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A Parent's Perspective 

by Post Oak parent Alison Wong

We made it to the start of another school year! Parents: congratulations! You survived the summer. You persevered through summer camps, airport delays, 110 degree days at the zoo, abnormal sleep schedules, and Doc McStuffins marathons on Netflix. Faculty and staff: thank you. Thank you for coming back. Just thank you. And sorry. Sorry about the Doc McStuffins.

For those of you I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting, my Post Oak journey began in 1980, when I was a 5-year-old Lower Elementary student. I loved Post Oak so much that I stayed through Upper Elementary and now have two children at the school – Gray, who is in Julie Parraguirre’s Primary class and Julia, who just moved up from Phoebe’s Infant class to Tamara Townsend’s Primary class.

When Gray was born, Blaine and I spent countless hours marveling at his natural curiosity about the world and his eagerness to explore it. We also spent countless hours reading parenting books and panicking over basically everything (gluten, corn syrup, screen time, standardized testing, bullying). How in the world would we protect and nurture his curiosity? Then it hit me – I went to Post Oak, and I obviously turned out great – so Blaine and I signed up for a tour of Post Oak. The moment I stepped foot inside the door, I was transported back to my childhood; the lessons I learned at Post Oak still fresh in my mind.

I remembered tracing sandpaper letters with my fingers, creating stories with the movable alphabet, and using symbols to learn parts of speech. I remember learning about ancient Greek and Roman civilizations. Yes, we read books, listened to lectures, and wrote reports, but we also visited museums, created scale models, prepared traditional foods, staged an archaeological excavation, and created period costumes – and that was all before 9:00am. At Post Oak, there was always more to learn than what could be found in a textbook.

I spent that entire tour on memory lane – so much so that Vivian gave me a do-over – a second tour – one I could take as a prospective parent, not as a former student. Blaine also felt the good energy on that tour, but he was new to Montessori. “What about academics?” he asked. “What about the transition to traditional school? “I mean, I like it, but how is polishing this wooden car going to get him into Harvard?” Fair question.

Academics, future success indicators, the SATs. That’s what parents want to know when they sign their children up for school, right? When they sign their 14 month old children up for school – how will they do on their SATs?

Nowhere is this more evident than during Post Oak’s annual alumni night. If you haven’t been to one of these events, I highly recommend it. You have the opportunity to meet Post Oak graduates and hear how their Montessori education is having an impact on their lives. I go every year and I’m blown away each time. I always laugh, because like last year, you’ll have a panel that includes doctors, lawyers, physicists, and I think maybe even an actual rocket scientist – and some parent or prospective parent raises his hand and says, “do you feel Post Oak prepared you academically for a traditional school environment” – and you’re like – I’m sorry, are you asking the particle physicist? Or the neurosurgeon? The M.D., the J.D., or the Ph.D.?

It’s funny. I laugh, but I understand it. Parental anxiety is at an all-time high these days about even mundane things (has anyone else ever had an existential crisis over whether to offer juice to another person’s child? I fresh-pressed it myself! It’s organic, obviously! I left in the fiber! It only has 5 grams of sugar per serving! No? Forget I said anything. Don’t call CPS, please?)

So, see? With such a microscope on even the small things, it’s completely understandable that people are hyper-anxious about the big things, like education. Anxious enough to ask a particle physicist whether he did okay in school after he left Post Oak.

But, do you know what, parents of younger children? Our children are all going to learn how to read. They’re all going to learn how to write and probably will speak Mandarin and Spanish as well.

But what sets Post Oak parents apart is that they ask other questions as well: Will our children learn to be good people? Will they be self-reliant? Will they be empathetic? Will they look out for one another? Will they give back? Yes, they will. Because Post Oak is actively teaching them how.

Dinah is teaching the kids in PHE to identify their feelings. When Gray was three, he could tell me when he was “sad” or “frustrated.” The Young Children’s Community and Primary teachers encourage very young children to be self-reliant and solve their own problems. This is great when we’re talking about taking your dishes to the sink or changing your clothes, but it really tests your commitment to self-reliance when we’re talking about watching your two-year old use a cheese-grater or cut her own vegetables with a knife.

So, when Gray was old enough, we filled out the forms, went to Mirani’s prospective parent classes, learned the sacred Avenue B drop-off ritual, and jumped in with both feet. Yet, despite how prepared I thought I was, it really wasn’t until very recently that I fully realized what I had gotten myself into when my family rejoined the Post Oak community.

Because of my own experiences, I had a better sense than most about the academics, but what I didn’t know about was what I would get out of it as a parent. Those of you who have been here for years probably know by now, but I just found out this summer. You’ve joined a community of people like no other. We care about each other, and we look out for each other.

New parents of younger children – the coming year will be full of firsts – first playdates, first birthday parties – things you can predict. Those things are special. But the things you can’t predict – the support, the security, the sense of belonging you will have. Those things are precious. This summer, Julia, my 2.5 year old, was diagnosed with infantile glaucoma. It’s a rare disease and we caught it late. And we were scared, because one of the possible outcomes – the worst case scenario – is blindness. I’m so happy to report that we found out just yesterday that she is going to be okay – that won’t be her path – but it took a surgery and two very long months post-op to find that out.

When we told Post Oak about Julia’s diagnosis, this community put everything it had behind us. They propped us up and kept us going through some very scary days.

This summer, teachers, administrators, staff members, fellow parents all listened to us, cried with us, prayed for us, sent words of support and encouragement... offered whiskey... They made meals, provided transportation, read and interpreted medical records, researched doctors (yes, we have a very accomplished and caring group of parents).

The reason the school could be there for us in that way is not because of their commitment to standardized testing, but because of their commitment to nurturing our children as individuals, not just as future college applicants. And more than just a commitment to our children, the school had made a commitment to our family. I see it every day in the subtle but incredibly meaningful accommodations Dinah has made for Julia, and in the way Julie pushes Gray to challenge himself. Because he needs to be pushed, and she knows that. They know our kids – for better and for worse – they know them more than just their test scores. After only five days in class, I already can tell Tamara Townsend has Julia’s number. “Engaging conversationalist” you called her. Very diplomatic. That’s code for “talks a lot.” They are going to read – and they are going to be self-reliant. And after this summer, I can’t think of a trait I would want more for Julia than self-reliance.

So this is the thing I learned this summer. No matter your direction, no matter your path, this community will pack its bags and walk with you. My hope for you all as we start this new school year is that you will get to know this amazing community of people. I didn’t realize how truly wonderful they are until I became vulnerable, but you don’t have to wait around for something to happen. Reach out your hand. Look for ways to be affected; look for ways you can have an effect. Don’t just give to Big Work or the annual fund and be done with it. I mean, DO give to Big Work and the annual fund, but also do other things. Make a connection. Get involved. There is someone in this room who is going to need you this year, and they don’t even know it yet. Someone in this room will change your life this year, and you may not even have met them yet.

So I’ve written “something funny” down on my paper. I wanted to end on something really enthusiastic for the new school year, not something so sentimental, but that’s where I am right now on my journey. And I know that’s okay with you guys.

So what I want to say is, “Thank you.” From the bottom of my heart.

This school grows with you. Apparently, they even take your teenagers away for a week. I don’t know about you, but I’m eager to hear about that. So I’ll pass the baton to Jennifer.