Opinion

The Joy in My Day: A Love Note to My Kids’ School

By Conor Williams | September 5, 2017

It’s fall now. Would that I could write you that “crisp air is starting to shove summer to the door” or “the trees are beginning to hint at their foliage’s coming transformation,” but Washington, DC offers no such hope at the end of August. In the District, these are still the foggy, punishing days, when temperatures in the low-80s somehow feel like a reprieve.

And yet, the beads of sweat and glaring sunrays must possess some romantic ambiance. For I write you, here and now, awash with emotions. It is the first week of school, and you have to know: I love you, DC Bilingual.

Like most of the very best love stories, it truly started well before it started. I saw you years ago, long before you knew a thing about me. My girlfriend and I watched you casually, and wondered what you were like. And then, when we married, we caught you, more than once, popping into our childless lives for some pleasant reason or another.

One day, crowds of your students would be storming around our local park, all sparkling, enthusiastic possibilities. Or, another day, you would be there, in a news story, as one of the city’s best schools for students of color. Once we had kids, and especially once they aged into the District’s playgrounds, we’d hear from your often-besotted families.

So when it came time to send our kids to school, we already wanted you. This was neither sudden decision nor casual flirtation. I am a former teacher with a graduate degree in the field. I have a Ph.D. I research education policy for a living. You are a multilingual school — I founded a team writing about English learner students in the United States. Surely you would want my son and daughter just as we much as we wanted you … right?

And yet, though I was certain that we were made for one another, though I would have gladly sold organs (or limbs!) to buy a house and join your community, you were not for sale. So my wife and I entered a lottery and hoped that Fortune would bring us to your doors. A year later, we tried again. It wasn’t until the third try that fate smiled and found spots for our kids.

The waiting was hard, but I love that you are not for sale. I love that you take kids and their families from anywhere in the District. I love that you embrace them all, whatever their race, ethnicity, language, and culture.

Now, as we start our second year together, I love you for your teachers, those human bridges who simultaneously hold the school up — and bring it together. They link English to Spanish, and both languages to academic content. They forge your diverse groups of families into one, thriving, effervescent community. Most importantly, they shepherd students to success and grow children’s dreams towards mature ambitions.

Someone once looked at your many children, your multifarious array of colors, languages, and creeds, and she asked me: “Does it feel like you’re sacrificing your children just to prove a point?” I gaped then, and I gaze back in pity now at her unlucky blindness. How could she see you as a misfortune for my happy, thriving kids? How could she see them as anything but lucky for the opportunity to be there?

For I love — and they love — your plural vibrancy. Your diverse energy cascades through the school: into the beautiful urban garden. Into the school concerts with students dancing in costumes they designed to music their classmates play. And certainly into the intercontinental buffet that shows up at school-wide events.

School of ours, you are the joy in my day. I love what you do for my kids, but I also live in daily (selfish) gratitude for how you shape my life. I love you as a reprieve from the U.S. education system’s many distractions.

For those of us who blend the personal, professional, and political to work in and around public education, it’s easy to fall into reflexive cynicism. It’s easy to see the systemic faults, the structural biases, the social dangers, the assorted warts. It’s easy to yell about what’s going wrong. In our big, complicated, anxious country, it’s much harder to seek out reasons to hope.

Fortunately, I get a dose twice daily at pickup and dropoff. It’s become my reminder that the real work of education policy is about building a system in which every family feels this way about their school.

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