allow her to be in multiple bands, try her hand at songwriting, and learn what it takes to record and produce music in a sound studio – right on a campus that she could walk to. As a parent who saw her passion fully ignited by this prospect, I supported my daughter’s decision to take advantage of our state’s open enrollment laws to attend a school of her choice.
Sacrilegious? Perhaps. Four years later, however, this child of mine is making music and performing in multiple venues under the expert guidance of her music teacher – and guess what? She now wants to become a music teacher herself to bring this kind of program to more schools in Arizona. Was it the brilliant lessons on Shakespeare or calculus that caused her to wake up and go to school each day? The inner-English teacher in me would love to say that it was. Truthfully, though she enjoys many aspects of her academic coursework once she gets onto campus, it’s the holistic and autonomous music elective classes that inspire her to forge out of bed in the morning. In a competitive market for education, my professional self knows that the neighborhood school within my district-boundary has lost the money that my daughter would have brought to it. As a mother, I also know that the school my daughter chose to attend has been a great fit for her passions.
So how can we cultivate a public education system that inspires students to choose to attend our neighborhood schools? As a diehard urban and public educator, I feel dicey even writing this blog about how school choice has benefitted my personal child. Yet I lean into discomfort to be transparent and to, hopefully, generate constructive dialogue about the necessity of creating a viable and relevant portfolio of options within our public schools. If students could dream big, what might they want their neighborhood schools to look and sound like to meet the intersecting needs of their passions and academics?
I certainly know that my daughter’s future is much brighter because she is following her passions; I also know that the futures of many more of Arizona’s students will be brighter as she enters college next year to become a music educator – which will require a new kind of support from her educator-mother… (I smell more blog posts coming on this topic).