My husband, the only Latino in the group of prospective parents, stood next to the only African-American in the group, a mother. They watched a group of adorable elementary school students sing a song in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. As the lyrics, “we shall overcome” sang through the air, my husband realized that all of the students were either Anglo or Asian. He stayed through the rest of the tour and information session at the amazing school we were considering for our daughter. He told me all of the things he learned about the school later that night, but when he reported the abysmal lack of diversity, it eliminated this school from consideration.
I just couldn’t have my girls be a part of that group. This was a group of elementary school students, so I’m sure that the song had been accompanied by a well-thought out series of lessons and activities about the civil rights movement, and that the students had learned about racist oppression in this country and beyond. But the irony of singing those lyrics in a school where there are almost zero black children was too much! If that school, which prides itself on teaching about social justice, was so apathetic about its lack of diversity, it could never be the right school for our two amazing Latinas.
For us, 2012 has been about finding the right preschool for Marisol. Like Ana, we value our cultura and would love a bilingual preschool. Unfortunately, what we have discovered, is that even for preschool, we won’t be able to find exactly what we want.
The upside of this process is that it’s made us realize what our needs and wants are when it comes to education, even just at this early stage. When we talked about what we wanted in a preschool we had initially focused on safety, caring and qualified staff, and an emphasis on play. We hoped we could find a bilingual preschool that met our needs, but the only bilingual preschool in our area was disappointing on several counts and we quickly ruled it out. Sadly, the preschools that are more in line with our philosophy of parenting and how we would like our children to learn tend to be very homogenous and not racially diverse.
In our area, the more diverse preschools tend to be more crowded, have less qualified staff, and out-of-date child development philosophies. Some of this seems to come down to class. The better preschools are very expensive in terms of money or time. We can’t afford to pay $1,200 per month for a part-time preschool program. However, we can afford to pay a lot less than that and work one morning a week at our kid’s preschool because our work schedules are flexible. Many middle-class families don’t have that flexibility and that means that many Latino and African American families don’t have those preschools as options. (Coincidentally, my best friend of the last 25 years, and I are both preschool shopping right now. I keep joking that if both of us enrolled both our daughters in a single school, we’d double the number of minority students in one fell swoop!)
My husband and I know we are lucky that we have the time to invest into one of these awesome preschools (one has chickens, a little river, and playhouse bigger than the first-story of our home), but we can’t help wishing that the “best preschools” were also the most diverse, instead of the reality, which is that the opposite is true. So we are going to have to settle. We are at the point where having three or four other Latino or African American preschoolmates for the girls is “diverse enough.” It’s infinitely more than zero, we keep telling ourselves.
I so wish it were different. I wish more children of color were at these great schools. It’s troubling to see that the class/race divide starts so early. I’m holding out hope that we can get our girls into a charter kindergarten and elementary school that is diverse by virtue of being part of a lottery system, and not dependent on how much money or time parents can afford to spend on their children’s education. I’m really curious to know if the recession has made these more expensive (in terms of money or time) schools less diverse, or if this is how it has always been.
What I know is that we don’t want our girls to be the “token” students of color. We don’t want them to always feel like outsiders, or aliens. We want them to be proud to be Salvadoran, Mexican, and American, without it making them feel estranged from their peers. We would love to send them to a good bilingual school, but that will be, unfortunately, largely a matter of good luck.
Elsie, I know EXACTLY what you are talking about. I had to make the decision to enroll my girl in an all-English Montessori preschool knowing her Spanish would suffer the consequences and it would be up to my husband and I to really provide the Spanish. Trips also helped.
The preschool is super diverse, so that was great. However, we knew that no matter what we had to do, we would get her into a dual immersion program. So, no Spanish in preschool was OK because we knew she´d catch up.
Menos mal, we made it into the language magnet. Did you know Franklin also has a full-immersion preschool? They started it last year. Not sure how far that is for you. LMK if you need the contact info.
I truly wished there were more progressive-style schools which also incorporated DL programs.
There´s no lack of progressive charters in the area, but, somehow, language immersion doesn´t factor into their equation, although, for most, diversity does.
I DIDN’T know that–gracias. It looks more academic than we would like for Marisol, but I’m going to definitely check it out. I might think about it for Lulu if we start her in preschool earlier, so she has a year of total play-based wild preschool then moves on to the immersion pre-K before whatever Kindergarten experience will await her. For Mari, we just have the one year of preschool planned, and we want it to be Fun above all else–preferably out playing in the mud all day;)
Good luck, Elsie.
