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Amy Pybus: What we want from schools in Easthampton, and everywhere

When I grew up, there was no such thing as school choice. My parents scraped and saved and bought a very small house on a busy state road to get us into the school system they wanted. They had hoped to live in a different town because of its well-respected school system, but couldn’t afford it.

Instead they changed their lives to get us to a place they had confidence in. So back in the day, I guess you could say it was up to parents, and not the schools and towns, to provide the education they wanted for their children. This wasn’t an entirely fair system, but it was life, and it made sense for town budgets.

I received a good education. I think, all things considered, it was about the same education I would’ve received in many of our neighboring towns. I had good friends and a nemesis or two. I struggled through algebra, almost failed chemistry and excelled in English and history.

When all was said and done, it mattered less who was teaching me, or what kind of facilities the school had, than the person I was.

I can still diagram a sentence in my sleep but have to add on my fingers. Being the fastest typist in the eighth grade has clearly enhanced my skills as a writer. But no “better” school system would’ve made me an engineering genius.

I think this educational experience is probably true of most people. And part of the school choice problem we face today is that we expect schools to be too much for too many people.

We have elevated an elementary education into the defining event in a child’s life — in fact, into something that is far too big and important for a single public institution to fulfill. If kids don’t have the best of every possible educational advance, and no bullies or anything that would offend their sensibilities, then the school has failed. And the child will never be a success.

This is a lie. School should be a microcosm of life. Often it is the first time children is away from parents to learn on their own. And while students should be protected and safe, they should also face real-life challenges that help them grow. School is not just about academics, it is about reality.

I have worked in both charter and “regular” public schools and there are positives and negatives to both systems. In an ideal world, our schools would not be separated into charter and regular, but would combine the best of what each offers.

This ideal would require herculean effort, from parents of all communities and school types, to push their representatives and the board of education toward major school reform.

One of the popular opinions about charter schools is that it would be better if parents of charter school kids would put their efforts into the regular schools.

Maybe the answer is to put less of our energy into the school our child attends, but to finally see the school system as a whole, and put that effort in for all kids.

Perhaps because of my childhood experience, and the way school choice unfairly penalizes the school system a child leaves, I still feel like you should live in the town where your kids go to school. But I know now from my adult experience how deeply neighborhood schools bind a town together.

As I walked through the crowd for the last all-school performance before my son finishes elementary school, I couldn’t even count the number of people I know there. There was excitement in the air. People were passing around flyers and a donation box for one of our girls who was recently hospitalized.

I know that I can call on any one of these neighbors and they will be there for me. What a wonderful sense of security that gives. This is a community. School choice fractures our communities, and it is time to steer this debate in a new direction.

Amy Pybus of Easthampton writes on family life issues in a column that appears on the second Thursday of the month. She can be reached at opinion@gazettenet.com and blogs at www.sittingonthebaby.com.

Thank you for so eloquently putting in writing what a lot of us are thinking. I do agree that there is a special place in my heart for old time neighborhood schools.

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