I had no idea how crazy the first day of school experience would be. I think it was exacerbated by the fact that Kaelyn was attending all-day Kindergarten; the thought of her being at school for six-and-a-half hours a day, seven days a week is intimidating (at bedtime tonight, she whispered to her mother, "I wish we could just have kindergarten two days a week, just like preschool"). In the end, however, everything went splendidly, and we're pretty sure that she didn't cry . . . or at least not that much. She's going back again tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after that. My take away from today is that the parents were likely more nervous than the children. As we stood in line to get Kaelyn checked in this morning, the man in front of us knocked over a framed-needlework hanging on the wall. As it hit the ground, glass shattered all over the floor, and the professionally-dressed gentleman did his best to play it off. But the damage was done (both literally and metaphorically): things would never again be the same.

As Kelly and I stood in front of Kaelyn's teacher, listening to our daughter answer questions about herself, I felt a set of arms wrap around my leg. It was a five-year old Chinese boy. He looked up at me, expecting to see his father, but realized that he latched onto the wrong man's limb. He quickly jumped back, clinging for dear life to his dad's hand. His father and I looked at each other and just laughed.

Yep, nerves were high today. But change is a part of life. And today was a time to let go.

The Fairview Experience (Part Three)

This is part of a series concerning my Fairview Experience. Part One is here, Part Two is Here. Even though it's a month later, I want to revisit my camping experience by getting spiritual. What did my camping excursion mean to me?

Currently, at Echo Church, we're studying the book of Exodus. Since October, we've been taking a week-by-week look at the Ten Commandments. The Sunday before my camping experience, I taught on the commandment to observe the Sabbath.

I've taught on Sabbath numerous times before. They say that if you ever want to know the sins of your preacher, look at what he preaches about the most. I guess I'm guilty of not resting. I enjoy my work, holding down a couple of gigs which keep me fairly busy. The Monday after this sermon, a person from church asked when I was going to take my Sabbath. "I don't really have the time right now," I responded. "Maybe later this year."

And then, I had to camp out to get my kid into school.

Once I set up my tent on Friday, I pulled out my lawn chair and started grading papers. I finished that quickly and thus ended my to-do list. In anticipation of having to miss church on Sunday, I had farmed out all of those responsibilities, so I was left with nothing I had to do. I brought along quite a few books, but I only completed one and read a few chapters in another. As I mentioned earlier, I didn't have much time to read.

We had a daily schedule where I would take the mornings, Kelly would come and give me a break in the late morning/early afternoon so I could shower and get a breather, and then I'd return for the late afternoon and spend the night. The only break was on Saturday, when it was our turn to run the local soup kitchen. I had to oversee the process (Kelly always does a phenomenal job making sure everything is ready to go), so I did duck out to see it through. But that was it.

All I had to do for four days was wait.

I think this is the main reason that I harbored so much anger about this experience at the beginning: I view my life in portions of accomplishment. There are things I have to do and things I want to do, but regardless the category, I enjoy doing. And I tend to define myself by lists, by things I've accomplished. And even though camping out itself was some kind of an accomplishment, it prevented me from being productive for multiple days.

In my sermon on Sabbath, I mentioned that the holy name of God in Hebrew (often pronounced Yahweh) is most likely connected with the verb "hiyah" (think martial arts) which means "to be." This helps explain God's answer to Moses' question at the burning bush. "I Am Who I Am" is akin to "I Be what I Be." God is. He exists. And he doesn't have to wear his hat as Creator/Sustainer in order to feel important. God can just exist, and not do. Why can't I? Why can't I just be?

That's the point of Sabbath: to allow us to just "be" and dwell on the One who did more than we could ever imagine. And not doing this is irresponsible and downright unbiblical.

And my neglect of this is the sin with which I struggle. I try to impress God and others with what I've accomplished, but that's not important. Jesus died for me and it is HIS accomplishment which defines me.

My camping excursion was a forced Sabbath, and a valuable lesson: I should probably start implementing this on my own terms so God doesn't need to correct me yet again.

The Fairview Experience (Part Two)

This is part of a series concerning my Fairview Experience. Part One is here. "You must have made a lot of friends while camping out."

No, I didn't.

To be sure, I appreciated the company of those around me. They were truly some great people and I look forward to getting to know them even better as our kids attend school together.

