We have just been through a very full season. Full of medical concerns, full of prayer, full of uncertainty, full of full schedules. One of the many things this full season did not allow for was the amount of time and energy Lehr and I expected to spend on making a decision about Eli's middle school destination.
A little background... Lehr and I are facing decisions that all but didn't exist when we were in school. Where we went to the school we were zoned for, as did all of our neighbors and classmates, Eli's neighborhood friends have been moving to different middle school districts since he was in second grade. And of those that are still here, there is a choice to be made between public and private. Add to that this fun detail: his fifth grade class is zoned for two different middle schools, with him on the 15ish% side. (And of that small percentage zoned for 'our' public middle school, we'll be lucky to get a handful that actually attend.)
This has been heavy on our hearts for several years. As products of a public middle school, and one far less capable than what we are zoned for, we have always been confused by the whole situation. And we feel so strongly about pouring into the community you live in. "Entering into each others' mess", some might say. How can we expect our local school to thrive if we take our resources (very actively involved parents and families) to other schools, private or public? This would be a great opportunity for us to enter into an environment more realistic of our city, our country, and invest ourselves, be the hands and feet of Jesus, learn about other cultures, benefit from a different, but equally as important, kind of inclusion than we think about in regards to Ruby.
We talked to parents of kids at a few of the local public schools, we talked to parents of kids at some private schools, we have prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed. And I spent hours talking to and emailing with moms on the front lines at several different schools (private and public). Then we reached out to as many individual parents as we could of kids Eli knew well that qualified for that small little percentage of possible future classmates. Still we were hopeful that we could be part of the 'change' in our area; we were hopeful that we could rally with some other families we were building relationships with through the elementary years to enter these tough preteen/teen years with a strong group of parents working together to navigate the scariness of the middle years.
Unfortunately each school year, each month, unfolded families moving in the opposite direction. By the time we entered this fall of craziness for us, we were at odds about what to do because we could count on one hand the families we know who might attend the public school with us. Then there was (is!) the issues we are struggling with as far as Eli is concerned: trust, humility, character. Our concerns were growing over his ability to grow in his faith during middle school in an environment where everything including the kids are new. It's hard enough to start at a new school with new teachers and new freedoms and new responsibilities, but then to have no comfort zone of a few familiar faces... We have always believed that there is strength in numbers when developing faith, and being around those who share in your faith and values can help strengthen yours so that you can help others find their way.
This fall got crazy: there was no time for school tours or appointments with teachers or meetings with principals. Instead, we were able to get in one tour at our public middle school and one tour at a local private christian school. So so much good at both schools. The public school is rich in music and diversity and sports and STEM. And I've talked to so many moms of current middle schoolers there that rave about the teachers, especially the sixth grade team, that have such a heart for their students. And then you have the private school which can offer faith woven through all disciplines and some familiar families for Eli and I each day.
Prayer. So much more prayer. This fall definitely offered more opportunities for that. After Ruby fell asleep in the hospital, many a night was spent researching and emailing and praying about what the 'right' thing to do would be for our family. How do you choose between two great schools that both have so much to offer? How spoiled are we by this choice?! On one hand, how do we send him into a 'bubble' where he may be too shielded from the real world? And on the other, how do we let him walk into a school where he knows less than five people (and we only know one or two families), at a time in his life when his new friendships don't involve Lehr or I at all? Unfortunately we are beyond the stage of play dates including a parent...
So now we've made our decision, but the internal struggle is not gone. We have championed so hard for the public middle school. We have spoken at great lengths about the benefits of bringing strong, eager, willing families there. We've shouted from the rooftops why we should support this school that has so much more to offer than the test scores so many cannot look past. And now I have to answer to those who will feel, as I have in the past, confused and maybe hurt by our decision to not choose our specific public middle school.
I stand by what our choice is in regards to Eli, because while the public school is amazing and we are missing out on some great things by not attending (this year), I think he needs some strong accountability when it comes to some new middle school freedoms. And I think he needs a little longer to gain confidence enough in his faith to be able to defend it to others when it is tested. As a mama bear, I think I need the safety net of a year or so of people around Eli during his day pointing him to Jesus, amidst all of the hormones and middle-ness.
Our choice is absolutely not a vote against our public school; I am incredibly hopeful that with the few other bleeding hearts that I met along the way and a new school building on the way, that by the time Maddux starts middle school, we will have a foundation of families around us, doing life with us AND attending with us. Our current choice is to allow Eli a few years of safety net to get stronger to swim in what the world has for him. We want him to be able to point others to Jesus; that was one of our 'pros' in him attending a diverse school where he may encounter kids who don't know about God's great love. Hopefully with a little more daily guidance (from someone other than Mom and Dad), he can strengthen his confidence in that area. How great would it be for him to be able to not only defend his faith to a new friend in a few years, but maybe even help them to accept Jesus.