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by Kate Kooyman
Theresa Latini is taking a short break from her rotation on The Twelve. While she’s away, we welcome Kate Kooyman. Kate is a minister of the Reformed Church in America who serves in the Christian Reformed Church Office of Social Witness in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Thank you, Kate.
My oldest son is in kindergarten this year. We send him to our neighborhood school, and we live in an urban neighborhood. But don’t let that impress you.
Granted, I’m one of those annoying urban-public-school evangelists. I believe deeply that every kid has a right to a good education. I am totally convinced that racism shows up most visibly in our community’s educational disparities. I am sold that the solution is integration — I want more white folks to send their kids to city schools.
But here’s the truth: in spite of all those justice commitments, I’m not actually “taking one for the team” when it comes to our neighborhood school. I’m not saving it, or shaping it, or helping it, or fixing it. It doesn’t need me to do any of those things. My kid goes to a great school. My kid’s school has a perception problem, not a performance problem.
Here are ten things that I love about my kid’s urban public school.
1. I love his school uniform. I love that I can say “put on your school clothes” and that means one specific thing. He is more independent, and less stressed in the morning, making his mommy more sane and less mean. Plus he looks so handsome in his collar and khakis. Win, win, win.
2. I love witnessing the art of teaching. His teachers have perfected their craft. They are serious, they are educated, they are experts. When you go into his classroom, you see someone who is differentiating their style and content for such a wide variety of student needs it is astonishing. You see someone who is working fully 400% harder than I’ve worked on anything all week. We need to put an end to the Myth of the Bad Teacher. The teachers I know are the definition of professionals.
3. I love that there’s no culture of over-the-top birthday parties. Somebody wave a $25 Target receipt for a kid you barely know and who your child barely likes and say, “Amen.”
4. I love when my son asks me questions about something he overhears on NPR — “What’s a Muslim?” or “Where do refugees come from?” — and we can think of a classmate to help answer the question. I love that he has a little less to unlearn about an implied “us” and “them” because he belongs to a community that is diverse.
5. I love hot lunch, which is free for every student in our district, and is way more nutritious and creative than my turkey sandwich and baby carrots.
6. I love the local restaurant that raised thousands of dollars to buy tablets for our school. I love that our kids are going to be just as tech-savvy as any other American kid, and they’re going to know that it’s because their community is expecting that they will be opening businesses, running for office, pastoring churches someday soon. And their community invests in them so they can do it well — ‘cause their success is connected to our whole neighborhood’s success.
7. I love that my son is learning that his culture is not “the” culture. I love that he experiences moments of being the majority and moments of being the minority, and is gaining skills in navigating both those worlds. I love that someday he will be a better employee, a better church member, a better voter, a better person because he’s had both those experiences.
8. I love parent-teacher conferences. I get a stack of papers that all show tangible ways that my kid is making academic progress according to his own goals. He’s reading, he’s writing, he’s adding and subtracting at rates that surprise me. His school is a place where he is challenged.
9. I love that we can ride our bikes to school. (We’ve done that once, because I’m constantly late. But it was really charming when we did it.)
10. I love that one of his classes is Strings, so I get to watch him and 29 other 5-year olds try to play the violin together. It’s pure comedy, and totally adorable.
That’s just what I love today — ask me again tomorrow and I could come up with ten more.
I have a lot of prayers for my kid. But I think the one I pray for most often is for belonging. I want him to know that he is a miracle — unique, beloved, important. And I want him to know that he is part of a larger whole — a community of miracles, “woven together in a single garment of destiny.” I want him to know that he is vitally important, and so is every person he interacts with. I want him to see the very image of God in the faces of his neighbors, and treat them with the dignity that such holiness affords them. I want his life to reflect the reality that we belong to each other.
Our humble neighborhood school is showing me little answers to those prayers every day.
Thanks be to God.