When I talk to people about living in the city, I share the joys of urban living and its challenges. Sometimes I liken it to a marathon. It's gotten harder as we've gone along, and at times I wonder whether we'll cross the finish line.
My husband and I moved into the city in the late 1980s and found that our Mount Pleasant neighborhood suited us. We met folks we never would have met in our cloistered, homogenous suburban life. A young man from Burkina Faso made our acquaintance as he walked down our street one day, and after that he dropped by often as he, too, was beginning his life in the District. A family with seven children, barely making ends meet, lived across the street. We lived in a basement apartment, and our landlord worked for an international aid organization. We enjoyed frequent conversations about his travels and life's work.
Long story short, we made our home in the city, and we liked it. Over a period of years, we had four children, moved to Lanier Place in nearby Adams Morgan and got comfortable -- to a point.
A few weeks ago, while coming home from church on a Sunday night, we turned the corner to our street and saw a group of young teens running toward us. As we pulled into our garage, we saw several of them booking down the alley. "That's strange," I remarked.
My oldest daughter suggested that maybe the kids were running home to see a TV show. A moment later, all attempts at believing the best were abandoned as we saw a police officer chasing down one of the kids.
Breathless, he radioed his fellow officers so they could corner the kid at the other end of the alley. I ushered my children into the house and tried to bring us back to some semblance of normalcy.
Those kinds of moments are few and far between, thank God. But what really has been slowly wearing us down is the D.C. public school system. Our elementary school, Oyster Bilingual, has been outstanding. The teachers are phenomenal, the new building is beautiful and the parent community is vibrant.
However, the upper-level schools in the District have been less than stellar, in our experience. We're on a slippery slope leading God knows where. As I see it, elementary education is excellent, middle school is adequate and high school is sub-par.
Some may beg to differ, but that has been our experience. My middle daughter, Emily, graduated from Oyster last year, and we wanted to provide her with the best education possible. She applied to several private schools in the District, and we were ecstatic when she was accepted at one of the best. Our elation turned to disappointment, however, when we were told that the school could not give us one dime of financial aid. Its tuition, $23,000 a year, was beyond our reach, and we decided to send her to Hardy Middle School.
In truth, it is one of the better schools in our system. But the building, slated for renovation, is dilapidated. My daughter has been uncomfortably cold in her classes in recent weeks as the temperature has dropped.
We have considered moving. The idea was especially immediate to me the evening I attended the back-to-school night at Wilson Senior High School this fall. As I went from classroom to classroom, I was dismayed at the state of the building.
Paint is peeling off the walls. Each classroom had little to distinguish it from the rest. There were no textbooks for three out of seven subjects. As I walked down the halls, I had to tell myself over and over that I was not in a developing nation. I would expect these conditions in a Third World country, but not in the nation's capital.
My hope has been for us to remain in the city while raising our children.
I love so much about it. But to stay here at the expense of my children's education might be too steep a price to pay. I see the "finish line" as having at least one of my children graduate from high school here. But I must confess that the longer I'm in this "race," the more exhausted I become.
In her spare time, Hilda Labrada Gore enjoys writing and acting. She is a worship leader at Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church in Severna Park.