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August 17, 2011

A Dalliance in the Public School

This is the second of a three part series on our choices regarding schooling our children.  You can read the first part here.

With homeschooling definitely off our radar, we needed to figure out what we were going to do.  Probably part of our journey to our current school wouldn't be complete without discussing our journey to the parish.  We attend the church whose parish boundaries we lived within for about 2-3 years after moving into our first home.  It was very large.  And, since Craig and I were typical cradle Catholics who weren't as well-catechized as we now feel we should have been, that parish sufficed for about 18 of those 30 months or so.  Sarah was baptized when we'd attended Mass there for almost a year.

As I've mentioned, Sarah's baptism is really the launching point of Craig's and my reversion/renewal of our Catholic faith walk.  We remained at the parish where she was baptized for about another year or so.  We became increasingly uncomfortable with some of the Mass practices and as we read and learned, realized there were a few actual liturgical abuses occurring.  In the end, I watched with a heavy heart some of the things I just felt were "off" and knew I didn't want my children attending the school there if that was how Mass was.  We have attended on occasion since and much has changed.  I might still be unhappy attending the parish if it were an option, but it seems the liturgical abuses are now a thing of the past.  Praise God!

We decided to attend the parish where Craig and I were married...the one in which he grew up.  They had a couple of orthodox priests (pastor and newly ordained associate) and we witnessed nothing that was "off" or anything remotely close to a liturgical abuse.  We joined that parish and remained there until Helen was about 9 months old.  Both Dani and Helen were baptized in that parish.  I have fond memories that include Craig's and my wedding, both of their baptisms and several other happy parish events.  It was a good "resting place" so to speak as Craig and I grew in our faith and tried to figure out how we were going to raise this family we were having.

During this change, Sarah attended preschool in a daycare center environment.  We lived down the road from a daycare center and found out that she could attend preschool "part-time" which actually meant three full days per week (M-W-F).  I can't press the point enough that we never really thought all that long and hard about something like half-day preschool vs. full-day preschool or T-TH mornings vs. M-W-F all day.  When we started sending Sarah, she had just turned 3, Dani was turning 1 and I thought it would be nice for Craig to have a little "break" from having two children at home and I hoped he'd have time to work with Dani the way he'd worked with Sarah on things like letters, numbers, pretend play, etc.  Then, when Helen came along, it was good for Sarah to have a routine that included preschool.

The daycare fed the public school where Sarah would attend.  We thought we were in luck because Sarah's enrollment in Kindergarten would coincide with the opening of the newest school in the district and she would attend that one.  Therefore, her school was the newest, biggest, brightest thing.  The daycare advertised "Kindergarten Roundup" for the schools into which it fed, and the timing kind of sneaked up on us.  

In Missouri, a child must be five on or before July 31 to attend Kindergarten.  That spring, when Sarah was 4, we attended Kindergarten roundup because Sarah would turn 5 on July 16, and she was ready to go to Kindergarten.  Now, it never occurred to me NOT to send her.  I never thought about the fact that she would be the youngest in her class and therefore would spend her life doing everything "last" in her class (things like turn 10, turn 16 -- drive) and it didn't really phase me then that Sarah would graduate high school while still 17 and if she went to college would be taking off so shortly after turning 18.  I only mention this because it's something I've had to consider with Dani in that her birthday was in August and she is going to spend her life doing everything "first" in her class as well as basically have another year under her belt before she might fly the coop.  And of course, my dear baby boy Vincent is another mid-summer baby with a June 30 birthday and I'll be considering these things with him.  It now kind of freaks me out thinking of Sarah, just a month after turning 18, leaving home to attend college or something like that.

