“I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge. That myth is more potent than history. That dreams are more powerful than facts.”
― Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten
A month or so ago, I had a meeting with my new-Kindergartener’s new principal. We discussed my daughter’s half-day participation in a system that strongly promotes full-day participation. Seattle Public Schools depends on parental contributions since the state funding does not adequately cover the costs of full-day K programs.
I found out about the “Pay for K” program well before my daughter was of school age. I shelved it in the back of my mind because it wasn’t pertinent to our daily life at the time. Even when we applied for the lottery to get into an Option School, we didn’t really evaluate the reality of having to budget in additional education costs. It might have been denial; we are new homeowners with a brand spanking new mortgage and monthly dues. We lowered our monthly car payment. We budget for food each month. There is very little wiggle room to our current spending on a single income.
The school that my daughter is registered in does not have a student base that is (50% or higher) on a Free and Reduced Lunch Program. Set income guidelines based on family size ensure that the neediest families do not have to pay school fees, and that their children receive free breakfasts and lunches. The struggle for my family is that our household income is marginally over the guidelines; I am left wondering if we would be better off asking the corporation that denied my husband a raise to instead lower his wage so that we could participate in the broad spectrum of social programs. Tongue firmly in cheek on that comment, folks.
Before I went into the meeting, I felt like I was between a rock and a hard place. I felt that at the core of being frustrated and self-conscious (about not being able to Pay for K) was a feeling that my choice to leave the work place to raise and educate my youth was not valued. I don’t expect everyone to bow down and accommodate my life choices; I realize this is the first time my family choices have butted up against any external sort of system. And yeah, I’m pissed off that parents are cornered into working long hours away from their children so they can afford for others to take care of them. I didn’t see myself homeschooling my daughter, and I was genuinely excited for her to have an opportunity to be part of a thriving educational community so I wasn’t going to be bullied by this principal to consider going to another school that wouldn’t make me Pay for K.
Low and behold, the meeting with the principal was somewhat anti-climactic. I made a declaration that I wanted to do half-days. We talked about schedules, and communicating with the teacher to make sure that my daughter was getting everything she needed in a kindergarten education (because don’t you know it, the standardized tests that will secure funding for her educational future are just around the corner – argh!). And I was okay with everything we talked about. I didn’t feel judged. But I still felt a little smaller.
The point at which that changed was when I met the mother of the other child that would be doing half-day Kindergarten. This mom spelled it out simply: her family couldn’t afford the fees, and more importantly, they actually liked spending that extra time with their daughter and weren’t ready to send her off for a full day quite yet. My new cohort bolstered my own stance – this family decision was more than okay, it was downright normal and healthy to want to share in this educational and child-rearing process.
The point where I started standing taller was when the teacher suggested that my daughter come to school in the afternoons, so that she could participate in the afternoon activities that bolster social development. Music. Art. Physical Education. Cultural studies. Ummm, yeah. We’ll sign up for that, Teacher. Did you really just say that Kindergarten is all about social development and learning how to act around others? I promise I won’t pass that little secret along to the administration.
I commend every person that plugs into this well-oiled machine called a school to make it run smoothly so that our children can get access to ideas and stretch their creative minds. But I have the highest regard for this new teacher in our lives who remembered that at it all comes down to the support and development of a young mind and heart. And regardless of whether this child’s parents can afford to keep her in school for a full day with her peers, she will be standing tall with the rest of them.