The Help(er) Part I “It’s the best thing about living in Asia!” “Everyone has one. Just do it!” “You’ll never want to leave if you get one. They change your life!” These are all statements that have repeatedly been echoed…
This is why…we need our own schools. We need Freedom Schools again. We need schools that educate our children about themselves and schools that exercise the freedom to push our children to their highest potential, just as every other ethnic group has.
Educating and empowering children is a constant focus as it has a direct correlation to our elevation. When I served as the Language Arts Instructor and later principal of an African-centered PreK-8th grade school, I helped draft a culturally enhanced, accelerated, cross-sectional curriculum that challenged teachers and students to meet its rigor. When I left the traditional classroom and began consulting, training, and instructing teachers and students under the umbrella of Behavior Modification, I found that the greatest challenge in every age group was the lack of belief in self and, in most cases with students, who (the people;culture) they represented. It has always been a long-term goal to either start a school or become a part of the community of one that houses our ideals to remedy this foundational problem.
Both of my children have had a monthly holistic curriculum tailored to their learning styles since birth that incorporates learning about our culture. I wouldn’t say I’m a Tiger Mom, (I lived in Asia and saw first-hand what that truly means), but I am in the Big Cat family. I believe all children are born with a zeal to learn and will rise to meet every obtainable expectation, so I set them very high, especially for my own.
While doing our “for now and possibly forever” city search, we knew that finding a community or a place where one could be established easily would be the best fit for us at this time. Finding a school that met our needs was a critical component in the process. We searched Dallas the most extensively because it was the most practical selection for us. After two separate visits, we found the search for housing and thriving black communities to be somewhat lacking. Every home we toured fell below our expectations because it was either too far from South Dallas, where the predominantly black community once flourished, or it was too small, inexplicably expensive, worn, or aesthetically displeasing. Every neighborhood or suburb that was recommended lacked black businesses and the sense of community we were seeking. We were also warned by natives and transplants alike that the schools in each of the areas we searched were not high achieving. Sadly, this became a mantra whenever we inquired about the educational system in the city.
Yet, there was one wonderful aberration. We were told about a wonderful school that was both unapologetically black and Christian, two threads that seem to have been slowly unwound since desegregation. We did a school visit and I almost wept tears of joy. The beautiful imagery of our excellence, our ancestors, our history, our children sheathed every inch of the vast campus. Our Biblical tales were painted murals or stained glass windows in our likeness. The school and its adjoining community center was in the heart of South Dallas and had a track record that began in the 60’s. We envisioned galvanizing others to buy homes in the surrounding area to restore it to its prominence. We thought of the great work we could do there. The school encompassed the entire spirit of the Back to Black List. We were in awe, and immediately decided our choice would be Dallas based on the school alone. Yes, that’s putting a lot on it, but we were just that impressed and eager to get settled and begin working towards our communal goals.
During our first school visit, we’d left our daughter in Florida with my parents. We were informed that she needed to be assessed and we would also have to be screened through a parent interview before acceptance to the prominent private school could be determined. We inquired about the possibility of placing the kibibi in Kindergarten despite being a year younger than the required age in public schools. After completing a full semester of Kindegarten already in Singapore (currently ranked the world’s best and most rigorous school system), we desired to maintain the fluidity of her education as much as possible with placement in Kindergarten for the sake of her academic and emotional adjustment. We were told that the assessment and interviews would not only determine acceptance, but grade placement. Because the curriculum is accelerated, we were told, she would be challenged in PreK in the event that she did not excel on the test. We were very excited about her being in control of her own placement to a degree, and very comfortable accepting the determination based on the outcome either way.
Several weeks later, after constant communication with the Dean of Admissions to schedule the best time to travel with our entire family to Dallas for the sole purpose of having our daughter assessed and finding a home, we finally returned to the auspicious halls of the school. Two other sets of parents were waiting to be interviewed while their children were being assessed. The kibibi was led to a classroom by one of the Kindergarten teachers and returned quite some time later beaming from ear to ear. She had done extremely well; so much so, that it was questioned whether she was truly her age and mentioned that she might actually be ready for first grade. We were ecstatic. It was the first bit of good news we’d had in Dallas during any of our visits. It gave us the motivation to keep scouring houses and neighborhoods near the school so we could find one to call home.
This happened last Wednesday. By Friday, we received the general acceptance letter to the school, to which we replied with an inquiry about her placement. That’s when it all went South Dallas. The following day, we received a letter stating that Kindergarten readiness could not be determined from their assessment and that an individualized curriculum would be established for her to be challenged in the PreK program. Say what now? We were led to believe that after her testing, she would be placed in a grade level based on her performance. Had she not excelled on the test, we would’ve happily accepted the decision and enrolled her in PreK. However, she did exactly as we always implore her to do: her best. We expected the reward for which to be proper performance-based placement as indicated. It wasn’t. This meant that we had the choice of paying 10k for her to repeat pre-school at this amazing school we grew very fond of, finding another less expensive pre-school, starting a school in Dallas that met her needs, or finding another city.
I had such a sinking feeling. We were so ready to end this unsettled nomad family life, but we left Dallas with no home and no school because we were not willing to have our child possibly feel isolated in a classroom simply because the school wouldn’t honor the results of their own assessment. It was later whispered that the administration felt pressured to place her in PreK in order to avoid the inevitable complaints and accusations of nepotism from other parents. This infuriated and bewildered me even more. I began to feel like we were trying to force ourselves into a place that just didn’t fit at the time. Hence, the final final decision.
Education is at the heart of everything I do, and the experience in Dallas has shown me that I must fully commit myself to using my passion for it to empower others. No child should have to sit and wait to learn with their peers for any reason in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. And, no child of mine ever will.