Tag Archives: school story(ies)

feeling nostalgic

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I’m feeling oddly nostalgic these days, although I’ve been busy enough to be able to tamp down those feelings for the most part. E’s middle school years came to an end last week, and now we have a high schooler in our midst. That feels big to me.

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I don’t post as many things about the girls on the blog. They are getting older, and we share more than enough on Instagram with close friends and family. When I started this blog ten years ago, a good portion of it was devoted to E – every drawing she made, each book that she read, the funny and sweet things that she said and did. She seems so little when I look back to those early posts – just look at this first blog photo and then the photo below (upper left corner) taken last Friday!

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Montage 7

It seems like ages ago, but here we are on the sidelines, watching her lead her team to victory with goal after goal after goal, all arms and legs and high fives and smiles.

Montage 8

I think she mastered middle school in a way that I never did. She managed high academic expectations, a busy schedule, clubs and sports and events, and the very real work of navigating these tricky years of early adolescence and group dynamics with a dimpled grin on her face and a heads down work ethic when it was required.

Montage 4

Now that we’re on the flip side of middle school (for the first kid), I’m wondering what I’d tell past-me – the mom of an upcoming sixth grader beyond “it will be fine”? It’s always easier to reflect on experiences once they’re finished, once the nerves are eased and the jitters subside. But I still think it’s a valuable exercise to do as I think about the coming changes over the next four years of high school.

Montage 3

I’d tell past-me to trust these guiding principles – they work. I’d tell her to lean into the new and the different. Look for opportunities that offer new perspectives at the fundamental level, not ones that reinforce the familiar. Sign her up for camps and classes in neighborhoods we rarely hang out in, with people that she’s never met. Drop her off at the door, don’t linger. Read and reread the mission statement of the organization, but ignore how the building looks from the outside (or even the inside). Seek out the scrappy – they are innovative in ways that ample budgets don’t always allow.

Montage 5

Expose her to experiences where she is not the presumed leader, where she might be the odd one out. She will walk quietly into new rooms and listen. She will find her voice and insert it when she wants to. She will become comfortable with the uncomfortable, and then she’ll seek that out on her own. She is the center of the universe in this family, a featherbed to collapse into, spent and spinning. But out there you want it to be different – you want her to assume nothing and test everything. At times this might be trying, but she will know herself to the core.

Montage 2

You have done this for her since the moment she took her first breath, so trust it. You exposed her to an ever-widening circle of people unlike you so that she would understand that love and respect and nurture comes in a million different packages, all vital and important to our collective soul. You wrote it in a letter penned before she broke the surface of the earth. You promised to love her first and fiercely, but to not hoard control of her raising. You swore you’d let her know the love of as many different people as you could, and you’re doing it. Keep doing it.

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I cannot slow the days, I know this. That hits me in my core some days; I catch my breath on it. I revel in the time I took to collect these little snapshots of her year and I promise myself to collect more in the coming years. She’s ready for high school, her joy is catching.

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I’m really tired this week – Foodie Feast, Grandparents Breakfast, out-of-town guests, Open House this weekend… At first it was just my head that was tired – the kind of exhaustion that comes from juggling too many to-do lists in your head at the same time. That’s the hard part about juggling so many things at once – not the execution of various events or projects – just the headspace that each requires. It makes it hard to sleep well. When I wake up my mind goes into overdrive. I panic, thinking I’ve missed an important detail. It’s easy to make mistakes when I’m tired – like forgetting that the brioche recipe lacks the critical word “divided” after the “2 large eggs” line of the ingredients. So I added two large eggs to the first two batches of dough before realizing that one egg gets reserved for the final egg wash. So extra batches were made, and some were discarded or sent to the “seconds” pile.

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(Proof of how stretched my brain was – I made charts to tell me where each batch of dough was located and the schedule for each to double proof prior to baking.)

In the midst of this ten-day stretch of events and late night baking sessions, we’re now waist deep in the high school application process. This has involved filling out online applications, emailing counselors to track down transcripts and recommendation letters, visiting open houses, scheduling and transporting E to shadow days at multiple schools, and checking off even more to-do lists to make sure we don’t miss anything.

