Wisdom can come from the mouth of babes. As Chada Joffe-Walt observes and interviews some of the SIS students, a narrative begins to emerge about their collective experience and shifting attitudes--a development that prompts some compelling questions for the listener.
Publish Date: Feb 12, 2021
the school year went on, Rob's fundraising committee moved forward with the French Embassy to plan a fundraiser. It was now being called a gala. The P T. A. Move forward with parent volunteers to plan a spring carnival. It was being called the Spring Carnival Quiet resentments locked in place on the phone. One night, Amy's co president on the P T a. Susan mosque er, told me she worried the school was changing in ways that were damaging to the community. Susan is white herself, but she didn't come in with the new white parents when she started. Her son was one of the only white kids in the school, and now she felt like they were all being written into a narrative that wasn't true. That S S was a bad school before. And now that the new white families had arrived, it was being turned around. It is noticeable. I think it is something that even my child has picked up on, you know, just like a very different you know, different feeling among some of the students and some of the parents. You know, this real sense again, and here they come to save our poor, struggling school that couldn't possibly make it on its own without their money in their vision. And we do not all feel that that is necessarily the case. What do you feel? I, uh this was a long conversation. The upshot. She's not happy with the way the new parents are behaving. It was true a new narrative was taking hold. It s s. It's not like the kids were talking about it all the time, But it was in the air, and the kids were starting to pick up on who was valued and why. In the cafeteria, I hear middle schoolers saying the French kids could kill someone and they get away with it. Upstairs in the high school, I hear kids complain, All the attention has shifted to the new middle. Schoolers were being pushed aside and down in the library, I met 3/6 grade boys. White boys knew the S a s, their sweaty from playing soccer and looking very small against their huge backpacks. E thes boys. Even at 11 years old, they have absorbed the same messages. That s a s wasn't so good before It was a bad school. The kids wouldn't pay attention. And they had, like are like, zone out every little thing. And I bet they learned very little. And now with now this generation with us, I think we're doing a lot better on I think that we're learning at a much faster pace. He and his friends, they've turned the school around. That's what he's learning. It's gonna be one of like the top choices, like already in, like the book. Like Like when you're applying to middle schools, you get, like a book, sort of like on statuses on stuff. And I think the school is actually really high up in the statuses. Nobody calls it the book on statuses. They call it a directory of schools with info like enrollment numbers for different schools, test scores and special programs. But I love that he calls it. The book on status is because this is what happened at S. I s The school had a bad reputation among white families, and then suddenly it was in demand. Its status had changed because of the white kids. A powerful draw for white families into any school is other white families. When there are enough other white families in a school, you reach what one study calls. Ah, bliss point. This is a really thing. Researchers study how many weight kids are needed at a school to make other weight families feel comfortable. That number, the bliss point, is 26%. That fall, white families were crowding the school tours. That s I s not because the test scores had improved. The new scores hadn't even come out yet. But because the other white families made them feel blissfully comfortable off with thing that made the new white parents comfortable coming S A s in the first place was the promise of a French program. They wanted French and they got French. So now all the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th graders are learning French. It wasn't a true dual language program where kids learned in French for half the day or whatever that first year, most of the French was happening in the after school program. You sign up for a regular after school stuff like culinary or soccer drama, and it would be conducted in French e we're in the auditorium and it's sweet. The kids around stage rehearsing this play they wrote in French. It looks like they're having fun, but I couldn't help feeling like there's something off balance about this. Most of the kids doing this drama program seemed to be native French speakers, but not all. 1/6 grader named Maya is standing to the side of the stage, script in hand. Waiting for her line for me is like weird because I have no idea what they're saying. Yeah, really, Even even in the play that you've been practicing, you don't know what they're saying. Yeah, I don't know. They're saying so, yeah, but sometimes when teacher talks in French class, I don't understand. And do you figure it out? Or is it like confusing? Confusing? Still, she's excited. She's grinning, watching the other kids on stage. She's hanging out with her friend Constance. Maya gets up to deliver her lines. Oh, you did the wrong way. Uh, you just say you After that, Constance, a native French speaker, tells my you set the wrong thing. Constance corrects her, pronounces it for her. Okay, Uh, you know E Yeah, because like, I can't see, Maya says I can't and her friend says, I'll do it for you. Okay, I'll just e you know, shoes, Foodie. Learning another language is not new to Maya May. Dad speaks Arabic and my mom's Turkish Uh and now you're learning French? Yes. So confusing Pretty language is the same time. When the new white parents asked for a dual language French program At S s Principal Juman said yes. S s was supposedly an international school, but she told me they didn't really have a lot of international programming, so it seemed like a good idea to her. But there was no schoolwide debate about it or consensus three community didn't decide. What if they had more than a third of the families That s s are Hispanic? What if the dual language program was Spanish for Arabic? 10% of the students speak Arabic. If they had made a different choice. If S A s had a dual language Arabic program, Maya would be teaching constants how to read her lines. She'd be the one explaining the cultural references and teasing her friend about her terrible accent. She'd be the one translating the teacher stage directions. There was money for a French program which meant that it s a S French had value Arabic. Didn't Spanish didn't. That's something Maya is learning at school, along with her French script