This last week our family got an e-mail from Minneapolis Public Schools reminding us it was time for our parent-teacher conference. In fact, not only did we get that e-mail, we also got a recorded phone call reminder, a notice sent through the School Messenger app and a written note sent home in our daughter’s “pasaporte,” her official folder used by her teacher.
And to top it off, this message was both in English and Spanish, as our school serves both an English- and Spanish-speaking population.
When our daughter entered kindergarten at Emerson Spanish Immersion Learning Center almost two months ago, I was anxious for what was to come. How would our 5-year-old manage without us? Would she talk to anyone and make new friends? And most of all, how would we know what she was actually doing in class? Believe me, getting a 5-year-old to answer a direct question is like pulling teeth.
I’m not going to lie — having our daughter start kindergarten was a challenge. Even navigating all the options for schools felt a bit overwhelming at times. Once we finally made our school choice, we as a family had to learn a new routine, new logistics and a new school system. But it was also a monumental occasion that was marked by caring administrators and educators who helped us adapt to our new normal.
After this most recent MEA weekend, where hardworking teachers get a chance for some professional development and recuperation from taking care of classrooms full of kids — and in the wake of “A parent’s-eye view of Minneapolis Public Schools” (Oct. 20) — I thought it might be useful to share with other Minneapolis parents wondering how best to educate their kids what the Minneapolis School District is doing well and why we are happy to be public school parents:
School transportation is highly sophisticated
This is definitely light years ahead of the public school bus experience that I had. Gone are the days of wondering where your child’s bus is. Our new routine is to diligently watch the Here Comes the Bus app while eating breakfast and then dash out to our stop once the bus enters our stop radius. In fact, she got a custom stop created just for her within half a block of our house. Whenever there is a hiccup, I call or e-mail the school’s dedicated transportation coordinator. My daughter has a bus tag that details her varying after-school schedule as it differs from day to day, and thus her bus stop. Via the app, while at work I get notifications when she is dropped off at her after-school program, giving me peace of mind.
Our urban school district values access over parking
We’re all adults here. And we live in a thriving urban environment that is consistently rated as one of the best places to live in the country because of access to parks, well-paying jobs and relatively affordable cost of housing. Our school is currently in the process of getting a new gym, an upgraded school office and renovated cafeteria. As part of that project, parking has been reduced. And guess what? I love that.
Because I am sending my kid to school to learn and to play — I don’t want her playground to be made smaller so that more adults can have an easy place to park their large vehicles. Yes, if I decide to drive my daughter to school, I might have to spend a few extra minutes looking for parking, but that is my choice. I would much rather be able to take transit with her to school (which I did on the first day as our bus route got figured out) or have a safe route to bike her to school (which I did on day two). If we truly want to be inclusive, not to mention keeping our kids safe from all the air pollution caused by our personal vehicles, we need to continue to make sure that kids and families have safe, affordable and sustainable transportation options to get to school and events.
That means I support Metro Transit as a school transportation option and look forward to having my daughter take public transit to school when she is older.
Our schools care a LOT about what parents think
In my first two months as a Minneapolis public school parent, I admittedly have been a little overwhelmed with all the new things I have to learn. But I have been so impressed with the compassion that both the district and the school have shown to us as a family.
During transportation hiccups, I have talked to caring dispatchers at the district who have calmly looked into my concerns and stayed beyond their shift end times to help me solve bus issues. The school secretary knows who I am just by my voice. Our kindergarten teacher has invited me to visit the classroom anytime (which I have done). I’ve been able to attend “Coffee with the Principal” and learn directly about school projects and learning methods. And these are just the personal interactions. I have a whole section of my phone dedicated to the Minneapolis Public Schools — from SchoolCafé, the app that helps monitor lunch money, to Seesaw, the way our daughter’s kindergarten teacher communicates with us, to the Here Comes the Bus app.
Like other schools in the Minneapolis Public School District, Emerson experiences challenges related to poverty, housing instability and more. I appreciate the district’s efforts to address some of these issues, such as partnering with the Sheridan Story to give students bags of food for the weekend when school is not in session (and thus no school breakfast/lunch).
No, adjusting to having a kindergartner is not easy. But as I watch her sound out letters and instruct her younger sister on how to write her name, it is such a gratifying experience to be a Minneapolis Public School parent.
Rebecca Alper lives in Minneapolis.