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.

18 thoughts on “Farewell Estabrook, farewell public schooling”

  1. From my point of view with Katie a new senior at Greenhills, I think you made the right choice to send Will to Greenhills. Not that I think Greenhills is a perfect place for everyone, but I do think that Greenhills offers much that public schools can not even begin to think about offering. One of the things that Katie liked best about going to Greenhills was the freedom it offered. Most public schools require (remember high school?) students to be supervised all the time. Students are either in the classroom or somewhere like the cafeteria, but never hanging out on their own. At Greenhills, students are encouraged to use the forums (central meeting places for each grade) as places to socialize, study, work on projects with other students. And this activity often occurs without any adult supervision. Also, students are encouraged to pursue avenues of interest whether that be academic or athletic or whatever. Katie has often missed school because she is competing at horse shows, many out of state, but Greenhills has consistently supported her endeavors, and teachers, who certainly have enough to do without having extra work, have continually taken time to prepare work ahead of time for her when she’s going to miss school, or have taken time to bring her up to speed after she returns to school.
    Having taught in both the public (East Detroit, Detroit, Hartland) and the private (University-Liggett) sector, I can attest to the advantages of the independent school. Also, students like Will in 6th grade at Greenhills will have only 13-15 students in a class, as compared to Tappan Middle School in Ann ARbor with 35-39 students per class and not enough chairs or desks for all .
    So, I say: good luck Will and I know you’ll LOVE Greenhills. It exceeded our expectations which at the start were pretty high.

  2. Hey Steve,

    I completely understand your conflict about leaving Estabrook, but I’m wondering if you might still volunteer at Estabrook or in some sector related to that population of kids. At the same time, as a parent, you do have the right to do what’s best educational-wise for your child though. It’s also interesting but not surprising how the African American and Arab American kids didn’t get the “principals award.” Perhaps someone should ask the principal why that was the case. Where’s Lisa Delpit or Gloria Ladson-Billings when you need ’em? :-)

  3. Liberal though we may be, coming from a less-than-working class background makes this kind of a decision a no-brainer for us. There is nobody in my family – and I mean nobody – who would bat an eye at seizing this opportunity. In fact, they’d be pissed if we passed it up.

    No guilt about education. It’s not a zero sum situation. The “goods” to be had in quality education are not finite, so using what you have access to doesn’t deprive others. You’ll still pay taxes that support public schools.

  4. Steve, we made the same choice here about private school for S. (although at the point of preschool, starting in a private school that would run through grade 8). I had some liberal guilt about the choice to start, but once school started, that dried up pretty quickly. The school was clearly the right place for her (kind of the Indy version of Green Hills for younger kids). It might not be the right school for everyone, but it was a wonderful school, and in leaving Indy, we’re really missing it. Sounds like Will will love Greenhills–I wish him well.

  5. I’m sorry to hear you’re pulling your child from our community’s schools. It is the families like yours, and students like your son that make our schools stronger — not the schools that make your family and son weaker. I always think it such a shame when people think that, as I don’t think reality bears it out.

    Ever wonder why people perceive our public schools are insufficient for their kids? Because so many parents with a choice choose to leave them, leaving behind those who don’t have that choice. Is it any wonder that our test scores get lower as the kids get older, with all this flight?

    In the last couple of years, Ypsi has sent seniors to Yale, to Oberlin, U of M, to U of Virginia, Naval Academy and a boatload of other schools, many on full-ride scholarships.

    My two daughters are in elementary school, and one just tested in the 99th percentile on the Iowa test. I’m keeping her there, knowing that the reason she is excelling is in part because of the education she is getting, not in spite of it.

    Perhaps some time over the summer might be well-used to continue evaluating your decision. If you want me to put you in touch with families whose kids will be going to a good college, and who wouldn’t leave the schools unless forced to, let me know, and I will.

  6. I hear what you’re saying, trusty g. I was at a graduation function last night for someone graduating from Ypsi high and there were all kinds other graduates there going on to great places for college. Ypsi schools after grade school are certainly not all bad.

    But like I said, I think the decisions parents make about schooling for their kids are personal, complex, and contradictory. I would never send my child to a religious school or a school that places “traditional and patriotic” values ad the center of the curriculum, but I wouldn’t want an educational system that denies parents that choice. (And by the way, I doubt you would suggest that parents who send their kids to school for “religious” or “traditional value” reasons are an example of “flight” from the district and from the public schools). I also wouldn’t do what lots and lots of people in Ypsi do and send my kid to public schools outside of the Ypsi system– the Lincoln school district, other school of choice districts, and even Ann Arbor (usually in an “under the table” sort of way). But again, I think that’s their choice.

