Around this time last year, I wrote an article in The Southwester advocating for our neighborhood public elementary school, Amidon-Bowen. It was a call to arms, asking neighborhood families to consider enrolling their children in Amidon-Bowen and to counter the status quo of socioeconomic and racial school segregation in our neighborhood, city, and country. I am happy to report that a number of new Southwest families joined Amidon-Bowen for the 2016-17 school year, resulting in a higher proportion of in-boundary families attending the school.

It’s been an exciting year at Amidon-Bowen so far. We have a terrific new principal, Ms. Tamika Sykes; an increasing level of parent involvement; a new focus on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM); an increase in fundraising; improved communication strategies; and more volunteer efforts. I recently asked some of the new families to share their impressions of Amidon-Bowen. Specifically, I asked families three questions: Why did you decide to enroll your child at Amidon-Bowen? Did you have concerns about sending your child at Amidon-Bowen and if so, what were they? What are your current impressions of Amidon-Bowen? Below are their answers.

Grace Hu

Why did you decide to enroll your child at Amidon-Bowen?

We wanted to give our neighborhood school a shot. After learning more about Amidon-Bowen, we were optimistic about the future of the school. Plus, we did not want to trek across town (during rush hour) on a daily basis just for preschool.

Did you have concerns about sending your child to Amidon-Bowen and if so, what were they?  

We had a range of concerns, such as student behavior, school facilities, and student achievement. However, the more we learned about the school (through open houses, meetings with school leadership, and play dates with prospective families), the less concerned we were. In fact, after we had done our research, we felt very good about the school and ranked Amidon as our first and only choice in the lottery.

What are your current impressions of Amidon-Bowen?

The school is definitely making progress but challenges still exist. Test scores remain low and while there are pockets of academic success in the school, it is not yet a high-performing organization. However, there is a movement by parents in the neighborhood to transform the school. This effort was initiated by a few parents years ago. Now we have a team of parents that is growing every year.

I want to be part of that movement, and I want my daughter to know someday that I fought to make our neighborhood school better so that she and other kids in Southwest could have a quality education. Some of us can afford to move to an area with better schools or trek across town daily to another DCPS school. But many families don’t have that luxury.

There are signs of promise at Amidon: a new STEM education program, school leadership that is committed and focused, and partnerships with community organizations that also want to see Amidon succeed. I can’t wait to see what happens.

Ava Millstone

Why did you decide to enroll your child at Amidon-Bowen?

After visiting over a dozen schools, I thought to myself, “How will I feel if we ‘win’ the lottery and get in one of the most sought after schools in another neighborhood?” The main feeling I imagined was a sinking feeling. I would experience worry over having to figure out a treacherous commute and disappointment over missing out on being a part of the community of neighbors and friends at Amidon-Bowen. That’s when I decided to put Amidon-Bowen No. 1 on our lottery list, and I stopped worrying because our spot was assured.

Did you have concerns about sending your child to Amidon-Bowen and if so, what were they?  

I heard from some that although the school was good for the younger grades, things get more chaotic and less rigorous in the older grades. Whether or not that is true, we have five years to help Amidon-Bowen improve before my son even enters the third grade!

I also feel strongly that attending our neighborhood school is the right thing to do for my kids and our community. If Amidon-Bowen is “not good enough” for my own kids, what am I saying through my decisions about the children of my neighbors? Sending my child to a “better” school would be leveraging my privilege to perpetuate the racist systems that have plagued our country since its inception. I believe in social justice and equal educational opportunities for all. Sending my kids to Amidon-Bowen is probably the single most important action I can take to live my values.

What are your current impressions of Amidon-Bowen?

My son’s teacher is so wonderful, responsive, warm, and smart. I also like that his class goes on field trips all the time. Although I don’t know every teacher, I have met and talked with many of them, and I’m excited about what some of them are teaching. There is some amazing stuff going on.

Jennifer Ibrahim

Why did you decide to enroll your child at Amidon-Bowen?

My decision to enroll my daughter at Amidon-Bowen was a complete 180 from my thoughts prior to pregnancy. At the time, I thought that by the time I’d have a child that was old enough to go to school, I would have already moved out to the suburbs to find schools in greener pastures. However, the longer I stayed in Southwest, the more attached I became to the area, my neighbors, and the quadrant’s surprisingly small town feel. (Sometimes it feels like Cheers!) I loved being able to walk to work, to the waterfront, to the museums on the mall, and to our brand new amenities, like Arena Stage and the revitalized 4th Street. I watched as Marty won grants for Amidon-Bowen and updated the school in so many ways. And I became friends with neighbors who were committed to giving the school a chance and seeing it through. I was inspired by their trust in the school enough to visit for myself and give it a fair look. I liked what I saw. I saw loving teachers, happy children, well-appointed classrooms, new playground equipment, a great gymnasium, an award-winning music teacher, an updated library, and staff and parents who truly cared about the school.

Did you have concerns about sending your child to Amidon-Bowen and if so, what were they?  

Definitely. Having attended a low-income middle school myself, my concerns were mostly related to peer interactions, picking up bad language, and general safety. Thus far, those concerns have thankfully been unfounded.

What are your current impressions of Amidon-Bowen?

My daughter is happier at Amidon-Bowen than she ever was at either of her day care centers and that speaks volumes to me. The ratio for her preschool class is unmatched in DC for her age level. She is one of 14 classmates with THREE teachers! Her teachers are also wonderful. I constantly see the students hugging them, sitting in their laps, being carried in their arms, and I really do feel like the teachers treat our children as their own children.

