Well it’s back to school again. My youngest daughter, Sophie, finished elementary school last spring and she's now headed off to middle school.
I think back to that first day of elementary school when I left her at the kindergarten door and then cried all the way home. Now our family bids farewell to the children’s playground, the miniature furniture, and all those wonderful elementary school teachers who taught both our daughters to read, write, add, divide, and everything else in between.
Looking back, it wasn’t the curriculum that mattered most. When I remember their early years of elementary school, I picture the Halloween parades — each grade marching through the halls lined with parents and their cameras. Field day was the highlight with the 100-yard dash and “capture the flag” — the parents played too.
My daughters both fell in love with music after Mr. Waibel introduced them to the recorder. My oldest daughter Grace eventually graduated to the flute, and now plays piano. The gym teacher, Mr. Hill, hosted jump-roping and gymnastics programs where the children proudly displayed their choreographed routines to music.
The grandparents all came to clap and cheer at the Veterans Day Assembly. Each year the school featured an author’s night, and every child read their "published" stories from a real bound book complete with illustrations and a dedication page. I was never mentioned but our dogs Lucy, Lilly, and Penny always got first billing. The talent shows were another favorite — each child shining in their own light, entertaining the audience with jokes, roller skating and dance routines.
Elementary school was a magical time for my children and it should be. Of course it wasn’t all roses. I complained when classes grew to 28 kids. I pitched a royal fit when the principal eliminated three teacher aid positions but retained his “dean of students.” Our whole family signed the student-led petition to begin recycling in the cafeteria. Once I even stormed the principal's office after he eliminated the afternoon recess. But that too is our job as parents.
Over the past six years, we’ve come to realize that what we focus on expands. We've taken stock in what we value: creativity, community, compassion and curiosity. Together our family celebrates the discoveries and embraces the challenges. We learn to discard the parts that are bureaucratic and useless to the lives and futures of our kids.
Each year we opt our children out of the state standardized test, CSAP. We spend more time on walks and board games and less time on homework sheets. Lessons that capture their hearts and imagination are extended at home and the rote and mundane are forgotten. Although difficult at times, we recognize that our child's education is all their own and we become the passengers in their new found journey to discover themselves, the world and their place in it.
As we leave the safety of elementary school, we pay tribute to the teachers who are hard working and innovative. Many of them have taught their entire careers at our elementary school. They helped to create a learning community where kids are respected and parents made partners. Optimal human development begins with a beautiful childhood. It’s not the drill but the spark. The way my daughters came skipping off the school bus told me this was the good stuff.
So this week when I left Sophie at the middle school door, the tears I cried were of gratitude. Thanks to all of you teachers, parents and citizens across America for the investments you make in our children and our shared future.
Angela Engel, a Centennial resident, is the author of the book “Seeds of Tomorrow; Solutions for Improving our Children's Education.” She also is the director of Uniting4Kids, a new national nonprofit promoting quality neighborhood schools through parent, teacher and student leadership.