When E was entering school, we did not have a neighborhood elementary school to send her to – we live in one of the most underserved zip codes in the city. We entered her in the magnet school lottery for the district, but did not make the cut in the first drawing. In the meantime, we discovered a new private, independent school in our neighborhood that was just four years old. We were able to secure the last spot in their kindergarten class, and the rest is history. We’ve been so thrilled with our experience there that we sent F there as well. When she graduates in 3.5 years, we’ll have spent twelve straight years with that school. It’s a part of the family, and holds a very dear and special place in our hearts.

E had better luck with the magnet school lottery for middle school – she was accepted into a very good school that just happens to be right around the corner from our house as well. The school teaches an accelerated curriculum, and she’s stepped up to the challenge really well. The magnet schools in the district must reflect the demographics of the city, and she’s been fortunate to attend a school for three years with such a diverse student body. This is not the norm in the region, and it’s been a priority for our family in school choices.

But somehow we’re here – on the cusp of high school already. She has an abundance of choices – all excellent. One high school option is consistently ranked as the top school in the state; the other options are newer, but equally challenging and well-performing. We’ve visited the schools, and I feel confident that she will do well at all three. Tough decisions, but leaps and bounds ahead of where I thought we’d be when we started this journey ten years ago, in a testing room with a three-and-a-half year old.

I dropped her off at her first high school shadow day, and she looked like she belonged already. I was kind of sad at the start of this process. It seems so quick – they are just wrapping up the first quarter of eighth grade. But then I see the opportunities ahead of her in high school and it fills me up with joy. I’m excited for her, I’m excited for us. She is so fun to grow up with.

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If you are local, and just starting out on this school journey, then I’d love to invite you to this event on Saturday:
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And I’d also encourage you to spend some time on the website STL City Schools – a lot of good information on all school options, compiled by the parents you’d quiz on the subject if you ran into them. (This is a different website than the official district website, although it is linked to on the district’s site.) It includes all school options – public, magnet, charter, and private. I hope you’ll give SLPS a good look – and feel free to email me directly with any questions you might have.

(story)time: We Stories and “Of Thee I Sing”

A few nights ago I found myself in several fascinating conversations about children’s literature (more on that in moment!), and on the ride home my thoughts again turned to books. I used to be more regular in writing my (story)time posts, and for awhile I was averaging one every week to two weeks. But like so many other things that I try to wedge into my dwindling free time lately, that kind of writing has dropped off a bit. Our bookshelves are still overflowing, and now that we have four readers in the family, we have no shortage of new reads on our bedside tables. And then it hit me – why not have everyone else in the family contribute to these posts, and bring them back on a more regular basis? So I think I’ll give it a go. 

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Earlier this year, I was listening to St. Louis on the Air on our local public radio station. Most days I’m already plugged into NPR, but I was particularly interested in listening to this show because one of the guests was the director of our county library system – a client of my husband’s, and a friend of a dear friend as well. I wasn’t familiar with the topic of the discussion, but I figured it had something to do with books, and it’s always fun to listen to someone you know being interviewed on the radio.

The interview was with the founders of a new organization called We Stories, and as the conversation got rolling I was immediately drawn in because it taps into so many things that I’m passionate about.

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We Stories was founded to help local families engage in conversations about race with their children – a topic that is frequently discussed in families of color, but rarely happens in white families. Their mission is to use “the power of children’s literature to create conversation, change and hope in St. Louis, and a stronger, more equitable and inclusive future for all”.

I’ve written here before on the topics of race and racism, and how I have distinct memories of those discussions within my family, even when I was very young. I credit that early exposure as the foundation for so many of the decisions that I make in my daily life, and that we make as a family. Race and racism is a frequent topic of conversation in our house; it is not glossed over and it is not reserved for when the girls “are older”. Research shows that the earlier these conversations happen, the better. Listening to Adelaide and Laura talk on that show made something click that morning.  I stopped eating my lunch and immediately sent them an email. They graciously read my ramblings, and invited me to lunch. We’ve lunched some more, emailed back and forth (where I still ramble), I’ve introduced them and sung their praises to other groups that I love, and M and I were excited to join them last week at the launch party for Page Turners.

