My Turn, Cybil Jones: Won’t you be my neighbor?

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 8, 2016

“Families with children don’t want to relocate to areas with poor school performance.”

As I read this on Monday morning in Ms. Lilly-Bowyer’s My Turn submission (“School scores up, but hold off on celebration”), my immediate reaction was frustration. However, the longer I mulled over her comment, I was thankful that her opinion indeed does not reflect all families with children.

My husband and I are the lucky parents of four young children ages 10, 8, 5 and 2. When we purchased our current home, our initial concern was the public school district we were aligned to attend. As our oldest daughter neared entering grade school, we purposely decided to enroll our firstborn into the “F” performing school. Let me tell you that it has been a wonderful experience from the beginning.

She, along with our second daughter, who now has also been enrolled, have flourished, matured and learned life lessons that have grown and stretched their character. They have learned to be a friend to a child who is tough to love. They have learned that poverty exists and affects children in their classroom. They have learned compassion for the child who wears the same uniform for the third day in a row. They have learned that a field trip may be a life-changing experience for one when it’s a weekend outing for them. They have learned that true joy can be found when you share school supplies with someone who doesn’t come prepared because their parents had to choose between food or pencils that week.

These are the experiences that compelled us to fully immerse ourselves in our community and join forces with our “poor school performance” school. These are the experiences that we hope will grow our children into adults who are able to see others through a lens of vulnerability and compassion. And these are the experiences that teachers, staff, administrators and district leaders cannot manufacture or create.

The teachers, staff and administrators at our children’s school work hard. Really hard. They have braved the “total digital conversion.” They have adjusted lessons to integrate traditional learning along with online learning and alternative classrooms. They have accepted the label of being a low-performing school. However, they have not allowed that label to define us.

Our teachers know that many of our students’ home environments affect their ability to learn and that qualifier isn’t factored into their test score. They know that on tough days it is better to love and nurture than push a concept that just isn’t clicking in the moment. I would venture to say that almost all teachers know. And in the midst of their knowing, there is freedom. And with freedom comes love. And with love comes trust. And with trust comes belief. Belief that these students can achieve more than they can begin to dream.

In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream.” Just as our low-performing school can bring frustration to the community and all parties involved, there is always the dream that students will daily perform to the best of their ability. But until that day, we will press on. And in that pressing, we will encourage families to move into our district because what our school is doing is wonderful and life-changing. And that, my friends, is a dream worth pursuing.

Cybil Jones lives in Spencer.