Pocket School

My children attend a small school. It’s not a private school. Just a very small public school. There are less than 100 students spread amongst six grades and only one class per grade. Actually, less than that since the third and fourth graders are combined into one room this year.

Much like the students it houses, the elementary school building itself is tiny and adorable. I took this picture while standing on the stage.

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With the exception of the world’s tiniest cafeteria and the world’s cutest school library, which are over my left shoulder, you can pretty much see the entire school from this vantage point. The center circle, where the stage is, also serves as the cafeteria and the gym. Henry tells me the kids call it the gymacafetorium and there is a sign on the main door warning visitors to watch for flying objects during P.E.

The school my children attend has served students in our community since 1874. It’s changed names since the early days and they had to construct a more modern building in 1966 (the old one still stands) but there has been education happening in that spot for almost 150 years.

I believe the county where we live refers to these little schools as, “community schools.” Since the earliest days of house-hunting in this district, we have called them “pocket schools,” since they are so small, they could fit in your pocket. There are only a handful left in the area and they all tend to be compact spaces that tidily serve the families and students that live in the immediate surrounding community. That’s back when the surrounding community was still small. Back when this part of the county was truly rural. With new houses came new families and the need for new schools – bigger schools. When the new schools were finished and new attendance boundaries drawn and resources pooled, the community schools came up short. Fewer students and even fewer funds.

Upon moving to the area, the only thing we knew about the school our kids were zoned to attend was that it was probably going to be closed. Which was a shame because once our kids were enrolled, we decided we really, really liked the school.

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Now, I don’t think this news will come as a surprise to any of you but I consider myself a Bare Minimum Parent when it comes to elementary school. I’ll offer to help out but kind of only just barely.

I will commit to helping out with the class party but please, oh please, don’t ask me to be the room parent.

I will commit to bake something for the bake sale but please don’t expect anything fancy or homemade or even simply removed from the Harris Teeter packaging in which it came.

I will commit to managing my child’s homework and I will do a pretty good job but please know I’m going to sign the paper indicating I’ve read to my son for twenty minutes even though I totally haven’t read to my son for twenty minutes (ten minutes, tops).

I will commit to being on this committee that does this one school committee thing but please know I will probably complain bitterly about that commitment and regret committing because the time commitment of the committee really eats into the commitment I feel towards binge-watching season four of Homeland on Netflix.

I definitely commit. I just commit to the bare minimum needed to still be considered “involved” with my children’s school. It’s not really my fault. We just have a lot of kids and so I’m really tired all the time and now that they’re all in school, there’s just SO MUCH school stuff to deal with.

THANKFULLY, not every parent at my children’s elementary school is a Bare Minimum Parent. A group of people that fall at the other end of the participation scale worked diligently for two years to save our community school. Threatened for several budget cycles with closure for low enrollment, this group set about to preserve a school that has served as the center of the community for more than a century. HOORAY for Maximum Involvement Parents!

In the fall of 2016, our little pocket school will reopen as the county’s second public charter academy, boosting enrollment through a dynamic project-based learning curriculum incorporating STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math). If you haven’t heard of PBL, watch this. I hadn’t heard of it either but it’s an amazingly practical approach to education. It’s pretty exciting, inspiring stuff that makes me want to be more than just a Bare Minimum Parent.

In anticipation of the curriculum transition, the kid’s school began using PBL at the beginning of this current school year. And, it’s really cool to see it in action. The teachers created a school-wide project called “Farm-to-School,” bringing the rich agricultural history of our community into the classroom. In the first weeks of school, the students have planted school gardens, enjoyed a cooking demonstration with an amazing local chef and baked muffins in an exercise that taught everything from apple varietals to math to product marketing. I’m pretty sure the Farm-to-School project has a big conclusion that the kids will arrive at by the end of the year, I’m just not sure what that is. It’s probably described in the paperwork that was sent home on back-to-school night but, I haven’t read that yet because: Bare Minimum Parent.

There is such tremendous excitement surrounding the school these days. I admire the teachers there that are so passionate about finding exceptional ways to teach standard information. I admire the other parents that invest so much more time than I do and are so enthusiastic about what the school can be. I admire the kids – my kids – that have embraced the changes. There are so many good things happening at our little pocket school. And, it’s nice to see good things in education for a change.

IT’S HAPPENING

You guys. All of my dreams are coming true. School has officially begun. For every one of my children. All of them. They are gone for many hours. It is just as amazing as I thought it would be.

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Now, before you chime in and advise me that these days are fleeting and they are only little once and that I should cherish every moment, let me just stop you. Stop right there. Because, I KNOW. I know that, one day, in the not-so-distant future, I will be cleaning out a drawer or a closet or looking in that scary crevice between the washer and the dryer and I’ll find an itty-bitty sock or wee little pair of underpants and I will weep, WEEP, for the tiny little humans that my kids once were. But, TODAY IS NOT THAT DAY. Today is for cherishing, not my children, but the sweet, sweet sound of silence. It has been six long years since I have been alone in my house so LET ME HAVE MY MOMENT.

It’s a very ALL-CAPS kind of day. Because, I mean, just look at her. She’s so grown-up. She’s so READY. With her requisite Frozen lunchbox and purple-explosion backpack. This one’s going places. Probably painfully, since her shoes are on the wrong feet but whatever. She’s BRILLIANT nonetheless.

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I’m kind of in love with Millie’s preschool. It’s held in what was once the elementary school for our town. When they constructed a more modern elementary school, the old one was turned into a community center. They hold classes there for lots of different things and for lots of different ages and I was sold as soon as I saw the tall ceilings, giant old windows and transoms above the doors. It’s reason number 507 that I’m so thankful we live here – the accessibility of such a great program in such a lovely space. Millie, especially, is a fan.

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Even though today is Millie’s first day of preschool, Henry and Charlie have been in school for a week and a half and their reviews of first and fourth grade have been overwhelmingly positive.

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Charlie has adapted superbly to his new full day schedule with zero complaints. I’m just really, really proud of him. I wasn’t sure how the transition from half-day kindergarten to full-day first would go but he has exceeded our expectations. Then again, homework hasn’t started up yet so I’m expecting this smile will diminish significantly in size.

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I was talking with my sister on the phone a week or so ago and describing to her Millie’s new school schedule and the freedom it will afford me to finally work on some other projects and she said in the most sincere way possible, “You made it. You’re there.” And, you know what? I have made it. It feels like I’ve reached that part of parenting small children where I’ve earned a little breathing room. A few moments for myself. Just in time, too.