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Reflection #3

fli's picture

Park Elementary School is a small public elementary school in the suburbs of Pennsylvania. The school is one story above ground, and one story below. In front of the school is a large, well paved parking lot. The cars are not luxury cars, but they are clean and shiny. The building is also clean, and kind of pretty. Walking in, you can see that the interior is bright and spacious. There is a sign directing you to enter the main office first. The secretary who I shall call Carla is well put together, dressed in a floral blouse, some dark jeans, and a pair of boots. Today is Wednesday, February 13, the first day of my field placement, and I am normally supposed to show up on Fridays. 

I tell the secretary that I am from Bryn Mawr, and that I normally would show up on Fridays, but I could not make it the Friday before so I am here today. Carla smiles and accepts my explanation, scans my ID, gives me a visitor tag, and tells me that the teachers are in a meeting. There is no animosity, no rush in her movements. While I wait in the office for the meeting to end, a child walks in. Carla greets him by name, and asks him why he is there so early. Without hesitation, he looks Carla in the eye and answers her. 

Around 8:45, there is more movement as the kids start heading to their classrooms for the start of the day. Three girls walk in giggling and one of them is holding a cupcake tray. She asks to speak with Ms. Heather, who happens to also be in the staff meeting. Carla later informs me that Ms. Heather is the principal. 

Around 8:55, two other women come into the office and settle at desks in the office. This is when I realize that there is not one secretary, but three. Eventually, the meeting ends and the teachers are returning to their classrooms. My teacher, who I shall call Mr. Russo, did not pick me up, so Carla simply gave me directions to the classroom and sent me off. 

This thirty minute period drove home Lareau’s teachings. I attended a public elementary school in a lower to lower middle class neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY. My school did not look really rusty, and scary, but by no means did it look new and shiny. It was 5 stories high, with a cafeteria in the basement, and my most vivid memories of the hallways and stairwells was that they were crowded, dark, gloomy, and uninviting. We had one, maybe two secretaries that always looked miserable and rushed for time. When they interacted with students, they never knew the students’ names and acted as though the students were inconveniencing their lives. 

Although I never realized it, neighborhood has a rather large impact on schools. Whereas the school setting in the suburbs seems relaxed and inviting, the setting in urban environments is often rushed and dismal. The former setting nourishes learning and growth with its clean and bright school buildings. From what I remember of elementary school, going into the building and walking through hallways was akin to being herded like cows in dim lighting. You could always see dirt and dust on edges and in corners. 

Also, although the kids I attended school with were predominantly white, they were from lower to lower middle class families. There was little though given to concerted cultivation or anything like that. We were a well behaved bunch of kids who only spoke when addressed, and spent more time looking at the floor than the adult when talking to adults. Looking the secretary in the eye and telling her “I want to talk to the principal,” was inconceivable. If anything, a student only talked to the principal when they got into trouble and was sent to the principal’s office. In addition, if we were to ask an adult of anything, it would be meekly and quietly asking “May I…?” 

The differences already present at an elementary school age because of environment are really interesting. Although both schools are public schools, one has a friendly environment and happy staff that promotes children to grow, and stand up for themselves. The other has a dim, less friendly environment with unhappy staff and children rarely speak up against teachers and adults in general. Reading about it in Lareau was one thing, but I had to see the difference in a suburban setting to really understand it.