Note: This post is the first in our six-part “Back to School” series. Join us for more next week!
I grew up in a suburb with strong schools and award-winning teachers. Heading back to school could always be summed up with a single emotion – excitement! The excitement of getting to see friends that were missed over the summer, a fresh start with a new teacher, and of course – NEW school supplies! Since moving to the heart of Midtown 3 1/2 years ago, I’ve slowly learned that many moms would describe back to school time in a different way. Often times, the best emotion to describe back to school in the city for some families is anxiety. The anxiety looks different for each family that experiences it. Over the summer, for example, I’ve watched friends and neighbors wrestle through what may be the biggest question of all: “where is my child going to go to school next year?”
For those unfamiliar with schooling options within the city, parents look at KCMO public schools (which lost accreditation in 2011), one of the many charter schools (some of which are good options; however, many are struggling just as much as the KCMO schools), private school, or home-schooling. For some families, home school or private school is a great option; but for many, it simply isn’t. Many families are unable to afford the high costs of private school while homeschool can be impossible due to restricting circumstances (typically the work schedule of one or both of the parents).
Then what? It may seem obvious to enroll in one of the “good” schools nearby … except there are not enough spots in the schools performing up to state standards. This week, a friend of mine told me that her son got into one of the coveted local charter schools. She said there were only forty spots open for the fall in this high demand school. But the need is great! There are seven kids who live on my block alone, and we live in a big city. I’d say he was one of the lucky ones! Many of our friends, however, got the anxiety-provoking news of being put on “THE WAIT LIST.” Another friend applied for three local schools and received word that they were wait-listed for all three. Now, school starts in three weeks and not only do they not know who will be their child’s first teacher on his first day of school, they have no idea what school he’ll be attending. (If you are interested in more statistics about school enrollment in our area, look at the key findings on page four of this report funded by the Kauffman Foundation.) At our neighborhood playgroup last week, we were again having this all-too-common conversation about schools and one woman shared how her brother-in-law is moving to Kansas City this fall and has a five-year-old son; they got in line at 1:00 AM and waited all night to secure one of the four open spots in a local school. They were lucky enough to have the ability to do this and to obtain the spot they so desperately wanted; however, many families have not been met with the same result.
So what about all of the families who don’t have options? What about the families that are still “waiting,” the families that can’t school at home, that don’t have the resources to move (or that don’t want to move) or that can’t afford private school? Our family has a little brother through Big Brothers Big Sisters of KC. We have been matched with him for three years; in that time, we have seen him attend three different schools in the area. Every year, instead of getting to experience the joy and excitement I experienced as a youth at back to school time, he experiences the anxiety of a new place, a new bus route, new rules, new teachers … the list of “new”s goes on and on. Schools in our area are closing every year; meanwhile, kids’ worlds are getting rocked every time the doors close and moms and dads find themselves in a state of panic (again) as they try to make the best decision they can for their children.
I don’t know how to fix this problem. I don’t know the answer to the question of how all kids in our city can receive a free quality education. BUT, I do know that I’m a mom, a friend, and a neighbor and I want my kids, my friends’ kids, and my neighbors’ kids to have more free quality options. On August 17, many families who live in the Midtown neighborhood of Kansas City, MO will be meeting to continue the conversation of how to come together and re-imagine education in Kansas City. We need more families to join us in this conversation! Please consider doing so if you live in Midtown. If you don’t, please share this information in your community; even if you are mom in Liberty, Olathe, Gardner, or Gladstone, it’s important that we support each other as moms in OUR city – Kansas City. As part of the conversation, think about this: what are some things you can do to help make education better for kids in and around Kansas City?