Just over a year ago I wrote on this blog about my daughter, Lucy, who was leaving our local Jewish community day school after first grade. I have been planning this “one year later” blog post for quite some time – and yet, when I go to put pen to paper, I don’t know where to begin.
So I’ll start with this: Lucy is doing great. She adjusted quickly and easily to public school. She is happy and confident and more than a few adults who know her have commented that “she is a different kid”.
And despite the logistical challenges of having three children in three different schools (our youngest just finished Jewish nursery school), our house has been a much less stressful place. A burden was certainly lifted from Lucy, who in first grade threw up every day before school and in second grade ran onto the school bus with her neighborhood friends (and came off the bus still smiling). A burden was lifted from us as parents, too. They say that as a parent, you are only as happy as your least happy child. Having three kids who were all content where they were, and appreciated for who they were, was a true blessing, and one that I did not take for granted even for a single day.
So, yes, after a year of a lot of heartache and tears, I’m happier too. People tell me, “It all worked out for the best.” Or they ask, “Aren’t you so happy you switched her school?” Yes and yes. But even knowing all of that, it’s not so black and white for me. We wanted a Jewish day school education for all three of our children. We wanted that to be the best place for our children. We wanted them to have equal access to all that a Jewish day school education offers. And even amidst the chorus of, “Not every school is right for every child,” I wish that our local Jewish community day school had become a community for my whole family, and not just a place where one of my kids goes to school.
A year later, I am more open to the possibility that maybe one day it will be that for my family. The school has gone through significant changes. New administrators have quickly enhanced many different aspects of the school community, and they are taking parent feedback very seriously. In order to recognize that, and in order to feel grateful that I do have one child who is thriving there, I needed to let go of my disappointment (and a fair amount of anger). I needed to walk into the building and feel happy that my son was there. I needed to slowly get back involved, and even start “liking” Facebook posts again (it was hard to like anything for quite some time).
In this “one year later” post, I thought I would write about what we’ve learned as “dual-school parents”, or discuss the reasons why this new environment is working for Lucy or continue to challenge our Jewish community to do better in recognizing and appreciating the gifts of diverse learners. And while much of that may be still to come, I believe the most important thing is this: Lucy understands in a very real way that we take her seriously and that when she has a problem we’re going to do everything we can to help her solve it (or cope with it if it cannot be “solved”). We will talk with her and listen to her and we will value her input. We believe in her and we strive to help her believe in herself. So at the end of the day, it’s not really about day school versus public school; it’s not about the differences in educational philosophies and practices and its not about the 15 years I’ve spent working to make Jewish education accessible to all learners. It’s about Lucy. And that has made all the difference.
Meredith Englander Polsky co-founded Matan in the year 2000 and currently serves as the Director of Training and Advocacy. She holds graduate degrees in Special Education and Clinical Social work and, in 2001, was one of eight national recipients of the first fellowships awarded by Joshua Venture: A Fellowship for Jewish Social Entrepreneurs. She currently resides in Gaithersburg, Maryland with her husband and three children.