    So we’ll see what happens. My liberal guilt is very much tied to the flight issue you are describing, tg. But I have to say that I’m just not willing to place my child into a school I’m not completely comfortable with just to set an example, if that makes sense.

  7. I don’t think, Trusty Getto that we are discussing elementary schools either in Ypsi or Ann Arbor, most of which provide good, solid educational experiences. What I find unacceptable are the middle and high schools which are uniformly overcrowded and unable to address educational imperatives. Certainly, some students do succeed and go to tier one schools, but how many students do not? What is the drop out rate at Ypsi high? How many students take AP classes at Ypsi? How many students have a desk or a chair in either the middle or the high schools in Ann Arbor?
    Before we decided to send our daughter to Greenhills, we investigated Tappan Middle school where she would have gone for 6th grade. I was startled to find out that most of the math and science curriculum was a repeat of material (the same books) she had learned in the 3rd grade. Since we only have one child and one opportunity to provide her a positive educational experience, we decided to go the private school route.

  8. I am all in favor of singling out the trouble-makers. That way I always know where to go to score a bag of dope.

    PS You’re a traitor

  9. I don’t blame you a bit. In fact, I wonder what we will do when the kidlets get to be that age. I love Estabrook and I’m grateful for the experiences they have had there. However, I have no confidence in the middle or high schools in Ypsi. Don’t ever feel guilty for doing what you think is right as a parent.

  10. Dude, you should have tried Chapelle. There are two Principal’s Awards – one for a boy, one for a girl, and they’re for real achievement. In my time there with my kids (seven years and counting), I’ve seen kids of all colors get it, and for well documented reasons. My children have had access to some great things there, and we’re allowed to whoop and holler at the awards ceremony (we just have to save our applause for the end of each category).

    My son, who tests in the top tiers of pretty much everything, goes to West and is having a fabulous time. He’s helped elementary kids with science, done a Physics Club as a class (with a trip to Cedar Point for the highest point scorers), learned to play the trumpet, had the best physical education experience ever (Mr. Osborne somehow got him to love basketball – I’ll never know how), and we’ve still got eighth grade to go. Also, he got to play on the brand new baseball team there this year.

    So, you know, I am all for people sending their kids anywhere they need to (I teach at a private school, and some of my best friends send their daughter to Greenhills), but try to focus on the fact that Greenhills is a better fit for your son, because I have to say that just about every opportunity I’ve heard of for kids anywhere else, my kids in the Ypsi Schools have access to. The problem isn’t the schools, or at least not any problem that public schools anywhere face. There is a mandate to teach everyone, not just the children of the parents who can afford to send them somewhere special. I find that to be an integral part of what I want for my children, you do not.


  11. Steve: Pls don’t take my comments as being judgmental. I get that you’ve got to do what you think is right. Everyone does. So do parents that want religious educations. It’s their prerogative, as well as yours.

    Cheryl: Have you visited West? I’m inclined to think not, because it provides, to use your words, “good, solid educational experiences.” Do they have chairs? Yep, like the kids at Green Hills, at West they sit in chairs, too. AP classes? At Ypsi High, they’ve been expanding the program over the last three years to accommodate increased interest and participation. Ypsi High also has kids that get college credit while in high school by attending college level courses at local universities that Ypsi High partners with.

    Interestingly, because of certain opportunities not available elsewhere, a number of families who live in Ann Arbor have chosen to enroll their children in Ypsi under Ypsi’s Schools of Choice program.

    I’ve found that among those that do their homework on West and Ypsi High, most are pleasantly surprised and quite satisfied with the opportunities available to their children.

  12. Meredith, I don’t know a whole lot about Chapelle one way or the other, to be honest. It’s the school Will was supposed to go to, but we had friends/neighbors very happy with Estabrook, and others who more or less were unhappy with Chapelle for whatever reason. But that’s not to say that Chapelle isn’t a good school overall, and/or that our son wouldn’t have done fine at it.

    The one thing that I know Will got at Estabrook that he wouldn’t have gotten from any other school is an opportunity to participate in the Washtenaw Elementary Science Olympiad. Estabrook is the only Ypsi school that does this, which really ought to be called “Ann Arbor and a few other schools in the county.”

    TG, as for AP and college credit courses: as a college professor, I frankly have a lot of problems with those programs, basically because they don’t really offer what I think of as a “true” college experience. I’d rather there be some kind of program where we get Ypsi high kids on EMU’s campus to take some courses like first year composition. that came up as an option at one point a couple years ago and quickly fizzled out for some reason.

