Monday, March 16, 2009

Bridger School

It's been months now since the agonizing over a choice of school began full-force for us here in Portland.

Parents like me whose children are going to kindergarten in the fall may want their babies to remain babies and go to nursery school forever, but the tight timeline for getting into the school of your choice makes the reality that they're now schoolchildren come even quicker.

A full nine months before before school begins, there are whisperings among pre-K parents about this so-called "school choice" in the Portland Public Schools. Intense wiki-web research begins. My daughter and i discuss dual immersion. Or rather, i try to explain why it's good to speak two languages and she blurts out "Hola!" to convince me she can already speak Spanish. Seven months out, there are school tours where you get to stroll around during class hours -- watching the kindergarten classes lolly down the hall as the harried teacher's aide tries to get them to walk in a straighter line. Then there are mandatory meetings to attend. Administrators tell you that you may start feeling a "second grade panic" when you start to compare your child, learning and thinking in now two languages, to her English-only cousins in Mankato who are flying through Ramona Quimby books while your child puzzles over the difference between "c" and "ch." It all evens out by the third grade, they say. There are statements of understanding to sign saying that you'll commit your child to the school, and yes, you are all right with the second-grade panic. There is a form to fill out and turn in, outlining your top three choices for special schools. Then there is the six weeks of waiting you do after the application deadline passes, when you wonder whether your first-choice school was the best choice, since it could ruin your chances of getting into your second choice... and other such panicked thoughts. It's a drawn-out process, but you have to keep your eyes on the prize.

Today, in my way that automatically qualifies me for membership in the OMA (Overzealous Mothers of America), i did some sleuthing and found out before the six-week waiting period where my daughter is going next year. Ok, maybe you don't consider calling the school secretary and sweetly asking how many kids had made Bridger School their first choice necessarily sleuthing, but i don't know what else you'd call it. Overzealously inquiring, perhaps? Turns out, 27 kids made Bridger School their first choice. And since the kiddo was one of them, and since the school admits at least 28 kids, she is all but in. The OMA member in me is breathing a sigh of relief. Her fate is sealed and she is bound for a bilingual life from here on out. And judging by this NYT article, (thanks Saschi), there only needs to be more of this in our fair city and country-wide. At one of the mandatory meetings i attended as part of this process, the school staff told me that dual immersion programs don't cost the district any more money. And with English-speaking families clamoring for their children to join up in the spirit of multiculturalism, and non-English speaking families in need of a way to get their children up to speed, i see no reason why the program cannot be expanded.
Graphic courtesy: Portland Public Schools

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