Ben has been incredibly lucky to have spent the past two years in an amazing program at Tilden Elementary School in the Oakland Unified School District.
Unfortunately, Oakland wants to close Tilden next year and distribute the students and teachers to four under-enrolled schools.
Tilden serves children from pre-school to third grade. It's unusual in that 80% of the students have special needs and about 20% of the student body are general education kids from the surrounding neighborhood.
The schools is a model for inclusive education. The special needs students are fully included in the life of the school, and the regular education students learn from a very early age to accept and embrace the differences in their classmates as a fact of life.
Some teachers have a double credential in special education and general education and they teach integrated classes with a mix of special needs and typical students.
There are also special day classes - like the Language-Enriched Pre-K class Ben attends - that focus on specific special needs.
When Ben walks the hallways, every adult knows him and says hello. Teachers who have never had him in their classes stop me on campus and tell me about a funny thing he said. All of his teachers have been extraordinary and feel like members of our extended family.
The general education students do well here too. Probably because the teaching staff is so savvy about what it takes for all children, regardless of their learning style, to succeed. The second graders scored 799 on their API numbers this year. The state considers 800 to be the score of an excellent school.
But its an expensive school to run with such a high population of special needs students. The facilities are run down and in need of repair. The district, like every public institution, is facing difficult trade-offs.
Tilden is a school of underdogs: special needs kids, but also the general education population. They don't come from one of the affluent hills neighborhoods, but rather from more disadvantaged areas where parents are often working more than one job to make ends meet.
With fiscal shortfalls and facility code problems, the district thinks that closing this small school and shuffling students around is the best option.
But it would be such a shame to lose this little diamond in the rough of a school: run down on the outside, but so full of heart and compassion and dedication on the inside.
Our family will be okay. It appears that Ben will be placed in one of the full-inclusion programs in a regular kindergarden next year. But I'm worried about the other families, and the families that come after us that won't have Tilden as an option.
So I'm working with the PTO to fight against the closure of Tilden and I have a request for you, especially those of you in the East Bay.
We're establishing a Friends of Tilden list. Community organizations, educators and families (alumni of Tilden, especially) can sign a letter to say they support the PTO in our opposition of the closure. It's a small thing, but maybe the school board will see that this is not just a small group of difficult moms, but a larger community.
Email me or leave a comment if you or anyone you know might be willing to sign up as a Friend of Tilden. Perhaps there's a small chance we can keep this wonderful school alive.