This school year we ended up doing something we said we would never do – we switched from a public school to a private one. It might not sound like a huge deal, but to me it is. I have always been a huge supporter of public schools. They are important mainly because not everyone can afford private schools, so without quality public options the education disparity in my country (the US) would be even larger than it already is.
That being said, enough was enough. From the moment my oldest daughter started at this school, there were huge issues. Her teacher last year was wonderful, but in over her head due to too many students and not enough funding for extra hands to help out in the classroom. So when the bullying started, there just weren’t enough people around to stop it.
We reported the bullying to the school as soon as we heard what was going on. Kids would pull my daughter’s hair, throw garbage at her, and make fun of her appearance. It was a nightmare. She even mentioned it to one of the crossing guards who had the audacity to suggest we were exaggerating. We live in an old-school Irish enclave in NYC, as I’ve mentioned before, so the general opinion is to have a stiff upper life. But I’m sorry, that shit just isn’t working for me.
We talked to the teacher, the school counselor, the principal, and even the board of education. They had someone come in and talk about how bad bullying is and it seemed to help – for a week. Then the teasing started again. A few times things got physical, but no one seemed to have the ability to stop it. My husband and I felt helpless and angry. We even considered moving, once our budget allowed, but my daughter was adamant about sticking it out, showing a braver face than I ever could.
We were going to try it out one more year since the torment had seemed to calm down by the end of last year, but almost immediately this year it started again. The worst part? I must have rubbed some of the office workers wrong with my phones calls and inquiries (always polite, but I’m sure I was difficult at times, anyone with a hysterical child would be), because they were downright hostile with us when we enrolled our younger daughter. I never shook the feeling that instead of being sympathetic to our plight, or our daughter’s tears, they just didn’t care. I got the feeling a lot of teachers and administrators at this school (with the exception of her wonderful teacher last year) felt my older daughter had somehow brought the bullying on herself for not being stronger or standing up for herself more.
So, only a couple days into the school year, we pulled both kids out of the local public school and contacted the private Catholic school down the block from us. They were wonderfully helpful, and now, only a few days later, both girls are comfortably situated in their new school. I know 100 percent that we made the right choice.
I went to Catholic school myself and enjoyed the experience for the most part (especially my all-girls high school, where I came out of my shell after being a shy and withdrawn kid), but that doesn’t mean I don’t have some misgivings. I’m not religious, and neither is my husband. We haven’t raised our kids in any religion so far, though I did have religious instruction as a kid. So the thought of the mandatory religion classes is something I’ve been struggling with.
But in the end, I think the religious exposure, not necessarily the instruction, will be a good thing. More knowledge is never a negative in my book, even if I don’t agree with it. Regardless of whether my kids choose to be religious or not when they grow up, I will love them and support them, and maybe being exposed to religion will help them understand more about faith and why people believe what they do. My husband and I will always be there to talk to them about their questions and guide them.
As much as I support public schools and see how important they are for the American education system, the particular school in our zone failed my daughter, and I had to make the best choice for my kids. I remember feeling a little judgmental about Matt Damon a while back when he chose to put his kids in private schools, after years of public school advocacy. But I’m learning that you can support a system without being forced to participate in it.
My oldest daughter has been happier and more at ease in the last few days then she’s been for years, and THAT is what is important to me right now.