    And while I again want to be clear that I am not interested in making some kind of “us versus them” comparison, my wife and I were both really pleased to see the “summer reading list” from Greenhills for incoming 6th grade students, a list that includes one “required” book and many fine recommendations. That’s not the kind of program public schools tend to offer, in my experience.

  13. Steve – There is a program at Ypsi High that does just that – it’s the early college learning program, or something similarly named. I too teach college (in the evenings – the private school teaching gig is during the day) and I too have a problem with AP classes, the exact same problem as you do.

    For the record, a really good friend of mine (different from the friend that has her child at Greenhills now) had a terrible experience there, and she not only sent her kids there, she was a teacher. She found it to be really cliqueish and not at all tolerant of kids with different learning styles or means of self expression. I also know of a child who was expelled for smoking pot – in the hallway. So, there are problems everywhere, and you just have to pick the ones you want.

    It’s great that Estabrook has the Science Olympiad team – I have coached those teams before, and my mother coached one to a national championship. What happens at Chapelle during Science Exploration Day is that each kiddo gets to do a project from Science Olympiad, thus hitting every kid, not just the ones with motivated parents. Just a different perspective.


  14. Steve,

    Let me give you another perspective – that of the mother of a YHS Class of 2008 graduate. My son went to Chapelle (we live in Normal Park), where he was well-prepared to go on to West Middle School. At West, he had excellent teachers in science, math and social studies and a truly inspiring English teacher in Cheryl Brown, who improved his writing at the same time that she instilled a love of American literature. As I am a professional journalist and author, this was as important to me as I’m sure it is to you. Monica Merritt, the principal at West, is the daughter of Herman Boone of “Remember the Titans” fame. Her positive “can do” attitude permeates the school. (By the way, grammar is no longer taught is most schools across the United States, which I consider to be a serious educational error of massive proportions.)

    Although YHS has had some rough spots ( won’t lie to you), it is in the midst of some wonderful improvements. Three years ago, Richard Weigel became the curriculum director of the district and has begun some amazing programs. These include the Early College Alliance, which Meredith mentioned, that puts YHS students on the EMU campus. There is also a science program that is a joint effort between EMU and YHS for students thinking of entering the health and medical professions, again on the EMU campus. I believe it’s called Allied Health. In addition, students with a bent toward engineering are being mentored and tutored by students of the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering and some of their classes are on that campus.

    We also have coordinated efforts with Washtenaw Community College, where courses – not all of which are counted as AP – can give achieving students an encouraging leg up toward their college careers. My own son, as an example, has received 16 credits at WCC in business and accounting. Those credits have encouraged him to continue on his educational path.

    Because Ypsilanti has many students whose families cannot afford to send them to college, the Ypsilanti Public School District is part of a consortium with Lincoln and Willow Run called the Regional Career Technical Center, which offers “skilled trades” courses in Graphic Arts, Culinary Arts, Computer Technology, Construction Technology, Auto Mechanics, Collision Repair and Child Care. Two more classes, as yet to be determined, will be added this coming year. Many students in these programs go on to college, using their skills to work their way through. For those without an academic interest, these programs provide them with the skills to go into the work force or to a technical school and remain honest, productive members of the community. I think you’ll agree that there is a need for electricians, plumbers, builders, etc. in this world. But, for those without the money for college, this provides a path for getting there anyway.

    I moved to Ann Arbor in 1973 to go to the University of Michigan and spent 16 years living in Ann Arbor. My older son graduated from Community High there before we moved to Ypsilanti. My younger son has now gone through the Ypsilanti schools. (They are 19 years apart in age, so I’ve now raised two “only” children.) Frankly, I do not believe the Ann Arbor schools to be one bit better than the Ypsilanti district. Both districts have strengths and weaiknesses. The only difference is that Ann Arbor is more adept at hiding its faults than Ypsilanti.

    Greenhills may, indeed, be the best fit for your son. But, in addition to his academic pursuits, you must weigh how well it prepares him in socialization skills and community aspects of his life. I have deliberately exposed my sons to others of all economic classes and skin colors and as many diversified cultures as possible so they will be prepared to handle all kinds of situations and relations in the “real world.” Both have learned to appreciate diversity and differences. The secondary school experience is so much more than just academics that I, personally, would never deprive my children of the public school adventure.

    What dismays me most about your decision is that you appear to have made it without gathering the facts about the Ypsilanti secondary schools first. I guess I expected better from someone to whom education is so obviously important.

