When we first got our Kindergarten assignment letter for Grattan Elementary School, I quickly learned the hard way that Grattan is a lot like fight club. The first rule of getting into Grattan is that you don't talk about getting into Grattan. There are too many families with strong opinions about the school itself, the lottery process or with their own negative experiences living just blocks away and not getting it as a school assignment. I know from personal experience that there are some parents who are ready and waiting to lash out if you mention its name. I’ve even had some Grattan parents warn me not to bring it up on the GGMG forums if I could avoid it. Grattan also happens to be a very white and privileged school, which brings up another layer of complicated emotions and opinions. Suffice it to say, I was surprised and curious when I saw our beloved little school in one of the titles of the forum topics.
In the post, an anonymous mom openly questioned her decision to have her children at the site raising concerns about the school’s lack of diversity. The main piece of advice she was seeking from fellow moms was whether this reason alone was grounds to switch schools. I considered something similar at the tail end of the final round in the school lottery process. I was torn between listing either Grattan or BVHM as my number one choice for similar reasons. I ended up sticking with Grattan and was filled with some complicated mixed feelings when we got our assignment: Happiness, excitement, guilt and doubt.
Yes, moving schools is one strategy. But it’s a bit superficial. Guilt is another option, but it’s pretty unproductive. What do either of these really accomplish? Unless all of us who benefit from privilege do some of our own work and examine some of our own biases, switching schools does little to address the root of our discomfort. And discomfort is okay. It can be healthy.
I am now a proud Grattan parent and am in love with our school. Sometimes the best place to begin to process and seek out ways to break down barriers across difference is by looking internally at your own identity and then with your existing communities first. The time is now to open our eyes a bit and see the diversity in front of us, at our existing schools, and ask what we can do personally to better engage and understand the families right next to us who may have different racial, cultural or socioeconomic backgrounds.
Here are some questions I asked of myself recently:
1. How many of the existing families of kids who are AA, ELL, have special needs or may have members that identify as LGBTQ at Grattan have I made an effort to engage with or introduce myself to at a school event or in passing?
2. How many of these families do I know of in my own daughter’s grade, soccer team or after school program and what have I done to exchange contact information and arrange a meet up outside of school?
3. What have I done to become knowledgeable of or support existing committees meant to bring families together who might not reflect my own identity, like the Inclusion Committee, the Black Parent Group, the Multilingual Families Group or the LGBTQ Kids Club boasted on the school’s website?
4. What have I done to understand the PTSA fundraising structure and the allocation of funds towards serving students in need?
5. When am I going to end the excuses and finally attend one of the GGMG Diversity Committee’s “How to Talk to Your Kids About Race” workshops?
I am pretty extroverted, so I will admit this kind of thing comes a lot more naturally to me than most people. Also, working in SFUSD public schools gives me a bit more of an entry point as well. But I will say, it’s still super hard. It takes work, but in looking at this list, not that much work. All of these are really just small first steps or entry points.
Will a simple hello or play date be enough? Can I just show up to the Black Families Group, plop myself down and ask what’s on the agenda? Probably not. But I can start engaging and informing myself and do things outside my default comfort zone. What is comfortable for me is chatting it up with the moms who look like me during morning Clap In, signing up to chaperone a field trip or volunteering to bake cookies for the next bake sale. What’s not comfortable for me is asking another parent whose race, language, socioeconomics or culture might be different from my own if she would be interested in a play date, talking to my daughter about the group of children she innocently refers to as “the autism kids” about labels and giving up a few hours of my Saturday to take a workshop on race. Social consciousness is like a muscle. It takes regular exercise, engagement and a consistent practice. As I wrestle with this discomfort I hope some of you will join me in the ring. See you at the next workshop?
Posted originally on the GGMG City Blocks Blog at https://www.ggmg.org/blog/diversity-in-schools-how-to-step-outside-your-comfort-zone