Monday, June 26, 2017

School Daze (Part 1)

Ask me sometime what keeps me up at night when I think about our life in Avoid.

You'd probably expect me to say the unnerving frequency of the sound of gunfire.
Or the numbers of robberies in the neighborhood.
Or the prostitutes on the corner.
Or the trap houses a few blocks away.

But you'd be wrong.

What keeps me up at night is a question.

Where in the heck are my kids going to go to school?

When we moved to Avoid, we knew that one of our biggest challenges was going to be educating our two younger boys. Our oldest was in college, so he was taken care of. Our next oldest was going to be a senior in high school. He finished out his senior year living with his dad in the suburb that we moved out of. That posed its own challenges which — frankly — we are still dealing with. But it was an educational solution that worked. He's now graduated and in college.

But Jordan and Joshua — going into 4th and 5th grades at the time — would spend the next 8-9 years in school in Atlanta.

That is what kept — and still keeps — this mama up at night.

First truth: Our local public schools were not an option.
Georgia uses a standardized test called the Milestones Assessment to determine if schools are successful in teaching the Common Core standards to its students. Below are the 2016 Milestones passing rates for the elementary and middle schools that children in Avoid attend. Keep in mind — this is the percentage of students who passed the standards and are considered ready to move on to the next level (middle school or high school):

Elementary School 1 (less than a block from our home)
  • Grade 5 English — 2% (in a three-way tie for worst in Atlanta)
  • Grade 5 Math — 12% 
Elementary School 2 (about a mile from our home)
  • Grade 5 English — 6% 
  • Grade 5 Math — 2% (two-way tie for second worst in Atlanta)
All-Boys Middle School (two blocks from our home)
  • Grade 8 English — 5% 
  • Grade 8 Math — 0% 
  • Grade 8 Science — 4% 
  • Grade 8 Social Studies — 5% 
Co-Ed Middle School
  • Grade 8 English — 17% 
  • Grade 8 Math — 6% 
  • Grade 8 Science — 3% 
  • Grade 8 Social Studies — 4% 
All-Girls Middle School (obviously not an option, but just for giggles, I'm throwing it in here)
  • Grade 8 English — 29% 
  • Grade 8 Math — 12% 
  • Grade 8 Science — 10% 
  • Grade 8 Social Studies — 7% 
Um ... no. Not just no. Hell, no. 

For comparison, these are the schools my children would have attended had they gone to our local public schools in the suburbs:

Elementary School
  • Grade 5 English — 87% 
  • Grade 5 Math — 90% 
Middle School
  • Grade 8 English — 72% 
  • Grade 8 Math — 80% 
  • Grade 8 Science — 70% 
  • Grade 8 Social Studies — 71% 
Joshua's First Day of 5th Grade, 2015
Second Truth: Private school was not an option.

We moved to Avoid as part of a church plant. We moved to Avoid to get our children out of the suburban bubble where the assumption is that everyone has enough. Enough money ... enough food ... enough stuff ... enough opportunity ... enough access ... enough support ... enough enough.

Had we chosen private school in Atlanta, we would have traded enough for more than enough. They would have been surrounded by peers who had more than enough of everything. Even students with scholarships to these schools would probably be in a better position than the majority of the children in Avoid. 

So we were determined to give public school a try. We managed to get each boy into public charter schools close to home that fit each of them well.

Life was good in the hood.

Jordan's First Day of 4th Grade, 2015 
Third Truth: While year one was easy-peasy, year two for both boys was much harder.

Once the new wears off – both being in a new school and being the new kid — life gets a little harder. You start to see more how the sausage gets made. 

Joshua — who has a technology addiction, I am certain — struggled when he entered middle school which relied on computers. A lot. In addition, there was a massive exodus of students from his charter school to the traditional middle school in their district, which is one of the highest-rated in Atlanta. The reason is complicated and involves district lines and grandfathering ... but it resulted in the loss of many of his friends and a large chunk of the gifted cohort. Because of timing, his grade was hit hardest. His advanced math class turned out to be not so advanced because there weren't enough qualified students to make it so. 

Jordan — who had never had trouble making or keeping friends — had a very rough year socially. My son was like Smaug from The Hobbit — only a lot nicer and cuter. He had one missing scale which exposed a bare spot on his underbelly, and there was a group of boys that reveled in shooting arrows at it. While a small school can be great, it can make it impossible to avoid bullies if they get you in their cross-hairs. Jordan started talking about changing schools. First it was a whisper. But it because a deafening roar as the year progressed. The final blow came when we found out that the school's gifted teacher — who Jordan and I both adored — was leaving to move back home to California.

Fourth Truth: We found an option that would allow us to fix these problems. But God would have to show up in a big way.

[This blog got way too long. So I will finish the story tomorrow. Stay tuned!]

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