“PAGE TURNERS ARE A POWERFUL GROUP OF WE STORIES CHAMPIONS WHO SUPPORT OUR MISSION TO ENGAGE A CRITICAL MASS OF FAMILIES IN THE ST. LOUIS REGION WHO ARE COMMITTED TO A STRONGER, MORE EQUITABLE AND INCLUSIVE FUTURE FOR ALL.”

We met and talked with so many amazing people that night, and many asked about our connection to We Stories. At first I wasn’t sure what to say – it was difficult to describe how moved (and motivated) I was after hearing that interview. Their pilot program worked with 80 local families – introducing diverse books for their libraries so that they could begin talking about race in a way that feels natural and comfortable with children – while providing a platform for safe discussion and questioning, meetups to explore every corner of this amazing city, and reading groups for the adults as well.

So here is what we said, in conversations with new friends. We Stories touched a part of me that I think had been simmering for a very long time, without a name. We own all of these books – we seek them out on our bookstore visits. Our children attend a school where these books are not only on the shelves, but are displayed, covers out, embraced, and celebrated. We live in a diverse neighborhood, within the city limits. We have made very deliberate decisions throughout our family life to seek out diverse spaces to learn and play and worship and shop and give.

I do not say this in a self-congratulatory way, simply as a statement of one of the main drivers we use to make decisions together. It has not always meant the easiest of decisions, or the most comfortable. But being intentional about it is important – to us, and to our children. We point out racism to them, and we challenge them to see it and to call it out. We read, all of us, and then we talk, and we listen. We talk about injustice, we talk about the importance of protests.* We ask ourselves this question, always: who’s missing from this place, this picture? Why? And what can we do about that?

That all sounds lovely and so very good of us, but as the conversations went on that evening, I started to realize something. We’ve created something of a bubble for ourselves, one that’s fairly easy to be self-satisfied within. We were talking in length to one woman about her difficulties in getting her beloved church congregation to even broach the subject of race and racism, and that struggle is really causing her to question so many things. [As she spoke, I thought about our church, and how active we are in numerous areas of social justice activism, how we have these tough conversations on a weekly basis.] Another woman spoke about the complete lack of diversity at her daughter’s school, how everywhere they go they are in the majority, and most people are perfectly happy with those circumstances and don’t want to be bothered with heavier discussions about people they don’t associate with on a daily basis.

St. Louis is such a segregated city, where deeply seated racist attitudes exist. I won’t link to all the ugly here, but there was a powerful This American Life show called The Problem We All Live With, that would give you a glimpse into the hyper-segregated school districts we have in this region. And we have sought out the exceptions to that rule – we’ve been so very fortunate in our school choices, both private and public, and I tell the girls they are lucky – lucky to be in schools as diverse as theirs. They aren’t easy to find around here.

But again, that bubble. It’s taken me awhile to see it, but I know it’s there. I think I connect with We Stories because I need that push to get out of my comfort zone more. My comfort zone has a different definition than it would have had twenty years ago, but it’s still comfortable because we’re surrounded by people who also think the way that we do. We can talk all day long about these topics and never risk a thing. And so maybe I don’t get that self-righteous pass I requested earlier.

I should get connected, I must broaden that conversation outside of my own circles, I can lend support to a movement that is vital and necessary. I’m grateful for the nudge that conversation gave me earlier this year, and I’m listening to where it might take me. Stories are powerful things.

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We Stories was selected to participate in SXSL (South By South Lawn – the White House’s version of Austin’s South by Southwest conference and festival) that happened yesterday. Adelaide and Laura took a copy of President Obama’s Of Thee I Sing to give to him. They took it around to schools and libraries and families involved with We Stories and filled it with notes and signatures before they left for D.C. We had a chance to add our name and small message – I thanked him for this story, a favorite on our shelves.

We read this book last night and here’s F’s review:

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“I really love the pictures in this book, because all the kids get to dream about doing the things that other people did, like astronauts and baseball players. My favorite page is about Helen Keller because we studied her at school. My second favorite page is the one with all the kids on it.”

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*Here’s a link to a great post on children’s books about protests to navigate the conversations around current events. I encourage you to spend some time on their website, follow them on Facebook and Instagram, and consider plugging in as a family or by lending your financial support to this important work. I know I have so many book sellers / lovers as readers here – I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.