Monday, September 16, 2013

How Sending Our Kids to A Poor School Saves All of Us




I may have mentioned, I've been on a bit of a reading bender lately. Like for the past 30 years.
It gets even worse in waves.

I ran through my beloved public library a couple weeks ago and found this book on a special display. It had me at the cover art, like most books do. Also, the title.

Then I got it home and became obsessed with it.

Then it started to make me feel really slimy, but we'll get to that in a moment.

The concept is compelling - 2 moms attempt to reclaim their neighborhood public school, one that is failing across every metric, one that is, to put it bluntly, on life support.

I'm enamored with the idea of blooming where we're planted. The image of "walking to school" is one burnished fondly in many of our memories. It's quaint. It makes us believe that maybe not every single thing in the world has changed.

I didn't spend up my reading-in-bed hours with How to Walk to School because I need a blueprint. We're already enthusiastic supporters of our little public school, the one we often walk to. But I thought I might pick up some tips. And I couldn't wait to see how it all shook down when the upper-middle class collided with folks in lower socioeconomic classes. In my mind, it's a recipe destined for greatness.

And they did achieve greatness, or at least what they think is great. The school is thriving now. Real estate value has sky-rocketed as Nettelhorst Elementary rose from the grave and the upper-middle class moved in. It's the "It" school now. Everyone wants a piece.

But here's some of what had to happen for the miracle to descend: A massive PR overhaul (provided pro bono by well-to-do parents with time and resources to spare), thicker paper for all school notices, classier wording for school newsletters, slick promotional materials, organic lunches, a French market held on school grounds (to lure additional wealthy city folk), free after-school Tae Kwan Do classes, an in-school cafe where moms could stop and chat after dropping off their children, and a private-school-esque re-branding from bare-bones "Nettelhorst" to "The Nettelhorst School".

I suppose none of these changes are inherently bad, but I found myself wishing improvements had been more organic, a steady result of the coming together of families from different walks of life, families who stood their ground and did the slow, hard work of making their neighborhood better.

I'm all for public schools. They need to be supported and nudged along. The poor kids stuck at Nettelhorst pre-revival were not being served well, and that's disappointing. Every child deserves a quality education.

I don't pretend to be an expert on the complex education issues of our country. I certainly see room for improvement.

But the day we walked in to Chamberlain, everyone went home a winner, especially us.

I believe, more and more, that the best way to impact life around us is by simply showing up, without expectations or demands, ready to bring our best and actively engage in what already is.

They don't need to bend to our ideals or cater to our preferences. They need to know us, feel solidarity with us. And maybe over time it will be clear that we bring new things to the table. And maybe over time we'll want some of what they've got.

Our Title I school has no murals on the walls, hand-painted by local artisans. The halls are kind of boring, the bus routes too few. Meals are free for all and I once got an email asking if I would be willing to donate laundry detergent to some of the families because the need was so great.

Education is important, and my kids are getting an excellent education, but I'm only now starting to see the ways I have set this up as an idol, holding it above things that are far more important.

An Ivy League education or an SAT score in the 90th percentile pale in comparison to the understanding that Heaven won't be arranged by social class. How can my kids possibly have mutuality with the poor if I spend my life fencing them away, or if my goal for them is a lifestyle that keeps them safely beyond the reach of trouble or things that are uncomfortable?


Our school elevates us by allowing us the opportunity to sink down into working-class poverty, undocumented citizenry, and crappy playgrounds.

I fully understand not everyone happens to live in a poor school district and not everyone needs to. The good news is, every public school could use our support. The benefits to us are obvious. But you and I bring important things to the table, too. We're a parent who knows the name of our child's teacher and works with him or her to make the year better. We send extra boxes of tissues and Teddy Grahams for snack. Our child usually has his homework done and shoes on her feet and is, quite simply, an amazing kid. (True, we might be biased.) We send tax dollars, yes, but we also send prayers and encouragement and we sign our name on every sheet that asks for our help.

And every day, the culture elevates and improves, not because we busted in and made demands, not because we make the other moms and dads and teachers feel inferior or unfancy, not because we must be coddled lest we pitch a fit and flee, but because we put relationship and humanity and the future state of little hearts and minds at the very front of the line.

Here's a very easy way to help your local school - send your Box Tops for Education! Whether you have a child attending the school or not, they need these box tops, particularly if it happens to be a poorer school. We have been feverishly clipping, trying to save for a new playground and it's amazing to watch them add up to actual cash!

If for some reason your school does not collect or need them, feel free to send them to us! We'll take 'em.

Trim the edges cleanly and mail them to:
Chamberlain Elementary School
428 North 5th Street
Goshen, IN 46528



55 comments:

  1. 'People don't care how much you know, until they know how much you care.' Thanks for living this. The timeliness of your posts are a little 'freeeky'. Organic, from with-in.... oh yes. You're so- onto something.

