Before it was a rally cry, before it was used by politicians as a platform to win elections, before it was the mission statement for nonprofits to make money, and long before it was a hashtag on social media, my parents, who were and still are hardworking individuals, made a conscious decision back in the early ’90s to send their first born child to a school that was not in their neighborhood because it could not serve the needs of their child and because they wanted me to have a better opportunity.
My parents, who are both products of Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS), did not like the direction the district was heading and simply felt that I would have a better opportunity going to a township school.
If you asked my parents then and now, “What is school choice?” They probably couldn’t answer it. They definitely wouldn’t say their belief in school choice was the reason they sent me to a school outside of our boundary district.
I remember the first house we lived in 3215 Halifax. I have fond memories from my time on Halifax including playing sports in the backyard with my dad. The memory I do not have is riding the school bus with the other kids in the neighborhood. I woke up earlier than usual every morning because my parents would drop me off at my grandmother’s house across town in Section 3 of Mayfield Greens so I could attend Eastbrook Elementary in Pike Township.
This decision was fueled by a drive my parents took while looking for my school near the house they had just bought. While purchasing the house, my parents were told the neighborhood school was in Wayne Township. The realtor was mistaken. One side of the neighborhood was Wayne, the other side, which was where our house stood, was IPS.
After hearing this news, my parents took a drive to see the school their first-born son would attend. The school, which at the time was under construction and was located next to a home known by many as a place where people gambled, didn’t make my mother feel comfortable. My mom told me she cried many nights thinking about her first born attending that school and eventually those tears pushed her to make a decision that was risky, but one that she felt was the right decision.
I did not grow up wealthy and my parents had to make a significant sacrifice. Not just my parents, but my grandmother who essentially had to wake up early to watch me when my parents dropped me off in the morning and get me on the school bus. She also had to watch me when I got off the school bus until my parents got off work. At this time you were not allowed to attend a school where you didn’t live in the neighborhood. My parents had to use my grandmother’s address and they had to tell the school I lived with my grandmother.
We lived this lie from first grade to fifth grade so I could stay at this school. Eventually, we moved into Pike Township when I went to middle school. I continued attending Pike schools and could catch the bus from my house.
I look back on that decision my parents made some 20 years ago and appreciate even more their dedication and their willingness to do that. I owe them so much because my parents believing I would perform better in a township school turned out to be the right decision. One of the major factors for me being where I am today was the decision my parents made to send me to Eastbrook Elementary in first grade and not IPS school 107 or 69.
Twenty-two years later I do not have any kids of my own, but I am a school leader and an advocate for school choice and parents being given a chance to give their child a chance and a brighter future. School choice for my parents was their decision to do what they felt was best for their child at the time. They did whatever it took to ensure I attended the school they felt most comfortable sending me to.
Hopefully, parents won’t have to lie their way into sending their child to a better school and won’t have to settle for a zip code to dictate where their child should go to school.