Photo caption: Amidon-Bowen students won third place in a city-wide poetry slam with their original poem.
If you have a child entering pre-K next school year, you’re probably all too familiar with the DC Public Schools (DCPS) school lottery drama. This is a peak time of year for researching school options, attending open houses, and discussing school lottery strategy with fellow parents—and for anxiety in general. How does the lottery work? What are my chances of getting into a “good” school? What happens if my child doesn’t get into one?
But what is a good school? What does a good school look like or do differently than other schools? These are the questions that I wrestled with several years ago when I was deciding where to send my child for preschool in DC.
Flash forward three years later, I am now the PTA president of our Southwest neighborhood elementary school, Amidon-Bowen, where my son is now in kindergarten and thriving. I’ve learned a lot over the past few years. Let me share with you some reasons why I think Amidon-Bowen is a good school.
A good school is one with good teachers. Research shows that teachers matter a lot. In fact, your child’s teacher is the single most important school-based resource impacting your child’s learning. During our time at Amidon-Bowen, we have benefitted from our child being exposed to truly excellent teachers. My family does not take this blessing for granted—we are well aware that if our son attended another school, we may not necessarily get the same quality of teachers as we have experienced at Amidon-Bowen.
A good school is one that focuses on the whole child. During the preschool years, it is important that your child develops social-emotionally, and shows gains in empathy and self-regulation. At Amidon-Bowen, children participate in learning centers, which target children’s social-emotional skills and allow them to learn through creative play. In addition, Amidon-Bowen provides a well-rounded education, and all children participate in one “special” activity daily. Specials include music, art, physical education, library, Spanish, or STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). Each special is run by a different teacher in a different classroom in the school, so students have the opportunity to move around and be exposed to many different teachers and subjects.
A good school has a positive school climate. School climate is related to a host of children’s academic and mental health outcomes and is influenced by caring teachers and paraprofessionals, peers, and the broader school environment and local community. If I had to describe my experiences at Amidon-Bowen in one word, that word would be community. Amidon-Bowen provides community not only for my son, but also for me and the rest of my family. It has been an unexpected joy to engage in my neighborhood school and build so many close relationships with fellow Southwest residents.
Yet despite all the good things happening at Amidon-Bowen, I sometimes feel an uphill battle in encouraging Southwest community members to rally around their neighborhood school. To put it simply, the issue for some prospective parents is that Amidon-Bowen serves too many low-income or low-achieving students. Many parents define a good school as one having high average student test scores. And in DC, schools with high test scores are mostly those serving wealthy students.
But your child can get a good education at Amidon-Bowen. Although the negative effects of poverty can manifest themselves in high-poverty schools, research shows that these effects decline in schools with even a modest amount of socio-economic integration. This is because in schools with socio-economic integration, there are more parents who advocate for school resources.
We have a chance here and now to make a difference in the lives of all Southwest children. It requires time and energy, but the work matters. We could really use your help. Do you want your child to attend a school with a certain resource? Then join us and advocate for that resource. In fact, you may actually spend less time advocating for that resource for Amidon-Bowen than commuting across the city on a daily basis for your child to attend an out-of-boundary school.
Ultimately, everyone has to ask themselves what it is that they want for their child. What do I want for my child? I want my child to make the world a better place. It is so clear to me that our world needs leaders with wisdom and empathy. How can my child gain wisdom and empathy if he only ever interacts with other children who look exactly like him? What better way to learn how to see people for who they are than to send him to a truly racially and socio-economically diverse school?
You will decide how you will define a good school. You will decide whether school segregation will remain the status quo in our neighborhood or whether we will rally around and integrate our neighborhood school and improve outcomes for all Southwest children.
I encourage you to attend an open house at Amidon-Bowen or make an appointment with the school to observe a pre-K classroom. I believe you’ll see a good school.
Dates for upcoming open houses and winter play dates are (all will take place at the school):
- 24: Open house from 9 – 10 a.m.
- 3: Winter play date from 10:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
- March 3: Winter play date from 10:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
- April 4: Open house from 9 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.
Don’t have kids but would like to get involved? We’d love to have you! There are a number of ways to get involved (see www.amidonbowen.org/support/). The Amidon-Bowen PTA meets monthly, generally on the first Tuesday of the month at 6 p.m. in the school library. Check the calendar (www.amidonbowen.org/calendar/) for specific dates.
By: Betsy Wolf
President, Amidon-Bowen Elementary School PTA