The teachers and administration are also very responsive to our thoughts and concerns. For example, because parents expressed that STEM and world language were priorities last year, we now have an amazing STEM teacher this year and our kids go to Spanish class once a week. In addition, after advocating that the school should take more advantage of the field trip opportunities around DC, my daughter’s class has visited or will visit seven different Smithsonian museums.

Finally, my Arab-American daughter is in a class with black, white, Asian, Jewish, and Hispanic children, and I think that is fantastic. Today, her class did an “experiment” where they took different colored eggs and cracked them open to discover that despite their differing shades and speckles, the yolk inside was the same. For her to be learning about diversity and equality at such a young age is more than I could have ever asked for.

Yvonne Lee

Why did you decide to enroll your child at Amidon-Bowen?

Getting two children (ages four and one) out of the house each morning is a modern-day miracle. My husband and I didn’t want to overly complicate our already busy lives. Amidon-Bowen is a short walk in the neighborhood. We also are pleased about the very active parent engagement and really liked the school staff. After-school care is a non-negotiable for my family and we are grateful Amidon-Bowen offers this option for working parents.

Did you have concerns about sending your child to Amidon-Bowen and if so, what were they?  

There is no language immersion. However, after we enrolled our child this year, we found out there is a Spanish class. At home, our child sings to herself in Spanish and is continuously asking me how to say something in Spanish (which I do not know).

What are your current impressions of Amidon-Bowen?

The school staff is one of the school’s strengths: They are caring and committed. Additionally, they have cultivated a very welcoming learning environment. Prior to enrolling in Amidon-Bowen, my child used to hide under tables at the thought of school. Now she is disappointed when there is a day off.

Sylvia Cabus

Why did you decide to enroll your child at Amidon-Bowen?

When we moved from Capitol Hill to Southwest, we wanted to experience the same community spirit that was centered on the local schools. We were already interested in Amidon-Bowen when our son was a baby, and we were influenced by discussions with Amidon-Bowen parents who shared the similar concerns and interests. We also benefited from meeting the former and current principal at play dates and other community events. Lastly, we were also happy with the ability to walk to school, the range of activities available to students, the pre-K methodology that builds on what our son learned in day care, and not having to do the full lottery.

Did you have concerns about sending your child to Amidon-Bowen and if so, what were they?  

We are raising our son to be bilingual, and we were initially interested in immersion schools. But we are also interested in STEM, art, and music, all of which are priorities at Amidon-Bowen, and we also knew that our son had other opportunities for foreign language. (He currently goes to French Saturday school.) We wanted to make sure that our son went to a diverse school and had friends from different backgrounds and learned social skills from an early age, in addition to academics.

What are your current impressions of Amidon-Bowen?

Since our son started in August, he has absolutely exploded in his conversational skills, which we credit directly to the classroom environment. It’s also great to receive on a regular basis support materials on how to reinforce our son’s skills at home. We are also very lucky that our son and his classmates go on regular field trips and also visit the library.

We are generally happy with Amidon-Bowen, and the few concerns we have (for example, potty-training) are individual issues and not institutional ones. We have very open and regular communication with his teachers, who have been very supportive.

 

Looking ahead to the next school year, I’ll conclude by stating that Amidon-Bowen is still our collective challenge and opportunity. Each family can and should make what it feels is the right decision for their children, but when Southwest families opt to send their children to schools outside of our neighborhood, it’s a loss for all of us. Yet as more parents choose to send their children to Amidon-Bowen, that means more time, energy, and resources that will be available to continue improving educational opportunities for all the children of our neighborhood.

Of course, making the decision about where to send your child to school can feel daunting: “School choice” and the DCPS lottery will make any parent frantic. Because “choice” exists, parents scramble to understand what the “best” choice is; I certainly did two years ago. We go on hearsay and reputation because those of us who are working have limited free time to attend open houses all over the city. We come up with spreadsheets filled with everything from curriculum philosophy to commuting times. How do we really know what the right choice for our child is?

I won’t pretend I have all the answers, but I think I’ve learned a lot about what works for my family. I started as a nervous parent willing to give Amidon-Bowen a try. Now, I understand that sending my four-year-old to a school like Amidon-Bowen means that he’s getting a truly holistic education. Not only is he thriving academically, he’s learning how to make friends with children of racial and cultural backgrounds different than his own. He’s experiencing true diversity, with no majority racial group in his classroom. He’s learning to treat all people with dignity and respect. And these civic values, important in their own right, have additional school-wide benefits as well: Research has shown that school integration can reduce the racial and socioeconomic achievement gap by up to 50%.

So although some parents may opt for other schools, I continue to believe that Amidon-Bowen is the right choice for my child and our family, and so do an increasing number of neighborhood families. The parents at Amidon-Bowen are some of the best folks I’ve ever met, and it is a joy to work with them. And it looks like our numbers may be growing: According to lottery data, as of January, 15 families already ranked Amidon-Bowen as their No. 1 choice for Pre-K through third grade for the 2017-18 school year, nearly double the number as this time last year.

Amidon-Bowen is on the rise. Will you join us? #DCPSrising

To learn more:

  • Join us for an open house for prospective parents and community members alike on Wednesday, March 8 at 9 a.m. Stay tuned for details about an open house in April.
  • Attend a neighborhood play date and let your child run free in a large, open space. All are welcome. The winter play dates will take place on Saturday, March 11 from 10 a.m. to noon in the school’s multipurpose room.
  • Visit our website at amidonbowen.org.
  • For additional questions, please email amidonpta@gmail.com.

By: Betsy Wolf

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