But there was a certain camp dynamic that presented itself, which might explain why I wasn't as socialable as you might expect. It took me a day or two to nail this down, but by the end of the experience I had pretty well mapped out the sociology of the camp. And it is best present this . . . is with a map.

Yes, the map might be overkill, but as a public speaker, I know the usefulness of visual aids. Just appreciate it.

Obviously, the big white building is the school. The line began at the main driveway entrance, and the people in line camped on the hill in front of the school. The first person in line, a law enforcement officer (later nicknamed, "The General"), set up his tent and started the sign-up sheet at approximately 4pm on Thursday afternoon. Within a couple of hours, there were almost twenty people in line. These people made up the first group.


While there was many different ages of people in this group, most of them seemed to be in their late forties and early fifties. These people were well prepared for the long-term experience and had their gear ready to go ahead of time. I only met one or two people from this group, and that's just because I knew someone who knew those people. Honestly, by the time these people had their numbers called by the end of the weekend, I'm not sure I could recognize any of them. They stayed in their area and, generally, stayed out of the rest of camp hijinks. I credit this to sheer topography. The area of The First Responders was on top of a hill and, there was no need for them to descend to lower ground. One of these people actually had an RV that they pulled on to site (they did, however, always have someone in line). Another had a restaurant style sidewalk heater. Their preparation was ridiculous.

After these early birds got their worms, the other birds showed up . . . um, to get their worms too.


I'm thinking that this group received word that people were setting up camp and were fearful that they would miss out if they didn't get to the school ASAP. The age of this group was younger than the first—mostly people in their thirties. There was instantaneous bonding among this group. They set up a common space among the tall trees in the valley and this area became party central. I would observe that they milked all the fun to be had out of this experience. I think the fact that this group ended up camping out another night (4 nights total) contributed to the party scene. Example 1: on Saturday night, an unseasonably warm night, the sound of drunken storytelling could be heard from this area at 2:30am. Example 2: early Tuesday morning, when people were finally able to register their kids, this group formed a cheering human tunnel through which all the members could go through to end the experience. Needless to say, the masses were not impressed. All of which brings me to my group.


Yes, our group was on their way into work on Friday morning and heard the rumors of large crowds at the school. The vast majority of us swung by just to see how things were going and were dismayed to see so many people already in line. As I noted earlier, by early Friday morning there were already over 50 people in line, so people like me, who knew they'd probably have to camp out, finally decided to pull the trigger. As a result, most of us were OK with camping out, but were kinda angry that the people at the front of the line hadn't practiced a little more patience. I'd describe our collective mood as subdued. Our ages were all over the place: a good amount of thirty somethings, with other ages sprinkled in. In the end, we all knew that we had secured a place for our children, which was distinguishing factor between us and the next folk.


These people showed up sometime between noon and the evening on Friday. Their place in line was precarious, as they were right on the edge of those guaranteed of a place for their child. As a result, they were constantly talking about the line— the apathy of the people at the front, whether or not the RV people were legit, and were there people who had signed up but actually weren't there. On Monday morning, when we had to break down our tents and move to the sidewalk, a couple from this group came over expressing their hesitation about the process. I did my best to calm them and let them know we were all going to survive. The irony is, practically all the people in this group got their kids into the school. So the days of worrying was all for naught.


Most of these people showed up on Sunday. They were hoping that they could still get in while avoiding the long term camping. Because they were scattered about at the end of the line, I'm not sure I saw many of these people until we actually went into the school late Monday night. Sadly, they had to endure the worst night camping out, as Sunday night was by far the coldest evening to be out there. But fortunately, even though many of these parents were relegated to the wait list, they will most likely get their kids into the school.

So like I said, it wasn't this huge bonding experience for me. For me, it was almost like a time of solitude amongst many. So if I wasn't overtly social, what did I do in the down time?

  • I read a book and a half. Since the most of my time was in the night hours, and I don't read well by flashlight, that's all I could fit in.
  • I listened to music on my iPod while watching traffic. It was more enjoyable than it sounds.
  • I walked laps around the school building in the dark. Again, it sounds pathetic, but it made time pass and provided a little exercise. I will admit that one night, I took a walk about a mile away to Mount Storm park. I'm such the rebel.
  • I thought. I thought a lot.

Oh, and I camped out.

The Fairview Experience (Part One)

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.