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Amy Choate-Nielsen: No matter the classroom, the lesson is the same

Published: Wednesday, March 20 2013 7:38 p.m. MDT

I've always imagined that the moment my daughter goes to kindergarten, the next 12 years of our lives will disappear in a blur of summers and school years that ends with me sitting on a football field, watching her walk across a stage in a cap and gown.

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I've always imagined that the moment my daughter goes to kindergarten, the next 12 years of our lives will disappear in a blur of summers and school years that ends with me sitting on a football field, watching her walk across a stage in a cap and gown.

And then, she's gone.

It's a little melodramatic, I know. But that's how it felt to me when I was in grade school, and time has only accelerated since then. So as I face that prospect this fall, the beginning of her dance with friends and frenemies, favorite field trips and late-night projects, bullies and besties, some great teachers and not so great from September to June for the next decade and then some, I've had a hard time wrapping my head around where exactly she should embark on that journey.

Last September, I started reading about the schools in my district. I talked to other moms in my neighborhood, I scoured Web sites and ratings and reviews, knowing that the deadline was fast approaching for her to go to a school other than the one in our neighborhood. But I just couldn't get my head around it. Nothing felt right. So the deadline came and went, and now she's on waiting lists for three different schools.

"Did we drop the ball on this?" my husband asked me when I told him I didn't know where our daughter would go to school in the fall. I clenched my jaw and said nothing; partly because he didn't know how much I had been worrying about and researching schools, and partly because I wondered the same — did I drop the ball?

That is not how I wanted these blurry 12 years to begin.

As I've written here and here, education is a big deal in my family. If we had a family crest, there'd be a diploma of some kind on it.

In my parents' house, we were pushed to excel. I went to public school, but my brother and sister went to private school for a few years. We all skipped grades. We all took honors and Advanced Placement classes. And we all went to college. Some of my siblings and their spouses went to a lot of college and are noted academics in their fields.

In my father's parents' house, education was equally significant. I have heard stories about how my grandfather, Irvan, was a schoolteacher and my grandmother, Fleeta, always pushed for as much education as she could get — they both died before I was born.

Fleeta learned how to be a registered nurse, even though the qualification wasn't necessary for her to have a job at the time. She earned a master's degree in her 60s. And, as my father and uncle have said, she was intricately involved in the education of her children.

My dad tells the story of her asking him at the end of the day about what he did at school. My dad never had an answer for her, so she went to the school herself to find out what was happening, and promptly had my dad moved to another class. In fourth grade, my grandmother took my dad out of his neighborhood school and drove him across town to what they thought would be a better class for him. And in the sixth grade she enrolled my dad in a laboratory elementary school at the University of Oklahoma.

My grandparents' involvement in their children's education certainly helped them excel academically, but now I can see that it was also the means of teaching them an entirely different lesson. They taught their children that they cared enough to be involved. They taught them to have confidence and self-worth because my dad and uncle were worth my grandmother and grandfather's investment of time and energy. And they taught my dad and uncle to make the same investment in their own children.

In that respect, it didn't matter where my dad went to school. He learned that lesson in all of his classrooms. And ultimately, it won't matter where my daughter begins school either. As long as I am involved in her education, I haven't dropped the ball.

Fleeta planted a learning seed in at least three generations. Next time I'll tell you the person who made her education a reality.

Amy Choate-Nielsen is a full-time mom and part-time writer. She spends her days at the park and her nights at the computer. She writes about family history and her quest to understand life while learning about her deceased grandmother, Fleeta.

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