Kindergarten Roundup sneaked up on us, but we went and got Sarah enrolled for school.  We really liked her teacher in Kindergarten.  Matter of fact, we really liked the school, the principal...everything.  I thought that for a secular environment, they did the best they could to support the values we were trying to instill in Sarah...but of course, there was not an environment of prayer involved.  They said the Pledge of Allegiance every day (in which they included "under God") and they had another sort of pledge they said that was kind of like a secular Morning prayer.  The recitation of this other pledge included things like "respect myself and others" and to "do my best"...kind of stuff.  It was carefully worded without any reference to a faith or God and I didn't object to it.  Sure, I wished she were able to pray an "Our Father" or "Hail Mary" in the morning or something, but I also knew that wasn't going to happen at public school and accepted it.
We lived in a terrific school district known for excellence in academics, so I didn't have a problem there.  And the school bus was convenient.  Craig didn't have to worry about loading up the kids to go pick up Sarah at school...he only needed to walk to the end of our street to wait for her to get off the bus.  And she was attending the same school as all the neighborhood kids, so that was a plus, too.

One thing that I didn't like was how little interaction and involvement between parents there was at the public school.  I never knew most of the kids' parents' names.  When Sarah had trouble with one (older/bigger) child on the bus, I had no idea how to find out who the child was and how to contact the parents should the problem get any worse.  Thankfully, that issue happened close to the end of the school year, but I remember being a little distraught that I didn't know how I could handle it.  

And due to the fact that I didn't really know the parents of the children, I didn't know what kind of values other kids were being raised with and what sort of behavior was seen as acceptable.  

Additionally, there was a smal amount of pressure for Sarah to attend non-Catholic, yet faith-based activities...like AWANA or other denominations' Wednesday night church activities.  Of course these weren't sanctioned or promoted by the school.  However, other kids that Sarah became friends with were in families that did these activities.  Sarah was invited to these things.  I allowed her to go once, but it felt very strange to me.  I was concerned that Sarah wasn't old enough yet to be able to handle learning about Jesus in a non-Catholic environment.  I didn't want her hearing anything contrary to what we taught her about our Faith.  I worried about whether anti-Catholic themes would be presented to her or if she spoke up and participated in the activities, that she might show her Catholicism and what reaction she might get.

I was ready to be on the lookout for anti-Catholic concepts in the school work, but since she was just in Kindergarten, there really wasn't any of that yet.   

One of the biggest things that took me by surprise in the public school was how the boys and girls interacted with each other.  It was already considered normal for girls and boys to claim boyfriends and girlfriends.  A lot of the parents laughed it off or pegged it as "cute" and "harmless."  I think I may have done so outwardly myself (I wouldn't want to be that "weird" parent uncomfortable with kids expressing themselves or their feelings, right?).  But I worried about this with Sarah.  There was a social "pizza night" at a local place that did fundraisers for local schools and when one little boy walked in one night, Sarah turned into a different girl.  She looked out the window, when this boy said, "Hi Sarah" she got red in the face, clammed up and didn't say "hi" back.  Craig made the point that perhaps she was embarrassed or shy.  I came to find out that this boy "liked" Sarah and she "liked" him, too.  The teacher and everyone aware of it thought it was "cute."  However, I remember being very surprised by this and a bit worried by it.  It's not that I thought crushes weren't something kids have at that age, but I think it was the tolerance...or even encouragement by adults...I found it very uncomfortable.

I was still having some nagging feelings that this wasn't the right place for our children.  Just a couple years before, I had been thinking it would be best to educate my children at home so that I could be sure and bring my children up in the Catholic faith in the best way possible.  And now, I had my daughter in an environment five days a week where she couldn't learn ANYTHING about her faith.  

I started tallying up the time she was exposed to family and Catechesis vs. the time she spent in a secular, public school environment and I started to get very uncomfortable about where we were headed.  I knew I needed to get Sarah into some form of religious education.  We'd stepped up some things at home:  at the time we were doing a family rosary most evenings, we had always prayed before meals and at bedtime, and I was diligent in attending regularly scheduled Rosary prayer groups/Catholic fellowship outings with the children.  Of course, we still attended Mass every week.

I think I might have been up for doing catechesis at home, but I was worried that I wouldn't have the time to devote to it in order to do it solidly.  The last thing I wanted was to catechize my children at home and fail at it.   

So I began considering that the public school route might not be the way we wanted to go...

Read Part Three...

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Thank you for reading. I enjoy reading other perspectives, please feel free to share yours. :)