Five years ago, when my son was in preschool I started looking ahead to what elementary school he would attend. I found out that our boundary school was only about a mile away, nestled in a quiet neighborhood, but other than that I didn’t know anything about it. So I started asking other moms about the schools in our town. When I told them what our boundary school was, I got a lot of “Oh, THAT school?” and “I would NEVER send my kids to THAT school!” Well, that just sort of freaked me out, so I started researching alternative options. I found a highly popular school in an affluent part of town, that was nearly impossible to get into. So I set out to praying that I would get exactly what I wanted, which was to have my kids attend this beautifully groomed (both the property and the kids) school in the cool part of town. It had amazing test scores, a highly organized PTO with lots of cash, a well spoken principal, it was the perfect school for my kids to attend. So I prayed. I prayed fiercely for this need of mine. For like a year and a half, I prayed.
Then one day I was out walking the dog in our neighborhood and felt myself drawn up our boundary school, THAT school. I heard God’s sweet spirit ask me to pray for THAT school. This made my heart sink because I knew what he was preparing me for. He was about ready to give my year and a half of fierce prayers and big “Nope.”
The time came for our lottery results. Yes, there is literally a lottery to get into the highly sought after schools. The letter came and my heart pounded, knowing that the results would change our lives one way or another. As I suspected, our son did not win the lottery. He was number 8 on the waiting list, which essentially means, NOT A CHANCE.
So I started seeking some other parents who had sent their kids to the boundary school that we were destined for. I found one who had done everything she could do to avoid THAT school. She told me that it was a Title School. “Do you know what that means?!”
Here we are, now on our fourth year at THAT school and I can tell you exactly what that means. Its actual definition is that there is a high percentage of children attending the school whose families have submitted financial requests for free or reduced lunches. It means, basically, that there is a large proportion of impoverished children attending THAT school.
But what it really means is that there are lots of little beautiful lives who find food and wellness within the walls of THAT school. It means that they have full tummies from free breakfast and lunch. Beyond meals, it means that there is a FAN advocate on site who works hard every day to provide clothing and shoes, grocery vouchers, and even spots at the local homeless shelter for the families that attend THAT school.
It also means that there is a huge staff of caring individuals who are in the trenches of balancing education and mental health for kids who come from happy and healthy homes along with kids who come from sleep deprivation and cold travel trailers. These staff members don’t have the latest and greatest of anything, they teach in old and crowded buildings and do the very best they can to love on the little lives who come to them everyday.
What else does it mean? It means that my kids attend school alongside kids of every demographic, and big overly stuffed rainbow of colors and languages. They sit in desks next to kids to have more than them and less than them. It means, ultimately, that my kids don’t have any concept of “keeping up with Jones'” because they are happy right there in the middle.
The PTO? Nope, no cash. Our events don’t raise funds that amount to much more that happy faces and cheap entertainment. But its a good and happy place for kids that need a good and happy place.
THAT school? Those fiercely prayed declined prayers? It has been the greatest pleasure. It isn’t beautifully groomed. It isn’t pulled together. No, there is NO time for that. Instead, all of the hours and the energy are consumed by giving everything to the lives of little people who deserve the world, just like the kids at every other school, regardless of any variable.
I’m sure I would have loved that lottery school. The staff there is also hard working and give so much to their kids. There are kids there who have less than some and more than some, not every life in attendance is perfect. The parents volunteer and earn so much for the betterment of the students.
But instead, we have THAT school. THAT school full of messiness and troubled lives. We have THAT school full of love and aching. THAT school that is absolutely and wonderfully perfect for my kids. I am so thankful that we lost the lottery and won the greatest place for our family. We won THAT school.
PS. BIG UPDATE! Our school is now honored to have the 2016 Oregon Teacher of the Year! Even in spite of our challenges, we outcompete some of the most affluent district schools in literacy test scores. Being THAT school doesn’t mean that the academics aren’t stellar; it just means that we worked in the trenches to get there!