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  2. Well said, my friend, well said! xo

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  3. Done. You're getting my box tops from now on!

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  4. I see a deluge of Box Tops coming to your school! Maybe you could put that address on your sidebar because I will surely lose it if I write in down :)

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  5. thiiiiiiiisssssss. "I believe, more and more, that the best way to impact life around us is by simply showing up, without expectations or demands, ready to bring our best and actively engage in what already is."

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  6. Ah, love!

    "I believe, more and more, that the best way to impact life around us is by simply showing up, without expectations or demands, ready to bring our best and actively engage in what already is."

    Awesome.

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  7. Daddy used to tell me about a neighborhood in our hometown, that was called
    Billy Goat Hill. The residents decided to clean it up and make a new image...
    the new name? ANGORA HEIGHTS!
    My husband got to graduate at a public school with 12 people in his class.
    Mine, only 30 minutes down the road had 376.

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    1. Angora Heights! ha!
      And my public school graduated 43 in my class. :)

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  8. Girl. Friend. You hit a home run with this one. You've only encouraged the thoughts and convictions that are beginning to settle down deeply within my own heart. Can't wait to send this to my sister whose kids just started at a Title1 school

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  9. Love the line, "I believe, more and more, that the best way to impact life around us is by simply showing up, without expectations or demands, ready to bring our best and actively engage in what already is." Beautiful!

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  10. Oops, I posted that comment before I finished. You're right about just "showing up." Wherever our kids go, wherever we go, just be there. Just let the love of Christ spill over and do its thing. Because it will.

    Love, love, love this post.

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  11. oh girl I adore this. Also, we dont volunteer at our local schools to make them the "it" school so that housing prices can skyrocket (meaning our kiddos will be forced to move out . . . which is already happening a little) . . . but so that our kiddos themselves can experience the meaningful education they deserve just as much as those kiddos at the IT schools :-)

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    1. YES. I meant to touch on that dichotomy, that when middle class moves in, the lower class has to move out. It's heart-breaking! (Thanks for taking care of that for me.) :)

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    2. "our kiddos themselves can experience the meaningful education they deserve just as much as those kiddos at the IT schools"

      Exact conversation that we have been having in this house! YES!

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  12. Love this, thank you! You are so wonderful for writing this. Our kids go to a poor school, too, Title I and we LOVE it! We show up - and give and do what we can. I hear all my friends at other higher socio-economic schools complain all the time about the expectations, attitudes, and other stuff that they have to deal with because of that difference. I will be the first to admit, I was terrified of sending my kids where they go, but 5 years in, I am one of the school's biggest cheerleaders. I don't want our school to change. I love the quirks and experiences and diversity it's giving our whole family.

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  13. "...Heaven won't be arranged by social class. How can my kids possibly have mutuality with the poor if I spend my life fencing them away, or if my goal for them is a lifestyle that keeps them safely beyond the reach of trouble or things that are uncomfortable?" I needed to be reminded of this today. Thank you.

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  14. Have you ever read any John Perkins? I heard him speak at a sort of urban ministry conference about fifteen years ago. He can be a lightning bolt for sure and he doesn't mince words but his heart is that we not see ministry to the lost and hurting of the cities in our country as a swoop in and fix the outside type thing. He is all about community and investment and walking alongside others so that we really see them. And that in turn they see themselves as valuable and Loved. There are some younger, snappier names that have eschewed this message of late but I just remember that he changed the way I thought about loving on the hurting no matter where they live. I should say it's been so long since I've read anything by him so there's that. I just think you would jive with his heart.

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  15. I wish I could sit and chat w/ you (and perhaps have you pray for me) about our upcoming school decision. We live in a Title neighborhood. Our neighborhood school isn't the worst in the district, but I'm a former public school teacher - and I know what I see. My heart is homeschooling b/c of a variety of factors (not just the school b/c I'd feel the same way if we lived on the other (the "good") side of town). C starts kinder next year - and when it comes down to it I don't want his time wasted. (Again, former teacher here who taught at-risk kids/classes. My mom teaches ESL/refugee students and before that in schools with bulletholes in the walls.) How do I get peace and wisdom about what to do next August?

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    1. Amanda, I am a homeschooling mama and the only way to peace and wisdom (that I know of :) in how you school your children is through the grace of Jesus. He will guide you as you seek Him!

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    2. Amanda, I need peace and wisdom too. I have twins that will be in Kindergarten next year and I have no idea what to do. I feel so anxious about the decision. I feel like there are too many choices! I'll pray for you.

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    3. And I didn't mean any of this to come off snobby. It really is a decision we have wrestled with for the last four years.

