Farewell Estabrook, farewell public schooling

Will graduating from EstabrookI picked up Will from school today, and we both realized on the walk home that he would never have to go back into Estabrook Elementary unless he wanted to. We both had complex feelings about this.

To be clear: on the whole, we’ve been very happy with Estabrook Elementary, part of the Ypsilanti public school system. I remember volunteering in Will’s first grade class and learning so much about teaching and pedagogy and literacy among kids that age. Completely fascinating (thanks, Mrs. Thompson!). Mrs. Rust was great for both second grade and safety patrol. Mrs. Micallef was a great third grade teacher, as was Ms.Lava-Kellar for fifth grade. Though to be honest, none of them can touch Will’s fourth grade teacher Mr. Morrison, who retired the year after Will was done with his class. He was by far Will’s favorite.

So on the whole, Estabrook was a good experience for Will and for all of us. Really. I’d recommend it to anyone. Still, it was far from perfect, and I guess there some things about the whole “farewell” ceremony that didn’t quite set right with me. Early in the festivities, the principal, Mrs. DeRossett, warned all of us that we do not woop and holler at Estabrook; we clap politely. Thus I was no longer allowed to yell “Yea!” with every award and/or performance.

After a mini-recital of various fifth grade musical talents (which included a friend of Will’s playing the James Bond theme on piano), a bunch of awards were given out. Most dubious to Annette and I was the “Principals Award,” which Will is holding in the picture. First, as far as we could tell, this was an award that was handed out to all of the kids who did not cause some kind of “trouble” or something, presumably trouble with Mrs. DeRossett. About two-thirds of the kids got this award, which obviously singled out to one and all who the trouble-makers were. Second, almost all of the white kids received this award, and I don’t think it does a whole lot to build community among the racially diverse Estabrook community to do leave a bunch of African-American and Arab-American kids sitting down while almost everyone else gets this prize.

And third, it should be Principal’s Award, as in the possessive apostrophe s, the award “belonging” to and from the principal. I will grant you that as an English professor and writing teacher that I am perhaps a little more critical about these things than most, but passing out a certificate with a grammar error like that doesn’t exactly instill a lot of confidence in Ypsilanti educators.

In any event, with the farewell to Estabrook comes a farewell for Will to the Ypsilanti public schools. While we were pretty happy with the Ypsi elementary experience, we were not confident about taking the chance on the Ypsi middle schools or high school. The original plan was to go to Ann Arbor, which has notably better public schools, but when we got caught in the collapsed real estate market and it became clear that we could not afford to move, we decided to explore our other options. We decided on Greenhills, which is an independent school in Ann Arbor.

I think we have kind of lucked out in reverse. Had we moved to Ann Arbor, I think Will would have done fine in the public schools there and I think we would have adjusted easily enough to the subtle but noticeable lifestyle differences between the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. But Greenhills is a really really great school, and I know Will is going to have opportunities he’d never get in any public school system. Instead of sitting in crowded classrooms where the teachers have to spend too much time worrying about mandatory testing and keeping the kids disciplined, Will will actually be able to learn and do some really cool and interesting things.

And we really like our house and our neighborhood and the fact that we can walk to work— well, we can walk when we aren’t carrying a lot of stuff and when the weather is decent at least. Neither Annette nor I are exactly “Ypsi proud,” the types who are all about the great things that Ypsilanti has to offer and who scoff at the snootiness of Ann Arbor. We try to put a foot into both places, liking a lot about about towns. But we’ve been here for ten years now and we’re starting to do more Ypsi-specific things. For example, last night we were out with family and friends to The Corner Brewery. This morning, Will and Annette are out and about at the annual Normal Park yard sale, which includes about 75 or so sales all in the neighborhood (as I have written this, they have brought back a snow globe and golf balls for me, and Will was inexplicably given a giant stuffed gorilla by someone). And this afternoon, we’re off to the last games of Will’s Ypsilanti township soccer league.

Still, I have some liberal guilt. Because of my line of work and my own politics, I kind of feel like that we shouldn’t be part of the “problem” of flight away from the public schools. More than one Ypsi friend of mine has thought of folks who have moved out of town and/or who took their kids out of the public schools as “traitors,” and I felt rather sheepish talking to some parents outside of Estabrook the other day while waiting to pick up Will– ah, no, he isn’t ready for West Middle School. Um, yeah, we’re going to send him to Greenhills….

But I’ll get over it, and I guess I’ve come to see over the years that schooling choices that parents make are ultimately rather personal, complex, and even contradictory. I can still support the public schools in general while taking advantage of other opportunities. And maybe this will get me to get more involved in Ypsilanti the community, especially if we decide we’re going to stick around in town for a while longer.

By the way, I have a movie/montage of Will’s Estabrook days I’m putting together. I’ll get it posted here sooner than later.

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