My daughter will be entering kindergarten this year at our local, public school. We went to an orientation last week to get a tour of the school, meet most of the kindergarten teachers, and get a sense of what their days will be like.
I haven’t been a super sentimental mom. I’ve taken most of my kid’s developments in stride, happy to pass through one phase of growth and onto the next. I wasn’t particularly dreading the start of school, especially since she’s been doing pre-school for the last two years. So I was surprised at how emotional I was throughout the event!
There was a good showing of parents with their little kids, and it was so heartwarming to look around at all the cute kiddos and watch their parent’s beaming faces as the kids lit up at some fun feature of the classroom or another. Most of the adults had a semi-shocked, happy look on their face as the disbelief set in that their little baby was starting school. The first kindergarten teacher we met was the most caring, loving, over-the-top sweetest lady, and made each kid present feel seen and special within the 20 minutes of time spent in her room. I felt such a sense of gratitude for these adults who spend their careers helping to turn tiny people into functioning humans.
I was so encouraged to see how the school made intentional efforts to be inclusive. My kids fit into the majority – white, neurotypical, able-bodied – and have no difficulty finding crayons, books, and dolls sharing their features. But knowing that isn’t the case for every child, it made me smile so big to see a little Latino boy get to use the perfect matching crayon to his skin tone while drawing his self-portrait.
I’ve learned a lot from Heather Avis, author of Scoot Over and Make Some Room, about school inclusion for kids with different abilities. She has two kids with Down syndrome and has been fighting tooth and nail to get them placed with the appropriate accommodations into the regular classrooms. The public high school I attended, back in the day, had a completely separate set of classes for differently abled kids, interacting only with the “normal” students for PE class. Avis educated me on the many benefits of inclusive classrooms for both the typical and differently abled kids. I was thrilled to learn that my kids public school district does not disintegrate its students, but keeps all kids of all abilities together in class. I want my kids to be aware of all the many different ways people can be in this world, and seeing all different kinds of kids at this young age will be a great intro into the great big world that’s out there.
The public school system’s mission is to provide “a dream, access, and opportunity” for every student within the system, and the Superintendent’s message emphasized that the foundation for that is love. He said, “love leads to connection, connection leads to belonging, belonging leads to engagement, and engagement leads to learning and being the best version of ourselves.” I could feel the love pouring out of the staff during that tour, and it made my Mommy heart so relieved and comforted. I felt so excited to have my daughter in a place with so many dedicated staff committed to her success as a person. Between her classroom teacher, the music teacher, art teacher, librarian, PE coaches and all the other support staff, she is going to have an army of people helping her to grow into a healthy, well-rounded person.
The kindergarten teachers said the main thing they try to push this first year is emotional learning, teaching kids about all the various emotions we may feel in a day and showing them appropriate, safe, and healthy ways to manage those feelings. I am much more concerned with raising kids who are well-adjusted, adaptable, caring and kind than kids who can speak Mandarin or do calculus by grade 5, so this was music to my ears.
Mostly, I was overwhelmed with emotion realizing the huge step my daughter will be taking into her own, individual life. Up until now, her life has been mostly subsumed within our family. She spends the vast majority of her time at home, with either me or my husband or with our family member nanny. She has friends through my connections and does activities that I sign her up and take her to. Now she will making new friends who I won’t know, will be learning things I’m not there to witness, and will gain interests that may not even be on my radar. And I felt so comfortable and confident that she will be doing all that in a safe, loving, caring space.
I know she’ll have bad days and that no school – private, charter, public, or home school – is perfect. I have very real, sobering concerns about gun violence and pure hatred that that is a thing I need to worry about in this country of ours. I am hopeful that she’ll make good friends with kids who will be supportive, kind, inclusive and encouraging of her. I am hopeful that she won’t be forced to grow up too quickly or be pushed too far out of her comfort zone. I am aware that bullying and body dysmorphia may become challenges we’ll face now that she’s out interacting with the larger world.
And we’ll cross any and every one of those bridges if we come to them. But for now, she’s excited, I’m emotional, and life is about to drastically change for our little family. No more lazy mornings spent in PJs until 11:00am because we have no where to go. Our lives will begin revolving around the school calendar, vacations set to match the school break periods, sports and extracurriculars taking over our lives. And I’m here for it.
Class of 2035 – here’s to a great start!!