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    4. It definitely didn't come off as snobby. I am a firm believer in blooming where you are planted and living to advance the kingdom wherever you are- and I homeschool our kids. For us it has to do with what we believe is right for our family on a million different levels (time together, flexibility, meeting my kids learning needs, etc). I love Shannan's words, but I also agree that every family has to figure out what works best for them. School is one way to be involved with your community- but it isn't the only way.

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    5. Amanda,
      I don't have the answers for you either. However, I would encourage you to check out the school series that missalamode . blogspot . com (remove the spaces) just did on the decision between homeschooling and public education, she shares a lot from personal experience and it could help you in making such an important decision.

      Shannan,
      I hope you don't mind me mentioning someone else's site, I figured I was pretty safe to do it on here since I found her blog through yours!

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  16. you make me want to send my kids to public school -- and that says something coming from this formerly-sheltered-homeschool-girl. ;) kudos for that.

    sharing on facebook once again. ;)

    xo

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  18. Shannon, yes to every single word of this. Seriously.

    For a quick year and half, my kids attended one of the top ranking public schools in New York. Money flowed freely. The education was light years beyond what we have now. We caught a glimpse at a different life, another world and not a bad world. I'm not saying that at all, but it was a world we knew God didn't place us in (not for this time anyway). Now, my kids go to a school where new clothes and brands don't matter. They eat free lunch and walk to and from school. Education is really, really important to me, but like you said, I had to learn it's not the most important. Test scores don't compare to a people education orchestrated by God Himself.

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  19. AMEN!! Our oldest just started K at our local title I school.
    I have left in tears (the good kind) already this first month saying "I am so glad to be here! This is exactly what we need!" I have also already made a FB request for my friends to send me their boxtops :)

    www.notalltogether.com

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  20. Oh, yes! It was encouraging to me to hear from someone else about this - I was beginning to think I was alone in some of my thoughts about what makes a "good" education. My kids also go to a title I school, and their experiences are so rich. Our community is a bit different in that there are no other public school choices (one very large school each for elem, middle, sr. high). I see this as a wonderful community-building piece for our community, but of course, not everyone sees it this way.
    Thanks for sharing this.

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  21. Lets go Chamberland, your children deserve nice play ground equipment!! Chamberland had my heart on my first visit, loved the principal who met the children and called them each by name, even the siblings who were not old enough to go to school yet. Now every one save those box tops!!!!

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  22. Have you seen the movie "Won't Back Down" with Maggie Gylenhal (I can never spell her name, but you know who I mean!). Reminds me of what you are writing about. I really enjoyed watching that.
    This post made me ponder - I had heard bad things about both our neighbourhood schools (we are in between two) and we partly made the decision to put our SKer in French Immersion, so we could go outside of our area (but still within a 15 min bus ride). In the end, I am more than thrilled with the French Immersion system (a week in and he's asking to go to the toilet fully in French), but I am also wondering about the worried ooohs I heard about the two local schools and whether they were in fact true and how it would be different if it was within walking distance. Things to ponder and open my mind, yet again. You just have that way!!

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  23. As a public school teacher, THANK YOU! :)
    ~Amber

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  24. My district collects Box Tops but I am sending you my current batch right now. We aren't a wealthy district but our kids have plenty. Hope you get deluged! All kids deserve a nice playground :)

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  25. So much of this has been the current conversation in our house. Thanks for adding to it.

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  26. Thank you again for the reminder that a lifestyle "safely beyond the reach of trouble or things that are uncomfortable" is not the ideal.

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  27. i so wish i could move my kids to a "poor" school!!! you have no idea how much my "school to watch" irritates this every one should have a chance momma!!!!!!

    thanks for writing this so beautifully and honestly!

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  28. Well, now I'm glad i didn't buy that book-- and you are so right-- we don't need to raise up a country club!

    Thank you again for your realism, honesty, and transparency!

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  29. I always enjoy reading your posts, you are a truly gifted writer. I am one who grew up in a "poor" school. Call it the hood, ghetto, the bad part of town, whatever, it wasn't good. There were so many problems, needs and kids who required extra attention that the teaching wasn't what it should have been. The teachers were not able to simply focus on the lesson of the day but play catch up with most the class.

    I agree that parents can make ALL the difference, but my experience was the parents didn't place much importance on volunteering. Many were single parents who just didn't have the time or desire.

    My three kids go to great schools. A priority after marriage was to live in an area where my kids would feel safe and get a wonderful education. But even then I feel it's 50/50. When they come home I work with them on their homework as well as my own lessons such as typing, Spanish, etc.

    Those women did the best with their talents, and we should all do the best with ours to affect positive change to all around us.

    I am glad you're having such a positive experience with your neighborhood school, but I cringed at the commenter who said she wished she could send her kids to a "poor" school. The reality is schools receive money based on tax dollars, so if you are in a poorer area, your school will receive less. Not fair, just the way it is.

