Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Friends School

For much of ours lives, our "third place" is school. Today my daughter graduated from the school she has been attending for 8 years, since first grade. For some, school is a bit like a jail sentence, but Elena has always loved it. From an early age she has enjoyed her independence and school has been a perfect place for her to claim her own realm. We call her our extreme extrovert, and with 3 house mates who are generally introverts, she often seeks out the company of others. Her farewell speech, along with those of her 14 classmates, was delivered with confidence and poise. Elena has a foundation of memories and relationships where her individuality was celebrated and learning was communal, fun and stimulating. These are the best of times.

Early parenting is fraught with decisions, and school is a big one. We hemmed and hawed about whether to try Spanish immersion at the public school or to go with the Quaker Friend's School. Each addressed different yet similar values towards education. The decision was made for us, she was not excepted to the Friends School. I was a bit relieved about no longer facing the dilemma of choosing and off she went to Adams. She had a ball there, yes there were imperfections, such as the fact that half the kids already spoke fluent Spanish at home and then were asked to spend the day learning how to say " Donde esta el bano? " Or, when I would go in to volunteer at the beginning of the day and find that Elena was off in the cafeteria with friends having donuts, the free breakfast program intended for those who didn't have a meal at home. Elena's kindergarten teacher was a fabulous teacher, but she had 32 kids with very different needs. Two other concerns were that the principal didn't speak Spanish, and the first grade classrooms had no windows. Mid year we were given a call from the Friends School saying they might have an opening in first grade and would we be interested? More decisions, ugh. Elena was settled in and happy. Despite my concerns, why rock the boat? I delayed, waiting as usual for divine intervention to solve the problem. As luck would have it Elena took a summer clay class and became fast friends with a girl named Liza from Russia who happened to be listed in The Friends School first grade for the following year! They were kindred spirits, my sign, I told myself, and promptly accepted the spot a The Friends School.

Elena took the news without much fuss and after the first day at school in my attempts to draw forth the evidence of my success masterminding her future, I asked the obvious question, "How was Liza?" "Oh" said Elena, "she went to another school". Needless to say, I was speechless. However, the stars were aligning because that same week we had the tragedy of 9/11 and I knew then that the school was the best fit for our family. The school community sentiment around that event mirrored our own. The Quaker values of Simplicity, Integrity, Community, Equality and Peace seemed more important than ever to have reinforced in a variety of venues outside of the home. Today in each of the speeches given by the graduating class a common theme emerged, in the word's of Thich Nhat Hanh, the seeds of compassion were sown. In a humorous moment when a few of the girls were crying, the row of kids passed tissue to those in need. It was perfect, a symbolic testimony to their bonds of friendship and proof that their speeches were founded in experience.

Hindsight is 20/20 but there is no doubt our second child, Ian, would have despised Spanish immersion and a large school and I would have hated the logistics of having 2 different schools and splitting up the kids. So the Friends School has become a third place for Elena and Ian, and also for me. We have been there for 8 years for various plays and potlucks and have volunteered in many capacities, from teaching watercolor and putting in a tile mosaic at the front entry to being a cashier at the plant sale and spreading fresh mulch over the playground. As any parent knows there are no shortage of needs to make a school function. If only we would recognize as a culture the investment payoff of a great education, and quit the business of war, perhaps we would all prosper. Every child deserves a great "third place" that is their school.

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