Local reflections on education from a young father in Durham, North Carolina…
My daughter is bossy.
Last night we stayed up until 3 a.m. playing with stuffed animals, drinking milk and watching ESPN. If I attempted to alter her evening routine by getting up to pour myself a glass of water, or changing the channel, she threatened to awaken her brother with sirens.
This is how she controls me – by sounding the alarms if I step out of line. And when I got so frustrated that even the blaring pipes of a jazz singer’s granddaughter couldn’t deter my will, she hit me with her secret weapon. Her fat cheeks spread like the Red Sea revealing a gummy, toothless smile so gentle and disarming, that it persuaded me to stay up for an additional two hours of watching UNC men’s basketball get pummeled in the Top 10 plays of the day. Eventually, she drifted to sleep.
As I staggered to bed eager to squeeze the consciousness from my pillow, I was thinking about a conversation I had with Kathryn (my wife) earlier that day about where to send the kids to school. I couldn’t sleep as questions about educational environment, socialization, growth and exposure lingered on my mind.
Luckily we have tons of great options for our kids in Durham, North Carolina where there are public, private, Montessori, magnet and charter schools for children all ages.
As Durhamites, my wife and I have personally sampled much of what the Bull City has to offer. Kathryn attended the area’s premier private school, Durham Academy for much of here middle school and high school career. She’s not what they call a “lifer” (someone who has attended DA for a whopping 12 years or more: from elementary school through high school), but she did ride for nearly a decade as a Cavalier.
I experienced a healthy mix of Durham’s public and private school sector. My siblings and I all attended a charming public elementary school called, E.K. Powe (a place to grow). From Powe my brother Deen went to Shepard Middle, a public school named after the founder of Durham’s Historically Black College, North Carolina Central University. He had a miserable time there. Back in 1990, Deen was a lanky, dark chocolate genius with revenge of the nerd-framed glasses and was relentlessly teased by his peers. My parents decided to move Deen to what they perceived to be a more tolerant environment at Immaculata, a Catholic private school. I followed Deen to Immaculata, while my sister kicked it at Chapel Hill’s Quaker sanctuary Carolina Friends School.
My transfer from E.K. Powe, a racially and socially diverse environment, to Immaculata was jarring. In fourth grade I was the only black student in my class, and one of only a handful across campus. I endured some of my first memorable encounters with racial epithets and taunts at Immaculata, and I still don’t know if it was coincidence or conspiracy that my brother was cast as Pontius Pilate during the annual school play re-enacting the crucifixion of Christ.
After a few years of frustration, growth and Godly education, I entered the lottery at an arts magnet, the Durham Magnet Center (now Durham School of the Arts), where I spent the remainder of my middle school career, with my older sister Maya. DSA was the perfect fit for me. I was able to explore my artistic strengths in the theater department, and quickly made friends with a variety of students and faculty from different social, cultural and geographical backgrounds.
However, my sister felt stifled in the same space. After a few years at DMC, she left North Carolina completely to try her lot at boarding school in Massachusetts where our New Englander cousins were educated and based. I followed her to a school nestled in the mountains of Western Massachusetts called Williston Northampton, from which we both graduated.
All of these personal narratives were swarming in my head as I was contemplating where to send our children to school. It’s been very taxing to prioritize, small classrooms, rigorous curricula, artistic outlets, the cultural nutrients of being exposed to a diverse and eclectic student body, the “price” of going public vs. private, etc. We just want to send the kids to a campus that will cultivate well-rounded, critically thinking, open-minded and progressive individuals.
My wife wants to send the kids to DA, but I don’t want them to become “lifers.” Plus, I’ve heard good things about Durham Central Park School, and our friends Ryan and Nadira Hurley, owners of Durham’s eco-boutique Vert & Vogue (they furnish 80 percent of my wardrobe), highly recommend the internationally diverse Forest View. I’m going to do some more research … later.
Right now, it’s sleepy time.