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    1. Thanks for sharing. You're right, most of the parents cannot volunteer. Most are working or caring for smaller children, which is way parents who can volunteer are invaluable to the school. At our previous school, I never once considered volunteering. I figured it wasn't necessary or that someone else would take care of it.(Sounds bad and it is, just being honest.) At this school it feels important and significant and I'm thankful that I can help.

      As for the commenter, I think I understand what she's saying...in that, we CHOSE to move to this poor area, and a poor school simply comes along with that. And maybe our school does receive "less", but it also gains in many ways, at least in my eyes. I can't say that we'll stay here forever because who knows! But right now I can say that I certainly hope we stay, and if not, I hope we'll always land in a disadvantaged area. The benefits to our family have been monumental. It's just where our hearts are. Maybe that's what she was saying?

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  30. "Heaven won't be arranged by social class..." wow, I just love everything about what you've written here, so impactful!! What a great reminder to everyone to stop and take each day and everything as a blessing and live a little more in the moment, rather than in the labels. As a mom with a 12 year old boy just starting out in junior high, we're re-learning how to deal with social struggles and friends and the "it" crowd, and all the growing pains (literally & figuratively) that come with the pre-teen years. Coming from a small public school (200 kids K-6, just 25 kids in his 6th grade class) to a huge junior high (just shy of 800 kids, 7-8th), it's a huge adjustment dealing with everything that is flung at your children during a given school day and helping them make good choices, while staying active and present as a parent. I volunteered almost daily at his elementary for the full 7 years he was there, it was like a family to us, fundraisers, book fairs & Box Tops & all, and I truly felt that he got 110% out of it because we put in 110% to it. Now he's more of a face in the crowd, a number on the list....this mama is a bit adrift in our new reality......but everything you just wrote and pointed out makes me want to re-double my efforts to still be there and volunteer at his big new school....because just simply showing up is the start.

    Go Chamberlain! You have a pile of Box Tops on the way from California....our little elementary fueled each year's field trips with their Box Top dollars (& there were hundreds of $'s collected), our big school isn't interested....I'm happy our Box Tops will be going to a great cause from now on. xoxo

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  31. Love you, Shannan.
    Love that you LIVE what you write.
    Love that you write the things I know to be true but cannot find the words to say.
    Love that God is using you to move His people to live differently.
    So I humbly thank you for being God's mouthpiece to our generation.
    And I love you. (Did I already say that???)

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  32. Hi there, just stopping by to say how delightful your blog is. Thanks so much for sharing. I have recently found your blog and am now following you, and will visit often. Please stop by my blog and perhaps you would like to follow me also. Have a wonderful day. Hugs, Chris
    http://chelencarter-retiredandlovingit.blogspot.ca/

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  33. gcs was, and i imagine still is, a great place to be. i'm glad you're there.

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  34. Amen. That is all because you said the rest so very well.

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  35. Amen. That is all because you said the rest so very well.

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  36. You really touched my teacher heart. If only more people would support their public school in the way you're talking about we could make so many improvements. The kids I'm working with have changed so much over the years I've been in Greenville. I find myself spending more and more $ on things for the classroom like supplies, candy to motivate them, and baking cookies because for some that's a rare treat. We also put together hygiene bags (gift bags full of toiletries, why can't it be fun?!)to send home with some of them because they don't have those basic necessities. How can I expect them to learn when they're tired and hungry?

    Well, said, Shannan, and thank you for supporting your school and teachers. Love ya!

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  37. Hi there-- just found your blog when a friend sent me a link because of this post, so beautifully expressed. I teach a 3/4 combo in a Title 1 school and have a couple parents like you. They are a treasure. Parents who tutor, who stuff folders, who make copies. And who pray. The things you do will have the greatest impact on your kids valuing education. Loved all you had to say, including exposing your kids to the real world. Great post. Thank you.

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  38. Thank you... Thank you for allowing God to "shake up" your life from what many consider the "ordinary" or "the only way to be" and in turn use you as such inspiration! Thank you for your honest heart... I don't know what else to say other than your life, and the way your living it out all for Jesus even in the little things, has blessed my life! And I don't even know you, know you! ;) May God bless you and yours! Keep on telling your story, God has used it greatly to inspire mine!!

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  39. Thank you for this post! My husband and I are keeping an eye on the real estate market here in the Bay area, but we're conflicted when a moderately priced home is in a neighborhood with sub-par schools. This is encouraging, though - the thought that we CAN bloom where we're planted and make a difference along the way. I've always thought that, in relation to schools, but it's nice to hear it voiced by someone else. I'm pinning this post and checking out the book. Thank you!

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  40. I was just going through some notes on my iPad and saw that I had saved the URL to this post. I can't recall how I came across it initially now, but I loved it, sharing with my readers this morning :) Thank you.
    Bree

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  41. "This morning" being Monday morning in Australia!
    Bree
    www.failingjoyfully.com

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