Attempting to recap my past weekend is so daunting, it would be impossible to fulfill in just one post. So in the next few posts, I'm going to recall some of the many observations in my great urban camping expedition. In the first two installments, I'm going to go for the overview of the entire experience. Then, in following posts, I'll outline my refined public education philosophy, as well as the spiritual lessons I learned in this process.
Since Kaelyn was in her mother's womb, I knew this time would come.
The big issue that many people have with living in the city is public schooling. In the Cincinnati Public School District, you are assigned a neighborhood school for your child to attend. This school is based on geography. For example, if you live in Walnut Hills (which we do), you are assigned to attend Frederick Douglass Elementary School. Over a century ago, this school (started specifically for the local African American community) was a national model of education success. Currently, however, the school struggles to perform and has numerous academic issues. While I would actually prefer that Kaelyn attend school in our neighborhood (we're fully integrated into the life of our community in practically every other aspect, so why not the school as well?) I just couldn't send her to Douglass. My involvement with our local community council has exposed the school's numerous flaws and they frightened me. Understand that I wasn't concerned about Kaelyn's safety; I know that she could exist just fine at Douglass. My fear was the educational philosophy of the school, namely, to merely prepare students for standardized testing. While I'm OK with taking stands for what I believe, such as fully embracing our community, I refused to subject Kaelyn to this in the form of a subpar education. We needed to explore other options.
And fortunately, in Cincinnati Public, there are other options. Even though CPS struggles in the same way that many large urban school districts do, there are superior schools to be found. Many of these are magnet schools. These schools act as a magnet from the neighborhood schools, attracting all sorts of students from various communities towards unique educational models. One of the more popular and academically successful schools for elementary education in CPS is the Fairview Clifton German Language School* (yes, children attending this school begin to learn German in Kindergarten). I became familiar with the school as many CCU faculty and staff have sent or are sending their children there to be educated. Everyone I have encountered who have been involved in the school speaks highly of the education provided there. Honestly, the presence of Fairview gave me confidence in moving back into the city, knowing that there was the opportunity to get my child a strong public education. We've always planned to send Kaelyn there.
Fairview is very popular, but its popularity presents some issues. There is a limited number of spots for students there and it is continually in demand. There are two ways to get your child into the school.
- Have a sibling who attends Fairview. Once you get one kid in the school, the rest of your kids can attend. During the first enrollment period, all siblings of current students are awarded spots.
- Apply for admission, which is done on a "first come, first served" basis, after the sibling enrollment.
This enrollment period, which used to happen in the dead of winter, now occurs each November. The school announces how many spots are available for Preschool, Kindergarten and First Grade (after First Grade, they rarely admit new students because of the German language requirements); the lion's share of open spots are for Kindergarten. Earlier in the fall, Kelly and I went on a tour of the school and were told by administrators that there were approximately 72 spaces available for Kindergarten. This is a fairly large number compared to other Kindergarten years at the school, leaving me somewhat confident for getting Kaelyn enrolled. But I was secretly nervous, fearful that I might have to camp out to get here in there.
Even though the official registration takes place on Monday night at midnight, people get in line early. I mean really early. In previous years, parents had camped out for a couple of nights before hand to stake a place in line. Camping out has almost become a rite of passage for Fairview parents. Although the district can't encourage this practice, the school won't ignore that it's a reality. The majority of questions asked during our tour was concerning the potential line and the possibility of camping out. During this presentation, I made an attempt to calm people's fears, encouraging people to refrain from camping out as long as possible.
Of course, no one listens to me.
On Thursday afternoon, as Kelly, Kaelyn and I were enjoying a picnic before I taught my night class, Kelly received a call from a friend and current Fairview parent. Already, at 4:00 pm, there were people setting up tents. We were angry, but I still maintained a positive attitude. "There are plenty of spaces available," I reminded Kelly. "And there's no way we're going out there to camp tonight." I taught my class that night but by the 11pm local news, local TV stations were covering the camping parents. Still, my Facebook post that evening was, "I love my daughter but will not abandon logic and camp out four nights to get her into the right school (especially when there are plenty of spaces this year). Now one night . . . maybe."
I know nothing.
As I left for work Friday morning, I assured Kelly that we were going to fine. Still, I couldn't resist: curiosity led me to drive past the school to see the scene for myself. As I turning the corner, I was shocked. There were nearly fifty tents set up and people were continuing to roll in as news vans were parked all along. I quickly parked and checked the list that had developed: it was already over 55 people. Seeing the people continue to pull up and unpack made me sick. I called Kelly and let her know that it was inevitable—I was returning home to grab some things and get in line. By the time I went home, gathered some supplies, and headed back to the school, I signed in.
I was number 68 on the list.
While some of those in line before me were interested in Preschool or First Grade, the vast majority were there for Kindergarten. Fortunately I still had some room to spare. I was somewhere in the fifties out of 72 Kindergarten spots. At the very least, I now knew that Kaelyn was guaranteed to get in the school as long as I made it through the weekend until late Monday night.
So as I set up my tent Friday morning, still overcome by anger, I started to accept reality. I knew that this camping excursion had been coming for over five years now. It was finally time. I had accepted that the next 80+ hours of my life would be devoted to waiting in a line just to get my daughter into school.
* Fairview was originally located in a neighborhood named Fairview. Located near the University of Cincinnati, the old school building was architecturally attractive but too small. Two years ago, CPS constructed a new, larger building in Clifton proper, but they continued to use the Fairview moniker as well. As far as I know, people continue to refer to it simply as Fairview.
** In case you missed it, as I was getting settled on Friday morning, I was interviewed by an Enquirer reporter. There was even a picture of me published in the print edition. Click here to read the article.