Since we published our story about Leschi Elementary School’s experiment with blending its racially divided classrooms, many of you shared strong reactions to the story. Some of you applauded the initiative, which was led by some parents, teachers and the principal. Others questioned why the school was taking academic-related decisions out of parents’ hands. We appreciate the robust and respectful debate and because many of you were so thoughtful, we thought we’d share a few of your responses here.
We asked you: What role does student and teacher diversity play in your decisions about where to send your children to school?
On Facebook, Kent Warner Palosaar wrote, “I live in the very racially mixed Highline School District, and have a four-year-old girl, who currently is going to Valley View preschool as a peer leader with special needs children. I love the opportunity this gives her, including the incredible cultural diversity. This is very important moving forward, but, I, too, am looking at progressive educational programs, such as Montessori, which will put my daughter into a predominantly white setting. It’s an unfortunate dilemma!”
Karen Pearson said, “It doesn’t. I care more about the quality of their education and the opportunities provided to them.”
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And Cecilia Palao-Vargas wrote, “A lot. That’s why I love CSIHS (Chief Sealth International High School).”
Finally, another reader, Mary DeWine, who taught high school in Seattle and Boston, wrote us with this story.
“When we moved to Tacoma six years ago, my husband and I sought a public school that was socioeconomically diverse. We hoped for a K-8 and found one– a public Montessori school on Hilltop. Instead of walking our kids to the neighborhood school, we made a conscious decision to drive our kids halfway across town. We had little to no knowledge of Montessori teaching.
The Bryant Montessori School community consists of families who come from the immediate neighborhood, because it is their neighborhood school, and the city, because it is a Montessori program.
Fifteen years ago, Bryant was the poorest school in the district, so with purposeful design under Title 1, Tacoma started their Montessori program as a means to support and offer a new program for neighborhood families, not unlike Leschi Elementary School around the same time.
When we started and as we stayed at Bryant, I struggled with the idea that I was the gentrifying agent of change. I worried that I was co-opting an education opportunity that was made for a student with less resources. But we stayed for the same reason we entered our kids; over the past five years, the students who received free and reduced lunch hovered at a stable 53%.
To answer the Seattle Times’ question at hand: Yes, I sought out a diverse school for my kids, the kind of diversity that would make our kids understand that the world where they live is made up of people with different economic resources.
Is this idea too abstract for young developing minds? There are many factors to consider here, but I am sure that our kids have a pretty clear understanding of poverty, excess, and the stratosphere that exists in between.
Why else did we make this decision? Because in seeking an economically diverse setting for my kids, I was not just thinking about my kids. As an educator, I wanted to be a resource in a place where parents were working long hours and where kids might not have family members who could volunteer.
But, like Leschi Elementary, things change. After five years at Bryant Montessori, we had to accept that our eldest was not the right fit for the Montessori system.
Our son was more than one grade level behind. He needed more checks and balances, and we knew a traditional classroom structure was the answer.
Every one of the families that were quoted at Leschi have a single story, as do we. It is in the listening to the single stories that we are able to better understand equity and then decide what to do as a collective.
So in a way, we are all a part of the Leschi community.