In East San Jose, passing the Tropicana Shopping Center on Story Road, bumping over the potholes on Alum Rock Avenue, or following VTA Route 22 on King Road, there’s no mistaking the charter schools if you know where to look. Typical examples include: a collection of bright yellow portables set up outside a preexisting elementary school, a closed post office repurposed and repainted green and purple, a former public school covered in murals of college mascots.
I’m bombarded by college as I walk into the garishly purple and green building. Pennants from schools across the country are plastered on the walls of the narrow hallway to my classroom. Purple banners printed with a Comic Sans-esque font hang from the ceiling, bearing imperative slogans like “Rocketeers are RESPECTFUL,” “Rocketeers are LEADERS,” and, of course “Rocketeers are going to COLLEGE!”
I’m here to work in an after school program that focuses on linguistics and literacy, and my thoughts go from being concerned that the subject matter is too much for the kids to an unwelcome sense of inadequacy. I’m a thirty-year-old college undergrad. I went to college… eventually.
I soon discover that all the classrooms have a college theme. Mine is the Notre Dame. There’s a Fighting Irish banner next to the teacher’s desk, her rocking chair is covered in a Notre Dame flannel blanket, and there are shamrocks stamped with ND scattered across the walls. A peek next door reveals cardinal red and redwood trees: Stanford. I think I might have seen an SJSU pennant amongst the clashing colors pinned on the walls, but maybe a state school isn’t a lofty enough goal to get a classroom dedicated to it.
My unease slides away when I meet my students. I went to school not too far from here, so these kids feel like the ones I grew up with. If anything, I soon begin to feel sorry for them. Their day is far more regimented than mine was, down the street in a public school that’s since become a charter. I hear low enrollment was a problem, but there are just as many kids now as they were then. More and more parents, parents like mine who are new to this country and want opportunities that they never had, are drawn in by the siren song of COLLEGE.
Oh, I forgot to mention: my kids are in the third grade.