Boston’s Bizarre Bazaar

Boston Latin School

Image via Wikipedia

This past week, both the Hennigan School and Boston Latin School invited parents in for an Open House. The Parent Imperfect attended both of these events and Liz also came to the show at the Hennigan. Seeing these two schools in action on consecutive nights gave the PI a special view of the Boston Public Schools in action.

First came BLS, where parents of students in grades 9-12 (about 1400 students) visited the school on the same night. The vast majority of parents had been through this drill before, when their children were in 7th and 8th grades. But a small number were there for the first time because their children were “beezies” entering the school in 9th grade. The PI met one such woman, sweat rolling down her face as she rushed to find her daughter’s homeroom at 5:58PM. Someone must have told her that, if a parent arrives after 6:05PM, s/he can spend the rest of the night trying to figure out what is going on. “They’ve managed to make the Open House a real view of a day-in-the-life,” thought the PI as he tried to point the woman in the right direction.

Parents come to this thing by the hundreds, in part because BLS parents tend to be that kind of parent, and in part because they know that this might be their ONE AND ONLY chance to meet the teachers that will determine, to a surprising extent, their family’s quality of life over the next nine months. It’s a high-stakes evening that one misses at their peril.

In homeroom, the panting parent receives a copy of the student’s schedule for Day One, written in the familiar scrawl of their son or daughter. Just to make things a bit more complicated, BLS classes rotate on a six-day, rather than a five-day schedule, and each day has a different sequence of classes for each student.

When Vince’s homeroom teacher, Mr. S., gave the PI Vince’s schedule he held out his hand and said, “And just what office is Vince running for?” The PI’s first impulse was to say, “I don’t know…the Headmaster’s office?,” but, for once, he kept his lips together. Perhaps fearing that he had rendered the poor parent speechless, the young teacher smiled and immediately followed up with, “He is definitely going to be a politician.” The PI smiled back  nervously and tried to slink quietly to the nearest seat. After last year’s humiliation of the Math teacher over the spelling of the word, “aardvark,” the PI was under strict orders not to say a word to any teacher.

After the briefest of intros from the teacher, the class bell then rings and the parents have three minutes to get to their child’s first class on that day. The halls are chaos, with dozens of disoriented parents stumbling around and students from every fall sports team hawking snacks out of little baskets to raise team funds. “Hi…do you want to support BLS soccer?” They should call it the Bizarre Bazaar, rather than Open House. Then, the bell rings again and most parents are in R1, the first class of the day. The teacher in that class, in the PI’s case Vince’s World History teacher, Ms. B., delivers a quick intro to her approach to ancient history, warns the parents that the class will be demanding and points the them to her website before the bell rings, once more, and the whole dance begins, anew.

His knee throbbing, the PI discovered that his son must get up and down 14 long flights of stairs to get to his classes on Day One…and this doesn’t include getting to and from lunch.  At least he is getting some exercise, right? Better son than father…

In this way, the PI “met” all of Vince’s teachers. For some of them, it might be the only time he sees them all year, as getting a personal meeting with a BLS teacher is only slightly less difficult than gaining an audience with the Pope. In two years, despite no small amount of trying, Liz and the PI (no shrinking violets) have succeeded in getting ONE meeting with ONE of Vince’s teachers. At Open House, the only teacher–after homeroom–that the PI was able to speak to was the Spanish teacher, and he wished he hadn’t.

Without the PI even saying who he was, she recognized him as Vince’s parent. Does the poor boy look that much like his father? Ms. H. launched into a feverish monologue that made it seem as if V. had entered the ninth grade with a plan to permanently disrupt her attempts to teach the language. “I know he has some background in Spanish, but it’s not like he’s getting 100 on everything and is bored with the class…” The PI had only meant to say hello, but the “conversation” continued until most of the parents of the next class were sitting there listening to a clearly agitated teacher talk to a sheepish parent. Sympathy abounded. When la maestra finally stopped to breathe, the PI jumped in with, “Thanks for letting me know and I’ll definitely speak to him,” as he headed for the door, late for R7.

Open House did allow the PI to discover that Vince had quite a young group of teachers for ninth grade. The oldest might have been 40 and the youngest, who was beginning his first year of teaching Math, could have passed for a Senior at the school. Four of the teachers of Vince’s core subjects were women and two were men, and three of them were graduates of BLS, themselves. The school seems to believe that there is an advantage to hiring teachers already steeped in a culture found nowhere else in the system. Vince’s Latin teacher was the same one he had in 7th grade, which seemed to be a good thing, on the surface. While he didn’t feel that he had gotten to know any of the teachers, the PI felt generally good about their energy, at least on that evening.The PI knows, however, that the first nights are generally deceiving.

He finished the evening with a visit to the exhausted young woman who will serve as Vince’s guidance counselor this year. She may well be the most important of the bunch, from Vince’s perspective. On this night, she had spoken to at least 50 parents of the over 200 students in grades 9-12 that she will be trying to keep on track this year. Mostly, they were the ninth-grade parents who didn’t know her from the previous year. The PI liked this very friendly woman, but honestly hoped against hope that he wouldn’t be in contact with her as much as he had been in contact with the even younger woman who had been an important support to Vince in grades 7 and 8.

Against steep odds, Year 3 is underway.

Next, are the Hennigan and BLS really both part of the same system?

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