But the reality is, our city has some issues too. And the issues in the South Bend Community Schools are merely a reflection of the broader community. To expect it to be any different, is to ask the Schools to be detached from the communities they serve. And that is something they cannot nor should not be.
But that is what I love about the schools -- they represent and serve our communities.
In a world of charter schools and vouchers, some schools can shape their desired environment. Just recently, when nearby Penn-Harris-Madison schools discussed opening their doors further to serve South Bend students, the conversation centered around whether the added income would be worth the "types" of kids it would bring. One board member stated, “I just would want to be comfortable that … we don’t change the character of our schools."
And so these schools pick and choose. Inviting in students and the funds that come with them, while finding ways to exclude others who may not fit the "standard" they are looking for.
But the South Bend Community Schools do not have that freedom. In years of plenty or want, they have the mandate to serve the families of South Bend. All of them. With all of the baggage and the beauty that comes along.
And I see this in so many that staff the schools--teachers, administrators, and support staff who are committed to pushing through difficult situations, with relatively little pay, and even less thanks. In conversations, you can hear their passion for justice & opportunity for all of the students, especially those who may lack support. These public servants could make more money elsewhere, or find easier positions with less time in classroom management, but they believe every kid deserves a chance at an education.
And this kind of thinking goes beyond the staff. I have met many parents who could afford to enroll their children in safer private schools or to transport them to higher-rated school districts, but instead decide to invest in the plight of the local schools with their time, energy, and children. Those families are many of the most caring, genuine, and sacrificial people I have ever met.
Finally, there is something about seeing my own kids learn as a part of their community, not separated from it. The South Bend Community Schools are the South Bend Community. And my children are neighbors in that community, by virtue of their participation beyond just their location. I love my children having friends of many cultures, races, languages and backgrounds. I love that my daughter came home from first grade furious to learn about what happened to Dr. King, and in kindergarten chose to dress up like Rosa Parks when challenged to dress like her hero. I love that both daughters have close friends from families where English is a second language.
Those are experiences I did not have. And they are beautiful parts of the South Bend Community.
South Bend has its warts, and the South Bend Schools (as members of the greater community) have theirs. But there is also something beautiful about our city, about our people, and about the stories that make up who we are. And the South Bend Schools reflect that beauty as well.
People often talk about the risks of public schools. They exist. But I'm just as concerned with the risks of missing out on what our community has to offer.