  15. Kate: first off, see the stuff I already wrote. These things are always a personal decision, are contradictory, are not the same for everyone, etc., etc., etc. And I’ve been careful here to not say that Ypsilanti schools are bad– they were very good for Will at the elementary stage for sure, despite the “Principals Award.”

    Second, while I see your point about the need for electricians, plumbers, etc., a) I don’t think it’s fair to say that this is the sort of thing that Ypsi/Willow Run/Lincoln schools can do well (I suspect a lot of those kids want to go to college too), and b) that isn’t my kid. It’s funny that you mention that, because I was talking with a parent acquaintance outside of Estabrook about all this, and this person was talking about how their kids were interested in stuff other than school. For me and for what I know about my kid, the one who takes a book with him to read in the car on the way to the store and who “shushes” me when I try to ask him a question while he’s reading, that just seemed so foreign.

    Third, do not assume (as I think you are doing here a bit) that my wife and I made this decision lightly. We have both been teaching at EMU for 10 years now. Speaking for just myself, I’ve worked with hundreds of practicing and future teachers all over southeast Michigan, and I follow issues of schooling in this country and the state quite closely. Perspectives always differ of course, but I do feel quite confident in my interpretation of “the facts” of these different schools. I don’t think Ann Arbor schools are that much better than Ypsi schools (though I do think they are better); I do think that private schools like Greenhills can do a whole host of things that public schools cannot.

    Finally, about diversity. That is complicated too, but I guess the short answer for now is that this is one of the reasons we are staying in Ypsilanti for now, and one of the reasons why I am pretty sure that we will probably stay in Ypsi or Ann Arbor as long as we are in this area. If we didn’t have a commitment to living in a diverse and “real” world, I suspect we would have done something like moved to Saline, Milan, Dexter, or Chelesa.

  16. Steve,

    I did read the first post, as well as all the comments. I’m not trying to change your mind, as that would clearly be impossible. I am merely pointing out the good things going on in the YPSD secondary schools, about which you, in your comments, clearly showed you knew nothing.

    My own sons are not the skilled trade sort, either. You talk about your son taking a book in the car. That’s standard operating procedure in my family, where we have a personal library of over 3,000 books to choose from and I have separate bookcases devoted to biography and history, as well as a wall full of literature. Yet, my younger son took the RCTC Culinary Arts course so he could feed himself at a level above ramen noodles when he goes to college – on a scholarship.

    So, please disabuse yourself of the notion that because I mentioned RCTC I am advocating skipping college. On the contrary, my point was that RCTC offers many students a means to work their way through college where money is otherwise unavailable, while offering others a means of making an honest living. According to your stated liberal values, you should applaud that effort by public schools to offer these options.

    You will believe what you want to believe. I know more than one professor who puts his or her children in private schools. The proof, as always, will be how those children turn out as adults. As I already have an adult son who is a fine, upstanding citizen with a good-paying job and a family, I believe I can state with some authority that there is more than one path to success. I wish you the best on yours.

  17. Um, so you read the part where I said I thought Ypsi schools for Will at Estabrook were a great experience, where I commented on being at a graduation function with lots of kids from Ypsi high going on to great colleges, where I said I want to be clear to not go down the “us versus them” comparison? Okay….

    Of course there are many paths to success, and of course most of the kids who come out of Ypsilanti schools turn out to be fine and upstanding citizens. I think the same can be said of most of the schools around here, public, religious, private, or whatever. I’m just happy to have choices, to be honest.

  18. There are so many nuances here to comment on, the first being the “principal’s award” issue, which speaks to me loudest. This of course is just one of the many examples of our typical poor approach to discipline. Reward and punishment is ground into the children beginning in Kindergarten. Those children that were excluded from the award have probably been denied yearly rewards and experiences that the “good” kids enjoy for their full 6 years of public schooling. YPS are surely not the only school that approaches discipline so poorly. My own private school background included seeing children slapped, paddled and humiliated as discipline strategies. This is the one area I would cede that Greenhills would compare most favorably to WMS, EMS or YHS. Room for improvement…
    The other issue of this discussion that speaks to me is the great diversity that the population of YHS. I feel like my children, four whom have graduated from YHS with one left to graduate next year, are more open to all people, regardless of race, color, and any other differences. They are strong and confident and can handle any situation due to exposure to many different experiences they would never have encountered at a school such as Greenhills (positive & negative but all learning experiences). While traveling to many other schools with sports teams such as track, cross country and water polo, I have felt unsafe only once and that was at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor. YHS is preparing all kids from all backgrounds for a future, and while all is not perfect, what in life ever is? We are preparing our kids for real life not a safe bubble like existence.

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