My husband and I couldn’t afford to choose a private pre-school and we just had to hope our son would get into the only free public one available. (And a language immersion school would be only in my dreams, unfortunately!)
My son did get into the public pre-school program and ironically, as it turned out, 90% of the class were Latino children, (one of whom couldn’t speak English and several of whom only spoke English a little – preferring to communicate with each other in Spanish in the classroom.)
I loved that my son had a bilingual immersion pre-school without that having ever been what the school or teachers intended!
My youngest son is 10 now and still has a few Spanish-speaking kids in his class, although since pre-school it’s never been quite as awesome as it was that year… Anyway, I’m happy that my kids don’t feel strange for being bilingual – that they have friends who they can identify with so I understand how important this is to you. I hope you find the perfect school for your girls.
What if the preschool had all African-American kids, one Anglo, and your girls were the only Latinas? Would you feel the same way? I do understand your sentiment, I really do. However, opinions like this do nothing for change. What about putting your girls in that preschool and then once other Latino parents see your kids there, they will feel more comfortable putting their kiddos there. The fact of the matter is, people relate to people like themselves. They feel more at ease sharing an environment with people that look and sound like them. (I know this is not true 100% of the time but I would say at least 80%) Why not take a note from Ruby Bridges or Rosa Parks and open up the door for change, rather than just being disappointed that change hasn’t happened yet.
If the students had been all African American singing a song with the lyrics “we shall overcome”– YES it would have made a huge difference. To sing a song about overcoming slavery and racist oppression in a room where no one had experienced that is completely innappropriate and a parody of social justice awareness.
The difference between Rosa Parks and my 3 year old is that Rosa Parks made a decision to protest segregation. Ruby Bridges was a child, thrust into a very difficult, yet important position. But it’s 2012. My daughter should not have to be like Parks or Bridges in her preschool in LOS ANGELES, for goodness sakes.
The problem for us in enrolling at this school, besides the diversity issue, is also the cost. This is where expressing my opinion can make a difference. For us, this school would have meant a real reorganization of our financial priorities, but it was doable. For most Latino and African American families in our area, it is not. This particular school, like many, prides itself on being very respectful of diversity and politically progressive. In theory, they support inclusion, but not when it comes to recruitment and enrollment. What they would need to do is offer more financial aid in order to attract a greater number of families of color. If diversity is a priority for them, that is what they would do. But it isn’t, not really, not when it means putting their money where their mouths are.
I went to private school from K-University. I was never the only Latina. This was in the San Francisco Bay Area. Some of the kids at my posh high school were on full scholarships, as were very many at my university–that’s how you diversify, along with aggressive recruitment in communities of color. That way no student has to play the role of Rosa Parks. It’s not that hard, but it does require a true commitment to diversity on the part of the school and parents.
We live in NC and though the public school system here has recently opened a Spanish Immersion program we have been unable to find a bilingual preschool or son is currently going to a half day private preschool which is among the better ones in the area, but this school has the same diversity concerns that everyone else has seemed to battle with as well. Our bilingual bi-cultural son is the only Latino in his school, but luckily he has several European classmates who are also bilingual and bi-cultural and I think that hearing some of his friends from school speaking other languages with their parents (German, Italian, and a few others) has helped him to feel more comfortable about being different. Has that been something that anyone else has found? That sometimes the children don’t need the shared ethnicity so much as shared difference to increase their and your comfort levels? We have had to be extremely careful about only speaking Spanish at home now though, which has meant that we went from OPOL to strictly MLAH, but our son seems to be doing ok and he is counting and saying his alphabet better in Spanish than English, so I assume that my husband and I are pretty ok teachers.
Although I understand your concerns completely, I would hope that wouldn’t discourage you so much.
When my daughter started her Spanish immersion program, I felt the same way. I wanted her exposed to different people, different cultures, etc. I was surprised that her new school is majority white kids – I expected more diversity as well.
However, I feel strongly that your kids view of the world at its people primarily will come from within their home. I still remember when my daughter learned about Rosa Parks in kindergarten. She just couldnt understand the concept! That is because my daughter has been raised where someone’s skin color and heritage has never been an issue. I was very proud that she was so confused by it all.
I will share culture and diversity with her in other ways if I have to. I hope for it from her education – but cannot always expect it.
I hope you consider the newish Spanish Immersion program through Pasadena Unified for kinder. We are a middle class family who moved our child from a private progressive school to this program. We have been thrilled.