An Educational Choice: Emerson Elementary

Saturday, March 2, 2013

I spent a chunk of the first week of this school year in tears. Some were the predictable mom tears for the “baby” in our family starting kindergarten, while another child began middle school (with all those imagined big, bad kids). But many of them were tears of concern and frustration.

We chose to enroll our son in kindergarten at Emerson Elementary, our neighborhood school. A school where 65 percent of kids receive free or reduced lunch. A school where test and API scores are climbing, but still low. A school whose visual picture is amazingly different from the Rockridge bubble in which we live.

But it’s a school with new leadership and vision, growing parental involvement, and exciting new programs in reading, music, art and poetry. A school, we decided after much deliberation (and tears, of course), that we should support. Schools need a mix of kids to be successful – our son would help build a mix. The “baby” was gung-ho (they have a great playground, what else could he need?). He’s a solid kid – easy-going, eager, curious – and with our support, he will be fine wherever he is. But I still worried. Did we make the right decision? What will he miss out on by not being at a school with more resources? Will he lack challenges by not being in a cohort of similarly privileged classmates? Will the family challenges of some of the students overwhelm his teacher?

The tears of concern brought on tears of frustration: Why does getting your child a good, public education have to be such hard work? Why do decisions to benefit our own kids have to be at the expense of other kids in our city? Why aren’t the masses of children attending chaotic and underperforming schools more of a concern to our country? I can imagine this frustration is shared by many parents in Oakland, particularly families with fewer or no options for better schooling.

While a tad more relaxed than the typical “Tiger Mom,” I’m fierce in my love and hopes for my children. I want my children to learn, to be challenged, to have the opportunity to develop passions. But I also want my children to be compassionate and empathetic, and to know and value what it means to live in a truly diverse community. School is an integral piece of any child’s community, and such a great opportunity to experience diversity.

I’m happy to report that the tears of worry quickly stopped after the first week: we are confident and pleased with our decision to enroll our son at Emerson. Our son has never questioned the decision. From day one, he has been excited to go to school and begs us to let him stay and play with his classmates at the end of the day. And it’s not just the playground he loves; he told an adult friend recently that his favorite part about school is the reading, writing, and drawing that he does in class. Emerson is pioneering “Balanced Literacy,” an exciting new reading program that is immersing the kids in books, stories and characters, some together as a class, and some at each child’s level. He belts out new songs taught by the music teacher, and shares stories about interactions with teachers and peers.

We know that attending Emerson will require a sustained time and resource commitment by us as parents. Current enrichment programs, such as art and music, are not a part of public school funding and have been launched at Emerson with hard-fought dollars raised by a small but energetic PTO. To continue to offer these programs, as well as other support needed to ensure all Emerson students achieve, will require parental and community investment. But it is a commitment we are willing to make. Emerson is giving our son a love of school and learning, and feeding his curiosity – invaluable and foundational tools. And Emerson gives him a beautifully diverse cohort of friends – a community he would not see in a more resourced school or in our daily lives.

We are grateful and happy to be attending Emerson Elementary, our neighborhood school. Editor’s note: Molly Brostrom lives in Rockridge with her husband and three children. Their son is in kindergarten at Emerson; their two daughters, grades 6 and 8, attend Claremont Middle School.

Tours of Emerson Elementary take place regularly. Call Emerson Elementary at 654-7373 to schedule. More information at This story was first printed in the Temescal News & Views, January-February 2013 issue.