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Finding Our Home in BPS

Monday, November 21, 2016 
Photo - Marie, Eva,and Josie Chapuran all attend the Ellis Mendell Elementary School (K1 & 5th grade)

Marie, Eva, and Josie Chapuran all attend
the Ellis Mendell Elementary School
(K1 & 5th grade)

By Michelle LeBlanc, Parent, Jamaica Plain Resident

The process of choosing a school in the Boston Public School District can feel overwhelming. It appears to be a big urban school district with a complex lottery and multiple choices that cause many parents to break out in cold sweats in the middle of the night. The Arkansas town I grew up in offered no such choices--you went to you elementary school, which fed to a middle school and then to the one high school. End of story.

In 2010 our oldest daughter was turning four, so we began discussing enrolling her in K1 in BPS. We asked around, visited the schools in our zone, asked questions, and saw several schools that would be a good fit for our daughter.

The school that made our hearts soar just a little more than the others was the Ellis Mendell Elementary in Roxbury. This small, brick, K-5 school was up to exciting things. A dynamic new principal, a hard-working parent council and a welcoming and warm environment drew us in. We put it first on our daughter’s list of choices and the stars aligned.

Eva is now in 5th grade, her last year at the Mendell. Her twin sisters Josie and Marie just entered K1, all putting on their uniforms every day and excited to go to school. They create amazing artwork, learn with new technology, and grow every day at the Magical Mendell.

So, why did we choose BPS? And more important, why have we stayed?

First, despite a large and complex school system, it feels like a community. We are lucky to live in this messy and complicated city. As someone who works educating kids about history, I was keenly aware of the long and divisive history of busing and how many white middle-class families had abandoned their neighborhoods and public schools in the 1970’s and 1980’s. This is old news, but it is also a legacy that Boston as a city has been attempting to address for decades.

It is important to us that our girls attend public school. My husband and I are both products of public schools and it is where we learned that the world is made of all kinds of people. The Mendell is an inclusion school, with students of differing needs blended together in classrooms. The faculty of the school work as a tight team, thinking both broadly about the whole school and the rigorous and supportive environment they want while also thinking about how to help each student live up to their potential. Inclusion l is a tool used to develop a community of parents and students of all backgrounds. This process is never perfect, like life, but the very act of awareness and discussion makes for an environment of which all of us can be proud.

So what do I tell parents who are considering BPS? Like any education system, it is a work in progress. You will need to ask questions and meet the teachers and parents to develop a feel for what works for your child. This is not a bad thing. In fact, it will give you a sense of ownership once your child is placed in a school. I also tell parents of incoming students that there are amazing things happening in BPS. At the Mendell and in my work, I see and interact with kids from BPS every day. Our family is one link in the BPS community, working hard to learn and thrive in a city that has always valued education above all. It feels like home.