Tonight our youngest son Forest graduated from Lawrence High School during a glorious spring dusk. As I heard yet again “Pomp and Circumstances” and watched the graduating class bat around half a dozen beach balls, I couldn’t help thinking that it was just these 17 and 18 year olds graduating. Some of their families, like our own, have reached the end of having a child in public school.
For us, it started with Daniel at New York School in a kindergarten class in which all the kids did Army boot camp style call and response chants as they marched down the halls. Within a few years, we switched to Cordley, a school we fell in love with, and a school both Ken and some of his family attended. Daniel felt deeply at home there as did we, and I remember the thrill of the first Cordley carnival, the first school concert, the first parent-teacher conferences there. We found Cordley welcoming, bright and particularly passionate since we started there just as the school was threatened with closing. Meetings, letters to the editor, signs and research came forth from this cohesive community, which not only succeeded in keeping the school open but taught me about the power of the social contract.
During one brief year, we had all three kids at Cordley — Forest in Kindergarten, Natalie in three grade, and Daniel in sixth — and it was also the year of our family’s terrible car accident. The school community wrapped tight around us, filling our refrigerator with food, our table with hand-made cards, and our hearts with healing. The then-principal, the great Kim Bodensteiner, even rushed to the hospital to try to help us. By the time Natalie was ready to graduate Cordley, she along with a big group of other sixth-grade girls threw themselves on the cement steps of the school, weeping in each other’s arms. I knew how they felt.
From elementary school, we entwined ourselves with two junior high schools — South for Daniel and Natalie, and Central for Forest. At each school, we found some superb teachers, perhaps even more admirable because they dealt with junior high students all day. There were many concerts, long nights visiting teachers on parent night, and piles of books the kids hauled between lockers and backpacks.
Then there was high school, and high school was friggin’ amazing, at least from our perspective. Every fall, there was a night when parents followed their kid’s schedule, going class to class for just 10 minutes each. I always loved those nights, and how the teachers were obviously in love with teaching.
High school filled our schedules in complicated ways, especially the years we had kids in three different schools. We had nights Ken went to parent conferences at the junior high when I hit the band concert at the high school. Eventually, the double and triple school-booked nights dissipated as we got down to two, then one kid in public school
Now we come full circle to whoever we were 19 years ago when we didn’t have a public school on speed dial, didn’t concern ourselves with paying school fees or checking whether a child was passing algebra at the school website. At the same time, we’re not who we were: driving past any of the five schools we’ve known as our own in some way, I realize these schools will always be, in one way or another, our own.