The Lottery

When I was younger, I never really thought about where I was going to enroll in school. In the earlier years, I went to the nursery school that Abby had attended in our neighborhood. It was run out of someone’s basement, which seems a little weird, but we didn’t think anything of it at the time. Kindergarten at that point in time wasn’t something that our public school system offered so I attended a program (that I later taught at) that was run out of an old barn that had been converted into a small 4 room school. From 1st grade to 12th grade, I attended our local public schools. My education was something that I took for granted.

While it was certainly something that was important to my parents and eventually to me, it wasn’t something that we worried about. I knew that I was going to get a solid education at school, have amazing teachers and extremely supportive parents. To be frank, going to college was always in the cards for me. That was how I was brought up and what I wanted in life.

When I got home from work today, I watched the movie, The Lottery. I had heard about this movie a while ago, and even received the DVD at a charity event I attended last Spring, but I am embarrassed to say that I never got around to watching it. The movie follows four families from Harlem as they go through the lottery process to get their children into one of the Success Academy Charter Schools.

I first learned about these schools when I moved to New York. I didn’t have a job, so my friend graciously hired me to help teach some of her cooking classes for her newly formed company, Cupcake Kids (now named Taste Buds). She had organized 10-15 field trips for the Kindergarten classes from the Success Academy schools. Every morning for a couple of weeks, we would teach 25-27 5 and 6-year-olds, all dressed in navy and orange uniforms, how to make pizza. We talked about the different ingredients, explained how yeast gives off gases (like a bump) that expands the dough, sang a song about making pizza and eventually ate delicious and healthy food that we made together.

During the time that I spent with these kids, I learned that their grade was not referred to as Kindergarten; they were called the class of 2025; the year that they would graduate from college. Their individual classes weren’t named after their rooms or their teachers’ last names; they were named after the colleges that their teachers attended. So every day, in would walk the classes of Brown, University of Virginia and Princeton. These kids know, like I did, that they are going to graduate from college.

Harlem Success Academy 3rd graders took their first standardized state test in 2009. The results are staggering:

  • 100% of Harlem Success 3rd graders passed the math exam, with 71% achieving the top score of “4,” ranking the school #1 out of all public charters in the state.
  • 95% of Harlem Success 3rd graders passed the English Language Arts exam, with nearly a quarter achieving the top score of “4,” ranking the school #2 out of all public charters in the state. Harlem Success Academy ranks #32 out of 3500 public schools in New York.
  • No public school in the state scored higher than Harlem Success on the math exam. Harlem Success outperformed its school district by nearly 25 percentage points in English Language Arts.
  • The percentage of students “advanced proficient” in math surpasses even the affluent Upper East Side of Manhattan by nearly 35%.

In short, this school’s approach is working. While charter schools do raise a lot of concerns, often over teacher unions and conflicts with failing public schools, it is hard to overlook their achievements. I would strongly encourage people to watch this movie. While Waiting for Superman is receiving a lot of support and media attention, this movie delivers a message that is just as strong. We need to rethink our educational systems; we can not accept failure because we are afraid to change.


The First Day of School

As a child, what was the more important thing about the first day of school?

The teachers. The classrooms that are set up “just so.” Seeing friends that you haven’t seen all summer. Making new friends. Freshly sharpened number 2 pencils. A new pack of Crayola crayons. Packing your bag the night before. Completing your summer reading.

While all of these are important, the most important thing about the first day of school is clearly you outfit. Working at a private school in New York, our students miss out on this experience due to the fact that we have a uniform. All 535 of our students don’t get to experience the rush and thrill of putting together an outfit that will “wow.” The term “dress to impress” comes to mind.

When I was younger, my first day of school outfit often came from Limited Too. Back in the day, this store was fun, yet more conservative than it is these days. I would put together outfits with pops of color, plaids, corduroy and of course, Doc Martins once I entered high school. The biggest challenge I faced was the fact that many of the new articles I would purchase during our annual back to school shopping trip would be the fact that they were all for the Fall season. While New Hampshire boosts an average temperature of 76 degrees for the end of August/beginning of September, that isn’t quite cool enough for the outfits I purchased. Typically, I sacrified temperature for style. That’s how I roll, except when I entered 3rd grade. That year, there was no fashion involved.

Growing up, I was always a tom boy. I was the girl at school who was friends with boys and girls, played football and did double dutch jump rope on the playground. I loved doing art projects just as much as I loved gym class. I wore dresses and a little league uniform. I was carefree and loving life.

In 3rd grade, status was starting to develop. While mean girls had yet to develop, the idea of a “cool crowd” and a “not so cool crowd” was starting to develop. Girls started to worry about their clothing and the idea of playing football at recess wasn’t quite so cool. Unfortunately someone didn’t give me this memo. I blame my sister.

If I was a tom boy and clueless to social norms, my sister was worse. When I was entering 3rd grade, Abby was entering 6th grade. She was 11 and should have been reading YM and Cosmo Girl Magazine for years. Unfortunately she was reading Nancy Drew and Swimming World Magazine. In her mind, style was all about comfort and ease. She didn’t give much thought to the clothes she put on. While I was laying out my outfits the day before, if not the week before, I planned to wear them, Abby was picking up whatever clothing she found strewn about her floor.

Before our first day of school, Abby decided that she was going to wear Umbros. We had spent most of the summer at John Roots Soccer Camp, or hanging out at the Bluffs Swim and Tennis Club. Umbros had been the choice outfit all summer, so in Abby’s mind, why would school be any different? So when Abby decided to rock Imbros, I knew I should follow suit. While Abby choose a tasteful pair of navy and orange shorts, I decided to rock it 90s style with florescent green and purple shorts. Leaving our house that morning, we looked amazing and could do no wrong.

Unfortunately when we got to school and NONE of our friends we wearing their summer duds. They had opted for tight roll jeans, baggy sweaters and a select few had hyper-color shirts. The realization that my big sister had led me astray set in. From that moment on, I knew I had to start thinking about my fashion choices independently from Abby. I just couldn’t trust her anymore.

So it is no surprise that as I sit in my apartment, on the eve before our first day of school (for students, but clearly I am participating in this as well) I have gone through my closet and dresser drawers about 5 times. I have tried on different outfits, changed my mind about 10 times and still have not settled on an outfit. While I still haven’t made a decision, you can rest assured that in 45 minutes I will be asleep and that my outfit of choice will be sitting out, ready to go.  While I would love to bust our my new Lululemon running shorts, I will never repeat that Umbros fiasco again.