My heart is full tonight. I just tucked my second grader and kindergartner into bed. We packed as much fun as possible into our summer and tomorrow the new year begins. The pencils are sharpened, the dresses ironed, the leggings picked out, the backpacks packed, the hairbrushes found, the milk money paid, the pool bag emptied, and the beach towels stored back in the closet. We are ready, they are excited, mama is sad, and here it comes.
My kids go to public school. Honestly, being from rural North Dakota, the size of our elementary school freaks me out if I think about it too long. Before my children were school age I swore that I'd never send them to the "big city public schools". But here we are. And I think, by God's design. God's good design.
It's an interesting thing, the process of determining which education path is best for your child. And, obviously, since my eldest is only in second grade, we're not very far into this process. Plans may change. But still we've prayed and talked and researched extensively, and our neighborhood public school is still where God has us.
It's a little unnerving, to say the least, because it's not perfect.
We all know that even our young elementary-aged children aren't sheltered from the pressures of the world once they enter the public school building (Or actually once they exit the womb...)
The school is huge and crowded and noisy. It would be easy to get lost and my child will be exposed to lots of bad words and probably some bullies. Common Core Math is not on my list of favorite things and I know that because of it, my head will spin over simple multiplication homework. Recesses are far too few, lunch time is far too rushed, and gym class isn't everyday anymore.
Yep...it's far from perfect.
But it's also very good.
At various times over the years (when my children were not even old enough to tie their shoes), I've been convinced that many different education options were right for us. When my daughter was three I had my heart set on Spanish immersion. When she was five I had my heart set on private Christian. Last fall I was absolutely in love with the idea of homeschooling, and even researched to see if it would be okay to pull my child out of first grade mid-year to start homeschooling...not because anything was wrong with her classroom experience whatsoever, but just because I was so excited to start homeschooling (have I mentioned I'm a bit impulsive?)
Anyway, my wise husband suggested that perhaps I pray about such a massive change before making it, and thus, here we are, redirected and back at public school. And so thankful for it.
In all my curiosity, I've read a lot of articles that promote homeschool or private school. And certainly, those are both wonderful choices.
But while I was reading a recent article on the benefits of homeschool, I realized that I don't think I've ever read an article about the benefits of Christian families choosing public school...yet there are certainly benefits to public school.
So, for any parents in similar shoes, for those who've chosen the public school route or for those still considering their options, I'd like to offer some encouragement on the eve of a new school year.
So without further ado, here's what has led our family to choose public school:
First of all, God has called us to it. We've prayed over this a lot, and He keeps saying that this is right for us. Perhaps He'll lead us to private or homeschool (or the mission field) in the future, but for now, here we are.
It's free. As much as I'd like to say we could rearrange our lives to afford private school, the fact is, I just don't see that happening with four children. Paying for private school would require me to have a regular income, but the emotional and social benefits for our children of me staying home far exceed the benefits of private school. Obviously homeschool would be an affordable option too, since I stay home, but God has simply said, "Not now" to that choice.
Our kids' teachers have rocked our world. Seriously, hats off to you teachers. The unique teaching methods, the gifted and talented programs, the field trips, the art classes, the music education, the creative projects, the smart boards, the ways you know how to explain homophones to my child, the rock and soil science projects that you work so hard on, the compassion, the silly songs and loving hands, all of it. Our teachers are great.
And even in a huge elementary school (the biggest in Fargo actually), they know my children's names. And the office staff knows my children's names. And, my kids' teachers have loved them. Really loved them. When they've been sad, sick, excited, confused, worried, left out, happy, successful, ...they've loved my children through it all.
And that is like gold to me. Thank you, public school faculty.
Believe it or not, our Fargo schools are actually rather diverse. And it was important to us, as much as we can in Fargo, ND, to raise our children with a worldview that is bigger than ourselves. And if you simply walk through the rows of Kindergarten or Second Grade lockers at our school and read the children's names, you can easily see that our children are learning alongside children from a beautiful breadth of ethnicities. I love that my children don't see skin colors, they simply see friends.
My kids are learning alongside kids who vary greatly in abilities and economics. Last year I volunteered a bit in my daughter's first grade class room, helping with some one-on-one reading (Not nearly as much as I should have helped). The class varied from children like my daughter who were reading at a fourth grade level, to the children who struggled with simple words. (Can I just say...have you thanked a teacher yet today?)
But the coolest thing was to watch the kids interact with one another...the kids who excelled at reading never once teased the kids who struggled with three-letter words...talk about public schools presenting amazing opportunities for children to build compassion and patience and love for others.
