When Charles and I moved to this area almost eight years ago from Boston where we had spent most of our adult lives, our daughters were pre-school age. Naturally, when we were searching for our new home, we inquired about neighborhoods with strong public elementary schools because our children’s education ranked high on our priority list.
As we were new in the area, however, it wasn’t easy to learn about which schools provided nurturing environments for their students. We had some anecdotal data from my colleagues at work, but we had too little information for any consistent patterns to emerge. Additionally, our Internet searches give us mostly quantitative data such as students’ verbal and math scores on standardized tests, but not the qualitative data we needed to assess whether our children’s strengths would be nurtured by the school’s educational environment. We were searching for a balanced approach to children’s intellectual, emotional, and social development, but our searching came up with nothing.
Although we weren’t looking for private schools, when the sellers of the house that we ended up buying mentioned that they were very happy with the school where their sons were attending, Charles and I were intrigued. However, when they mentioned that it was a school for “gifted children,” I immediately scoffed. I said to Charles, “All children are ‘gifted’ in their own, unique way. Besides, if ‘gifted’ means ‘high intelligence quotient,’ why would I want my daughters to be with other smart but emotionally and socially dysfunctional kids? I am surrounded by plenty of adults like that at work, and I don’t want my daughters to grow up to be like them.”
My comment struck a chord with Charles as well. He also dealt with his share of accomplished individuals who were highly intellectual, but severely under-developed in social and emotional intelligence, during his years at Harvard as an undergraduate and graduate student. Furthermore he understood how often I became frustrated at work because of its culture that rewarded anyone for being “smart” without considering their anemic common sense or lack of leadership. Nonetheless, he encouraged me to keep an open mind and to join him in doing our due diligence on this school. He didn’t want us to summarily dismiss the school based on our assumptions and impressions without fact-checking.
He didn’t have to twist my arm because I knew he was right and I was curious to learn more about the school. After all, we wanted to make sure we exercised and fulfilled our parental privilege and duty to find the right school for our daughters’ educational needs. I admit that I was pleasantly surprised when we went to the open house to learn more about the school program and educational philosophy. The head of the school spoke about the school philosophy of “Children First, Gifted Second” and how the school provided an emotionally safe environment for gifted children who often exhibited certain common qualities such as being sensitive, risk-averse, and perfectionists. Her talk was convincing enough to melt my skepticism as I envisioned a nurturing and safe environment for our daughters as they entered their Pre-Kindergarten year at that school.
More than anything, I was sold on her pitch regarding the school’s commitment to creating and providing a socially and emotionally safe environment for young children. College seemed way ahead at the time, and I wasn’t as focused on learning about the school’s academic program because both Charles and I held the view that our daughters would learn how to write and read, as well as add and subtract well enough by the time they went to college. Our primary goal was for S and J to grow up to be socially and emotionally well-adjusted young adults with a healthy respect for themselves and for others by the time they graduated from the school.
In addition, I hoped that the parent community would consist of like-minded folks because I believe “it takes a village to raise a child.” I don’t know if it is an old-fashioned belief, but that was how I was raised in Korea until I came to the U.S. when I was thirteen years old. My friends’ parents cared about me and my growth just as my parents cared about my friends and their conduct because my friends and I were spending most of our waking hours at school away from our families. How we behaved (or not behaved), what we said, did, and heard, and who we were friends (or “enemies”) with, and with whom we had quarrels and fights at school, all affected our community of children, their parents, and teachers.
Parents were interested in knowing other children’s characters (or lack thereof), and teachers were as interested in developing each student’s character as a member of the community and society as they were in teaching book knowledge. Virtues that were praised and cultivated among children included: honesty, kindness, collaboration and cooperation, leadership and good sportsmanship. Each month, a student who was deemed to have shown most of these qualities was acknowledged at school assembly, along with the student who had the highest academic grade. By no means was my elementary school environment perfect. However, I remember belonging to a community in which parents and teachers were working together toward their common vision of raising children to become future leaders no matter where we ended up in our stations in life.
So, when S and J were accepted to attend the school, Charles and I wanted to acquaint ourselves with their classmates as well as their classmates’ parents. The summer before they entered their Pre-Kindergarten year, we invited everyone for a party at our house to meet and get to know one another before the children started school. Many of the parents were like Charles and me, sending their first child to school with mixed emotions fueled by both excitement and trepidation. It feels like just yesterday when the whole class and their famillies gathered in our backyard with food and drink to connect while the 4-year-old “munchkins” were running around in the yard, playing games and having fun in the sun. Now my daughters and some of their school friends have grown to be my height!
Looking back, Charles and I had no inkling that at our daughters’ school, we would come to understand all too well what Oogway said in Kung Fu Panda:
“One often meets his destiny on the road he takes to avoid it.”
(To be continued…)