About school choice in a rural town

I asked people in Indian Valley what I should write about for my My Turn column in the paper  and pretty unanimously people said the one thing I vowed not to write about: The Schools.

I vowed not to for a few reasons. I receive hate mail on a regular basis now if I cover one school. I try in vain to explain that honestly I don’t just know by osmosis what either school is doing. When people send press releases and photos I say ah-ha! I should check that out. I never sit in my office and think, “I know! I’ll make everyone mad by only covering this or only covering that.

I also vowed not to write about schools as a promise to my mother. As a family we are still reeling with the idea that my car was vandalized on April 23 while parked outside a GHS/IVA meeting for almost three hours late on that rainy night.

My hero of literary journalism has always been Sacramento native, Joan Didion. In her work as a journalist she instructs to try and be invisible and write down what everyone says–your subjects are their own worst enemies that way. They will say things. You just wait. Note your surroundings. How did these people and the surroundings come together in this time or place? That’s where the story lies. That’s exactly my approach. She’s brilliant. Why go elsewhere for tutorial?

So I listen and write down everything that’s said and I take note of the context of which it is being said and surroundings. That’s my objective unbiased approach.

But we live in a tiny community. My husband works for the school district, as do many of my friends and acquaintances. I taught English for 17 years, the last 11 at Feather River College. I do have opinions about instruction based on my experiences and professional development both in and out of the county.

It’s no secret that my son attends Indian Valley Academy, and Taylorsville Schoolhouse prior to that. My daughter goes to the Plumas Charter’s Greenville Learning Center and went to TSH before that.

For our family those choices of education, given the resources available, were the best fit for our children. As I’m sure many parents will agree, you raise your kids the same but they don’t turn out the same and they don’t learn the same either. What works for my daughter often doesn’t work for my son and vice versa.

In our household all four of us learn differently. My husband has the ability to teach himself things and the strange rare ability to ask questions, seek answers and even directions (I know, ladies, I know, where did I get this guy?). I tried to teach myself how to knit for five years out of books and couldn’t do it so I took Cheryl Flint’s knitting class to get the basics down. She literally had to hold my hands in place for me to get it.

My daughter has scary memorization skills I wish I had. She can remember facts as if she just read them from five years ago. She’s ready to be done with the school day before it starts each day and is constantly driven to move on. My son is brilliantly empathetic and observant—and he often works at his own pace.

Each of the four of us needed to be in an environment where we thrive. But somehow our choices—as has happened to other families in the valley—are looked upon with disdain. I can assure you we weren’t trying to slight anyone with our choices. We were trying to attempt what was best for our family at the time. I often spent lots of extra time supplementing topics that I think are important and aren’t covered adequately in any school.

I often liken the choice of charter schools to when I became vegetarian or when I decided to breastfeed my children. In both cases, I chose a diet that was best for me and for my children—I wasn’t trying to impress or oppose anyone. But my choices made other people defensive.

“Carrots scream in pain too you know,” an ex-friend yelled at me once. “There’s nothing wrong with eating meat,” yelled another. My mother, who didn’t breastfeed us, and I got into more fights that first month of my son’s life. My every move seemed to be a negative commentary on how I was raised (we are thankfully passed that now).

Likewise my choices as a taxpayer, a mother, and an educator are questioned because of where my kids go. And my car gets vandalized. And my email inbox gets nasty messages from old ladies who don’t know that modern technology can trace their anonymous hate.

As a journalist and a former educator, I’m not advocating for any one method and delivery of education. I’ve seen all kinds of methods fail and succeed. I’ve taught students at FRC who graduated from PCS and PUSD. Some of them were great students; some of them were not. Sometimes where they went to school was a factor; sometimes it was not.

As a taxpayer and a citizen I want quality education for all so that graduates can make smart and literate political and social choices in their futures.

As a mother, I’m doing what’s best for my two children who are my responsibility in this world—nothing more, nothing less.

About Margaret Elysia Garcia

Margaret Elysia Garcia is the author of short story ebook collection Sad Girls and Other Stories, and the audiobook Mary of the Chance Encounters, and the co-founder and lead playwright of Las Pachucas, theatrical troupe. She teaches creative writing and theatre in a California state prison.
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