Saturday, March 7, 2015

On Schools and Rodents

I could tell, looking at the faces of other parents around the circle, that everything being shared was as much news to them as it was to me. Joe's school called a surprise meeting at the beginning of the week, and whatever they had to say was important enough that the national executive director flew in from Atlanta to say it.

It turns out even awesome hybrid Catholic schools aren't immune from terrible landlords! On the one hand, it's good, because we're not dealing with vengeful, cheapskate landlords, just volunteer-staffed, somewhat neglectful landlords who speak a different language (literally, not a figure of speech).

But still, leaky roofs, unscheduled mid-year construction projects, and resident rodents are not great for a learning environment. (Actual quotes from the meeting: "Don't worry -- they're not LARGE rats. They're small, like mice." And "It's not school-wide, just in the Pre-K wing.")

As the administrators and teachers discussed problems at the school, my imagination took over, and I pictured sinkholes and poisonous gas and ROUS chewing off my son's shoes during nap time. A follow-up email to his teacher clarified that they actually have new carpet this year, and no one has actually seen any rodents.

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Building issues don't really phase me. I went to public school. In my elementary years, five-gallon buckets were standard-issue to each classroom, as a quick fix for leaky roofs. We saw more than "evidence of rodents"; we saw the rats themselves. (And once, even a snake!) Our bathrooms were colorful graffiti, in both hue and language, and we had as much soap as locks on stalls (= none).

But I had great teachers, and it didn't even occur to me that the learning environment was anything less than ideal. Could I have learned more and learned better? Absolutely. But it wasn't because of crappy buildings or uncommitted teachers. I think it was the educational system itself. I got really good at "playing school," and then promptly forgetting everything after acing the tests.

Granted, in the meeting last night, I did think once or twice, "OmgOmgOmg, we can't let Joe come back here," because I'm a helicopter parent, and I like to stay up at night (in between feeding 5-month-old twins) and worry about everything that could possibly happen to my precious, precious children. (Mostly I worry about driving off a bridge into a lake with all my kids in the car. But I've worried about it enough that I now have a fail-proof plan that unbuckles everyone from their car seats, escapes the minivan before it sinks, and swims to safety with four kids ages five and younger in tow. Worrying works.)

So every school has its issues. Whether it's an elite super-expensive private school or the public school down the street, or your kitchen table, because you exclusively home-school. Every school is going to have issues. 

A few questions to consider: 

1) How is the issue addressed when it happens? 

2) How is the issue addressed going forward? 

3) How does it affect my kid? 

The executive director of Regina Caeli flew into town and scheduled a school-wide meeting of all the families. The chairs were in a circle, discussion-style. The school is not lawyering up, prolonging the dysfunction, and fighting for the landlord to fulfill their side of the lease. With two months left in the school year, the administration has taken the initiative to fix leaks, deep-clean, and hire exterminators for the building. The plan is to move to better space (or at least a better landlord) next year.

I had no idea there were any issues with the building, because Joe had no idea there were any issues with the building. He came home happy every day, full of stories about friends and teachers and learning.

So all of this just reminds me why we chose Regina Caeli, a homeschool-private school hybrid, for our kids. It's an awesome program, with highly-degreed, credentialed and experienced tutors, a proven curriculum, and an amazing community. Maybe a crappy building, and some landlord issues, but overall, it's parents, like us, who just want to be actively involved in our kids' lives, to help them reach their greatest potential and highest calling, to love God and love others.

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