The neighborhood public school has been a great gateway to building relationships. Our neighborhood has about a bazillion kids in it, and it's a total joy to greet them all at the bus stop in the mornings and in the afternoon. It's fun to see the troops of kids walking home from the bus stop together, and all say, "See ya later!" or "Okay I'll go ask my mom!" or, "Yeah, I can come over after I drop off my backpack!" as they run up their driveways. There's a camaraderie there that turns a big city into a smaller town, and I love that.
Having our children in public school provides a million opportunities to talk. And this is good. We talk about everything at the end of the school day. Milk and cookies and talk talk talk. Tell me about the playground, tell me about lunchtime, tell me when your feelings were hurt, how did you help a friend today, what did it feel like when you didn't have anyone to play with, how can you help her know that Jesus loves her? Talk, talk, talk. And the talking nourishes the soul of a child so that nourished child can continue to shine for Jesus again the next day.
Sending your child off to school allows your child to see how you are trusting God for their care. Everyday for the last two years I've whispered a prayer over Evelyn as I've sent her into the school building or onto the bus. And tomorrow I'll whisper a prayer over two daughters now. Prayers for God's protection physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Prayers for friendships to grow and for shining to occur. And as I pray over my daughters, they see Mom trusting God with her most precious gifts. And as they see Mom trusting God, they themselves learn that God is indeed trustworthy.
It's not just the child that "goes to school" but the whole family. Okay, so yes, my daughters spend the day at school and the rest of us do not. But our whole family has been called to love students and staff in the name of Jesus. We want to be present at the school as ambassadors for Christ...for His love to reach the most unloved child or unappreciated staff member in that building.
If you're looking for a place to serve and love like Jesus, your public school is a great place to start. They need our hands and our ears and our time and our love and our voice and our leadership and our commitment and our healthy snacks and our presence and most of all our prayers.
Last year when I was in good shape (this year I am not), I ran by the school early most mornings. I planned my running route to loop around the school as a reminder to pray. And I would pray for the custodians who would soon be unlocking the doors, and the lunch ladies, and for the recess workers, and for the teachers. I would pray that God would give the lunch ladies the eyes to see children sitting alone at lunch and the compassion to love that child, and for the recess workers to see children being hurt or bullied or left out on the playground, and for the custodians to feel God's hand of love upon them as they serve so often unnoticed. And so on and so forth. I need to get back into shape so that I get back into the habit of praying over my children's school like that.
And probably most importantly, our kids bring Jesus to school.
There's some controversy amongst Christians as to whether or not children are ready to be "light in the darkness" since Jesus was indeed talking to adults when He told them to be like a city on a hill.
And I get it. I totally get the argument.
But God is in our kids.
Here's the deal about children not being ready to shine: They do shine. And they shine the same Holy Spirit that adults shine.
Now, I totally get that some situations require far more spiritual maturity than other situations, and my child is absolutely not ready for any other age than what they currently are.
But our kids, whether or not they are "ready," really do shine for Jesus. A kid filled with the Holy Spirit is absolutely going to radiate the Holy Spirit. When Evelyn was in kindergarten, she had signed up for Show & Tell on the Thursday prior to Easter (Maundy Thursday). As we were headed out the door to the bus I said, "Oh shoot! We forgot show & tell!" And Evelyn replied, "Oh it's okay Mom. Instead of bringing something today, I just want to share the good news about Jesus and Easter."
And shine she did. She told her twenty-one classmates that day about Jesus dying on the cross and rising again. A missionary in her own classroom, by God's design. It gives me chills to think that some children may have heard the Gospel for the first time that day during Show & Tell.
Whether we think they are ready or not, God indwells our believing children and He cannot be withheld. Thus, they shine.
So friends, it's good. It's not perfect, but it's very good. And if it's right for your family to choose public school, then go all in and choose public schools. Go with gusto. You're needed, and you're a blessing.
And if you are working in a school or if you are at home teaching your own children: May the Lord bless you and keep you; May the Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord look upon you with favor, and give you His peace.
Thank you for loving on children.
And to all of us parents who are sending our children to school tomorrow, let's remember this: God is with our kids. Amen and Amen. Thank you Lord that although I will be home with my two and four-year-old tomorrow, You will be at school with my kindergartner and my second grader. You will be on the playground, in the lunch room, and even in the bathrooms. You will be in gym class and in the hallways. You will be in the parking lots and on the bike paths. Thank you God that you are big and strong and able to protect my little girls in all things.
Yes, God is indeed with our kids. Even if many public schools try to keep God out, God can't be kept out. Amen?
And to all of us, no matter which educational route is best for our family, let's just join together and pray for our kids.
Lord, fill them up, before and behind them, so my kids might shine.
You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.