Friday, March 19, 2010

What Does She See?

I registered Lola for the big K a few days ago!!!! She is super excited to attend "big kid" classes. Her school (if I chose this one) is a five minute walk from our home.

Flushed with excitement and nervousness, we stormed through the front doors. The building had that paper, pencil, Pine Sol, institution odor about it. We registered in the library and copies of her birth certificate and immunization records were made. We passed by the gym and cafeteria looking for the Kindergarten classes.

Lola was running ahead of me pointing to all the student artwork on the walls. "I draw better than that!" Gibson was leaving a trail of pretzels falling from the stroller, marking our way to this higher education adventure.

We entered the first classroom. I had to abandon the stroller at the bottom of the steps and carried Gibson. There were several small tables set up with crayons, paper, puzzles. The room was open and sunny with waist high artwork and education posters tacked about the room. Bright cubbies held children's belongings. Further down the hall, windows overlooked the playground.

We met the first teacher Mrs. Bell. I recognized her from my church. Introductions were made and Lola was asked to make herself a name tag. Mrs. Bell noticed Gibby desperately squirming to get down and investigate. "And who is this?" I picked up a hint of iciness in her tone. "This is my baby Gibson" Lola proudly said. Mrs. Bell didn't ask in that "he's so cute I want to dunk him in my coffee" kind of way. Uh, was she irritated? I reserved my judgement to see what would happen next. "Do you mind if I put him down? There aren't any ramps or access for a stroller." Much too quickly she said it would not be a good idea and he might make a mess in the room and then "every parent would want to let their kids roam around." Wasn't that the point of this open house? The postcard I received in the mail said children and families welcome to pre register??!!!

With a dismissive turn she told her assistant to set Lola up with a project. OK, I thought, let's try this again. I asked how large her classes were what the kids were learning about. She was sitting near her desk and waved her hand over to another table. "There's a photo album and a book we put together about Chinese New Year." She genuinely seemed disinterested and was not making eye contact with me. With the photo album in my hand and Gibson in the other arm I asked if her classes were ethnically diverse. Not looking at me and with her hands on her lap, shrugged "I have no control over that." Without missing a beat I retorted "Of course, if that were the case I would ask you to tell me today's winning lottery numbers!"

By this point my blood was boiling and Gibson and I had had enough! Lola was coloring a picture and I said we had to go. Other parents had filtered into the room and Mrs. Bell was handing out name tags to be filled in. Among the chaos we slipped out. I could hear parents asking questions and children's voices from the hallway. We found the second class and tentatively walked in.

"We have a Lola, I've never had a Lola in my class before!" Lola looked down at her name tag and beamed at Mrs. Isles. "Welcome come on in, I see you already made your name tag." Mrs. Isles was enthused and eager to know us. I asked if I could let Gibson down and she held her arms out to him. He happily went to her and she set him up with crayons and paper at a little work table. She asked Lola where she attended pre school and what her interests were. She explained what her kids were working on and showed me a daily schedule they followed. She told me I could schedule a time to sit in on her class and observe or have open play with her students so Lola and even Gibson could join in for half an hour.

Later that evening I told Sean about our day. I mulled over my exchange with Mrs. Bell for a few days. I am not one to pull the race card. Fortunately, I've had positive exchanges in my community as a multi racial family. My town is not an ethnic hot spot but there is a percentage of African American families and Latino families. I did have one nasty comment from a woman in the grocery store, who asked if I was "babysitting" that little boy.

I phoned the school Principal and relayed my experience. Only later in my telling did I reveal Gibson's race. She listened and apologized and said somehow she would see to it that Lola would not end up in Mrs. Bell's class. Her professionalism and consideration was well appreciated.

Did Mrs. Bell discriminate against us, against Gibson, and ultimately against Lola? Was she just having a bad day? Were we the target of a frustrated teacher on her way to retirement? I think I will give her a second chance. I will schedule open play for Lola and Gibson in her class and see what happens.

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