THE PRESCHOOL CHRONICLES
Lesson (Re-)Learned: Outward Appearances Can Be Deceiving
Plus, Reputation Does Not a Love Match Make
There's a nearby preschool that I had already scratched off the "possible" list because it's unfortunately situated on a treeless, sun-bleached boulevard near our house. The actual school building is reminds me of a trailer (like those "portable classrooms" we suffered through in middle school) and the schoolyard sits behind an ugly chain-link fence set too close to the too-narrow sidewalk. Just yech.
Just the same, my adorably blissfully-unaware husband pointed it out and said, "I assume that's one of those fancy preschools that's impossible to get into?" I scoffed, but took the note and signed up for a tour.
Lo and behold, during this week of preschool tours, I think this outwardly ugly school is one of my favorites so far. Inside, it's pristine and cozy, with lots of creative projects on display from the children, nooks they can settle into, a garden they grew pumpkins in and just an overall energy of being a happy safe space for kids whose families share the same general values as us.
The preschool director was a mensch (is there a female version of the word?), and I immediately felt comfortable with her as a fellow young working mom. (Of course, she has more kids of her own than she can count on one hand, and I have one, but still.) Her kids go to the school, she's obviously offering all of the kids (not just her own) a nurturing, healthy, values-instilling place to spend the day--she talked about how they work to "slow the kids down" which the more I think about the more I like--and it just seemed like a smart, sweet place to send a bunch of babies for their first "educational experience." It rocketed up my list of candidates, and hey, best of all, it's right around the corner in the middle of our non-gentrified neighborhood.
I'm not saying it would be heaven for everyone, but I felt great about it as a future option for our little kiddo. Even though this little school run, by a modest, non-self-aggrandizing woman, is only three years old now and has therefore barely made a mark on the local education scene, I suspect that given time, this school will grown in reputation and stature, simply by dint of the quality of education offered.
Conversely, today I toured the fanciest, most exclusive preschool in our immediate area (OK, so there's one other one that might even be fancier, but it's so expensive it's not genuinely in the consideration set), and after hearing everyone rave it about it from top to bottom, I was surprised to find that I was less overjoyed with it than I had imagined I would be.
The school was unequivocally lovely, and the children all appeared happy and content, but the director seemed a tad doctrinaire for my taste, and the entire operation was so outrageously pretty and precious that it verged on twee. Especially after hearing the director's statement of principles, my overall impression on the walkthrough, upon observing all of the adult-oriented labeling and the artistic tableaux arranged hither and thither, was that this school was almost a child-development museum more than it was a place for real live children.
That said, the real live children who go there obviously lacked for nothing; it's no doubt a delightful place to spend the preschool years; and I admire the basic principles and philosophy behind it, but I also don't want life to be all downhill from preschool for my future publicly-educated child. That might be a terrible impulse for a mother to have--to expose her child to the honest ugliness of things--but somehow it feels more true to me than the impossibly stylized fairyland of this school.
Don't get me wrong, I'm sure we'd be thrilled to get in there, and in the unlikely event we got in we'd probably run off to register so fast we'd leave a dust cloud behind us, but at the moment, I've actually set my reach-school sights on another little school in the area. That school is less storied, although it still has a sterling reputation, it has much the same beauty and substance, but my impression of that school and its director was that it really was about our real live children and not just a dialectic showplace for a director fascinated with her own clarity of purpose.