On Sunday night, a group of about 20 parents gathered in a West Philly house. While our kids played in the basement, creating chaos and making an unbelievable mess, reveling in a giant, off-night playdate, the mood upstairs was decidedly less cheerful. The topic of discussion: just how many days ahead of kindergarten registration should we begin patrolling our neighborhood school to see if The Line had begun.
Because living in the Penn Alexander Catchment area, the reason why many of us purchased homes (and paid a premium for them), no longer guarantees that our kids can attend the school that is 3 blocks from our house. Last year, parents camped out for a full 24 hours before registration. This year, with a person with sadistic tendencies deciding to have kindergarten registration begin the day after a holiday (Martin Luther King Jr Day), who knows? Does that mean an extra day of waiting in the line? Will parents miraculously be less crazy this year and be able to wait until the morning of registration before lining up (highly unlikely)?
While our group of parents created our PAS Kindergarten 2013 Covert Strategies Mission, I thought about how I wished the time spent worrying about the upcoming weekend (including meetings such as this one and the many hours wasted lying awake in anticipation and dread in the middle of the night) could be used for something more purposeful, such as improving schools in Philly. Because it is kind of ridiculous: school nurses only available on one day of the week, many school libraries closed because there’s no budget for librarians, etc. Don’t even get me started on arts or recess. The enormity of the problems of the school district are so huge, I don’t even know really where to begin.
There is a public school a few blocks farther from our house that does not receive funding from Penn. A group of dedicated parents have been working tirelessly to improve this school through involvement and revitalization efforts like planting a garden and updating the outdoor facilities. Joe helped with the garden this fall, and we are hoping to become more involved with the efforts of the parent organization. But send our kids there? We just don’t think the school is ready yet. Does that make us hypocrites? Maybe. But I’m not willing to take a gamble on our children’s education.
All of us parents are prepared for what lies ahead: we will wait in line as long as we have to, we will bring in relatives to care for our children while we stand in the freezing cold (and perhaps snow, if we’re really lucky!), we will squander one long weekend even as most of us work long hours in stressful and demanding jobs. Wouldn’t you do just about anything for this little guy?
I hope to use my time on the line to catch up with friends, to meditate, and maybe even stir up some conversations about how we can improve the school system. History (and sound bites from prominent historical figures) teaches us that change can begin anywhere, anytime. It seems fitting that on MLK Jr weekend, we make some small steps forward. And if the fact that they occur while waiting in line to register our children makes them a little unconventional, it seems as good a time and place as any to me.