Leaving a school you’ve grown to love and starting somewhere new is tough for military kids. For the most part my family has had incredible luck with the schools the kids have attended, but even though we love them now, our introduction to the schools here in Washington was less than stellar.
The girls were so excited that morning! We all were! The first day at a new school can be daunting, but it’s also exciting! New classes, new clubs, new friends! Yay! We set off first to the elementary school. I had called Central Office a few days before to ensure I had all the appropriate paperwork and to find out which schools my girls would attend. A voice on the phone gave me the names of two schools and even directions to get there. How nice!
When we arrived at the first school, they were very pleasant. One secretary took our paperwork while another gave us a run down of the school, the teachers, and all their after school activities. I guess I should have known something was wrong when both secretaries ended up in a small office away from us, talking into a phone, shaking their heads at one another while furtively glancing at us as we waited.
She was as pleasant as she could be. Central Office has a made mistake. According to our address, we were slated for a different elementary school. We’d have to leave and go there. I was a little frustrated, but I know mistakes happen. The secretary gathered all our paperwork up and even gave me directions to the new school. She reassured us that it was a lovely school and that they would take care of us.
So we drove to the second school. They were warm and welcoming. They processed our paperwork quickly and even gave us a quick tour of the school. The secretary there smiled, told Sydney that she would surely love her new teacher and classroom, and encouraged her to sign up for their brand new Lego Club! Then she turned to Aubrey.
“What school will you go to?”
I answered for her, School #3. (Notice that I’m numbering them now?)
“Really?” she said. “That’s odd. Usually kids from your neighborhood go to School #4. Do you mind if I double check for you?”
I hadn’t mentioned what happened at the first elementary school, but now I did. She made the call and confirmed that we had once again been given incorrect information. We should go to School #4.
I may have made an acidic comment about Central Office not having a clue. She smiled and nodded in that non-committal-you’re-totally-right kind of way. Once again we were given directions, and we headed off for School #4.
This is where it all went down hill.
At School #4, we handed over our paperwork. There was a now-familiar gathering in a back office and more whispering and furtive glances. This time, however, instead of explaining that there had been yet another mistake, the Registrations Secretary said, “You don’t belong here.”
You. don’t. belong. here.
Soak that in for a minute. Imagine my twelve-year-old daughter’s face falling. Imagine what was going through her mind when an adult said, “You don’t belong here.” Imagine me swallowing all the curse words my daddy taught me, taking a deep breath, and shaking.
“Excuse me? We don’t … belong here?”
I assume she went on to say that according to our address we were once again slated to attend a different school, #3 in fact. I assume she was pleasant about it, and I assume that while I may have made another comment about the “effectiveness” of the Central Office that I held it together for the most part. I assume all these things because all I could see in front of me was my shy little girl, crestfallen after having been told, “You don’t belong here.”
Oh and rage. I also saw rage.
I called my husband from the parking lot. I had to ask him to meet us somewhere, anywhere. I knew I could manage the rest of the day, the rest of the registration process. I did not know that I could do it all without punching someone, namely the School #4 Registrations Secretary, squarely in the face.
My wonderful husband left work and met us for lunch and allowed me to cut loose on him with all the frustrations of the day. He nearly lost it when I repeated the words, “You don’t belong here,” but he also calmed me down enough that we could head to School #3 together.
At School #3, we were treated like royalty! “A straight A student? Awesome! And tall! Do you play basketball? Do you WANT to play basketball? We’re SO excited to have you here!” The guidance counselor was amazing! He had Aubrey giggling and smiling. He had my husband eating out of his hands. It was great!
When School #3’s Registrations Secretary entered the room, I immediately knew there was trouble. To her credit she lead off with, “We WANT Aubrey here. We’ll keep her. But …”
At this point I did lose it. What is wrong with Central Office? Why can’t they get it together? I’ve now been to four schools to enroll two great kids, and why can’t anyone figure out where we’re supposed to be? If every military kid has to endure this kind of nonsense when arriving in Washington, I can’t imagine why any sailor would ever willingly accept orders here!
I was so angry I honestly don’t remember the entire exchange. I do remember three things. First, school #3 insisted throughout that they WANTED my daughter. Second, they even provided a map showing where she would need to catch the bus to attend their school, and finally, the school we actually BELONGED in was School #4, the school that basically turned up their noses at us and pushed us out the door.
My anger settled into a white hot fury. I told them that we would go to School #4 and speak to them. I suggested that they call ahead for me, a fair warning, if you will.
When we arrived at School #4, as though if by magic, the very air was different. The desk secretary was overly pleasant. The Registrations Secretary was surprisingly absent. The Guidance Counselor was apologetic and offered up the very best programs they had to offer. To this day I’m shocked that we weren’t ever spoken to by the Principal. I think we deserved it. I think we deserved an apology from the now-missing Registrations Secretary. I think we deserved so much more than “You don’t belong here.”
It may surprise you to learn to we chose to stay there. Academically it was a higher achieving school. They offered more clubs and activities. It was, in fact, the best fit for us, and believe it or not, over the years we’ve come to love School #4. Sydney goes there now, and during a recent meeting with her Guidance Counselor, I was reminded of what a great school she’s in!
I won’t lie though. As much as we love it, I still see that woman’s face every time I pull into the parking lot. I still hear her voice each time I have to walk into the front office, and I will never forget that brush off, those words, and my girl’s sad little face.
Changing schools every few years is tough no matter how you spin it because all any military kid wants is to belong. I admire my kids so much for their strength and bravery. I love my girl for holding her head high and walking into school with pride. I love her even more for volunteering very soon thereafter to be an escort for other new kids coming into the school. She says she did it because some other kid had done the same for her.
I think she did it because that other adult didn’t.