My only child—a sweet, smart and independent little boy—started kindergarten this month. We did a special pancake breakfast, a new first day outfit and pictures, and then headed off to school where he quickly said goodbye and joined his class. I’d like to say that I held it together, but anyone who knows me could tell you I didn’t.
Yes, he was nervous. He didn’t like going to a different school than his friends, and worried about meeting new ones. He was nervous about before- and after-care. And he was worried about not having enough lunch. I try to tell him that kindergarten is awesome and that it’s great that he’s learning new things and meeting new friends, but I’m still worried too.
I’m worried he won’t have the same excitement about school and learning that I had. I’m afraid he won’t be able to keep up. Michigan’s standardized tests continue to show that our students are falling behind in many areas, resulting in changes to the curricula and assessments. I worry about the number of changes that my son will have to go through, and what ultimately these tests will show. And with skyrocketing costs of a college education, I worry about my ability to send him to whatever school he may want to attend.
However, at the same time, I know that I am fortunate.
Having to work, I was able to find and afford a child care program that put an important emphasis on early learning. Going into kindergarten, my son already knew colors, letters, numbers and animals. He could speak a little Spanish. And he could write a few words and add. All of this as a result of child care. There are many Michigan families that cannot afford high-quality child care, who must either not work or piece together child care through neighbors, friends or family. Rather than helping, state policies stand to make things worse.
As a parent, we strive to send our child to the best college we can. While my son was still very young, I started accounts with both the Michigan Education Trust and the Michigan Education Savings Program. These allow me to save now, to take the pressure off of paying for college when the time comes, and to hopefully prevent my son from being saddled with college debt.
I also can provide my son with things I believe should be common rights—clean water, a good public school system, enough healthy food to sustain him, and libraries and other enrichment programs. These basic needs are still not being met for too many kids.
Starting school has taught me a lot about why I do what I do. Parents shouldn’t have to choose between working and caring for their child. Children shouldn’t have to worry about whether their family can afford lunch. And paying for college should not be an insurmountable task. All families, all children, all Michiganians deserve a chance to succeed. And the state shouldn’t be making it harder for them to do so.
If we can all make it a little easier for those who are struggling, we will make life better for everyone.