The search for social justice -- in kindergarten

My mind is on information overload today. The last few weeks have been spent researching kindergarten schools for my four and a half year old. As it turns out the process is not that different from researching colleges. All of a sudden I'm calling for school tours, meeting with the principals and RSVPing for parent information nights. Kindergarten has officially taken over my calendar for the next month and a half.

Like most parents I tour each school hoping to find that certain something that will show my child belongs. That our family belongs. That my child will have a good experience there. When I visit schools I am looking at how social justice, diversity and inclusion are part of a school's community and academics. This is a tall order in Santa Cruz.

If you look past the breathtaking ocean views of our relatively small beach town, you start to see we have our own set of community challenges. We mirror what's happening in many parts of the US. The gap between the well-off and struggling to get by is widening -- and I don't like it.

As I start to look at schools that gap becomes even more up close and personal.

I'm getting the strange feeling I need to choose. Choose diversity and more economically accessible options like our public school OR private schools with beautiful buildings and impressive programs but are almost always filled with white, rich children.

There are about a dozen other factors that add to the complexity of our decision around kindergarten including school district lines, lotteries for highly coveted spots and the logistics of finding after school care to supplement the half day kindergarten programs that seemly squarely at odds with a working parent's schedule.

For all the reasons listed above I find the process fairly stressful. I cannot imagine how administrators, counselors and teachers deal with the complexity of our school systems.

And then there's the guilt

Beyond stress, I'm also encountering a new feeling. Major guilt.

Going to a private school with so many cushy resources almost seems against my value system of equity and greater distribution of life-changing opportunities. Yet when I look at some of the public schools it is clear many teachers are overworked, under resourced and stretched to the max. So are the parents. Many are working just to make it ends meet in this ever expensive county. They don't have the luxury of volunteering as a parent or maybe even the energy to sit down with their kids to do homework after working so many hours in a day. Parent involvement is key for a student's progress and the success of a school -- so when there is less involvement from other parents how will that impact my child's experience?

Now, I am thoroughly confused.

Do I send my daughter to public school? That's what I did. I was fine for the most part, but I do remember the distinct feeling of arriving at my state university grossly underprepared for my first college courses. Would things had been different if my parents had the money to send me to private school?

And even if they did, would I have been comfortable being one of the few kids of color? Racial and socio-economic discrimination happen every where, but it can be especially lonely and isolating as a child trying to make sense of the world through their school environment.

In my heart I really want a school that values and reflects social justice, diversity, and inclusion on top of a quality academic experience. Maybe it’s too much to ask.

This morning I started to I think of the times when I have been the "only one" in more privileged settings. Education can do that for you. Open doors you never imagined but there's a lot more to it once you walk through that door.

Then I started to wonder. How will these privileged spaces ever become more diverse if people like me don't create space for ourselves? Even more importantly how do we bring the greater resources and opportunities to public schools so all of our children have the chance to do something great?

I wish I knew.