Lately I’ve been walking around in a daze with visions of kindergarten classrooms dancing in my head. While I’ve only toured two schools, I wasn’t planning on touring any. Tim and I always thought we had it decided: we believe in and support the mission of Catholic education. As such, the boys would attend our parish school. Later we would choose one of the two local Catholic high schools. And then they’d go on to college.
Oh – I forgot step number one: we’d plant a money tree in our backyard. (I jest.) (But not here.)
It’s important that you know how much this was part of the plan for us, because without that knowledge you can’t possibly understand the emotional shift that had to take place when we decided that it might be a better idea to look elsewhere. You see, by the time all three of our boys make it into Catholic grade school, we will be paying $1500 each month. Twelve months per year. And that’s if tuition doesn’t go up between now and then. I don’t know how families do it. I really don’t.
Slightly Tangential Rant: The case could be made, (of which I will provide the Reader’s Digest Version here) that the cost of Catholic elementary education does not fall in line with the pro-life teachings of the Church. Think I’m going extreme? Bear with me. As Catholics, we are encouraged (expected, really) to be open to God’s creative work in us and have large families, and are also encouraged to support our parishes by attending our Catholic schools and educating our children with a catholic worldview. But the cost of Catholic education continues to rise to the point where it is pricing itself out of reach for these large Catholic families. Are we expected to choose? Have a large family OR send your kids to Catholic school? Or are the Catholic schools getting to the point where they are going to price themselves out of existence? The price tag is already out of reach for many – how much longer can they go on like this? I don’t know. I have three children. Not a large family by any means. And yet, large enough to get us to the point that saying that it will be “a challenge” to get them through grade school is the severest of understatements.
Sure, the response is that providing this education for your children requires sacrifice. Well, OBVIOUSLY. But tell me what kind of sacrifices a family can make that will scrounge up an extra $1500 each month. That said, Tim and I have started weighing the sacrifice of NOT sending the boys to our parish school (School #1) in the interest of saving and being able to send them to Catholic high school. Accepting this change in thought has been heart wrenching for me. I like to make plans and stick to them. Changing things up after several years of planning to do something a certain way (okay, even after 5 minutes of planning to do things a certain way) has been PAINFUL. But we decided to look into a local charter school (Free!) about which everybody raves. It’s a school of choice (we’ll call it School #2) and it’s in such high demand that admission is conducted by solely by lottery (kindergarten) and waiting list (upper grades).
I toured the school a couple of weeks ago and, although I pretty much hated it initially, I’ve come around to the realization that what I hated the most was that it wasn’t School #1. What I liked the most? Well let’s see – how much the parents love it…the test scores that are head and shoulders above the other schools...the fact that 100% of the students in attendance are there because their parents have CHOSEN to send them there and have taken the time and energy to ensure their admission. There’s more, but the point is? I came around. I had gotten the point (as angsty and stressful as the process was) that I wanted Chris to attend that school. Even though it would be hard to choose not School #1, it would be a very smart move to choose School #2.
Last Saturday, Tim and I attended the admissions lottery. We went in knowing it was a gamble (it is a lottery after all) but I think we both really just expected that his number would fall within the admittance range. There had to be nearly 200 families there, each clutching their numbered tickets anxiously. The room buzzed with eager anticipation for the principal to take the stage. When she finally did, she explained the procedures that would follow and then announced how many spaces were available in the kindergarten lottery. (You see, they accept eighty kindergarten students each year…four classes of twenty…but priority is given to incoming siblings.) Based on the collective gasp that sucked all the air out of the room, I was not the only one who was surprised by the number.
TWENTY SIX SPACES AVAILABLE, to be filled by TWENTY SIX children of the TWO HUNDRED families in the room. Our ticket was number 73. As it turned out, the first ticket drawn was number 34. Thus, families numbered 34-59 jumped right up and ran to the admissions table. Families numbered 60+ dragged their lifeless bodies over to the waiting list table. Some just left and gave up altogether.
All is not lost. Christopher sits at number 13 on the waiting list and, while it seems unimaginable (based on the interest and the SHEER JOY of the parents in the room) that they would burn through that many spaces on the list by September, it’s possible that he’ll move up. (One of his preschool classmates is number 70!) One thing is for sure – he will hold his space on the list until he moves up to the top spot, whether that happens this summer or when he’s in fifth grade. At that point, we can either accept the spot and move him (thus securing sibling spots for Jake and Nate) or decline.
While I want to say that OBVIOUSLY we won’t decline, now I don’t know. I hear that if you get called up in the middle of the school year you have to accept the space immediately and TRANSFER SCHOOLS, otherwise you lose your spot. If someone can explain to me how that would be in the best interest of my sweet, sensitive boy – moving him away from his new friends, new teacher, new environment to be the new kid among an even larger community – then great. But I can’t see how that is possible. Right now, Tim and I are praying that whenever he gets called up, it won’t be in the middle of his kindergarten year. Or the middle of any year, for that matter.
In the meantime, today I brought in his registration to School #1. I’m happy that he will be going there, really I am. It’s a smaller, more close-knit community. He already has friends who go to school there. We’re over there all the time anyway, so he is very familiar with the grounds and most of the people. We even have family members who work for the parish.
I won’t pretend that I’m not anxious about this – that I’m not worried about his getting called up to School #2 in the middle of the year – that I’m not very concerned about the financials of this whole thing. But I will say this – I prayed. I prayed so hard about this. I BEGGED God to help us make this decision because I didn’t trust myself and my emotions about the whole thing. I plead for him to make clear to me which school was the most appropriate one for my boy – the best place for him to be. And what did he do? He took one out of the equation. He took away the one that I would have chosen. I have to trust, now, that my prayers have been answered rightly. As Tim encouraged me the other day, “we have to take heart in the knowledge that God will provide for the plan he has for us.”
Sigh. Sometimes I wonder why it’s not easier to trust the One who loves us so.