Wilde Lake parents underestimated their children


September 19, 1999

I had to reply to the article published Sept. 14, "Columbia parents vote with their bus."

I will never forget the day last spring when it was announced that Wilde Lake Middle School had its "protected status" removed. I had just agreed to accept the nominating committee's recommendation to run for Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA) president.

I was a newcomer with a soon-to-be sixth-grade daughter coming up from Clemens Crossing Elementary. I took special interest in this middle school because of a peculiar rumor mill that generated really bad stories for as long as I have lived in Clemens Crossing. I was somewhat outraged at all of the incredibly inflammatory rumors.

The end of the protected status brought an abrupt change. Some parents who were active at Clemens Crossing Elementary virtually disappeared from the scene -- folks who were considered part of the backbone of a neighborhood school.

They did not take long to make their decision to put in for transfer to Lime Kiln, a new school.

Parents discussed their reasons for leaving. Most focused on issues like "academic quality," "socio-economic challenges" and "disruptive classroom behavior."

Funny thing is, many of these folks never really visited Wilde Lake Middle School. In a period of two weeks, we lost quite a few "active" parents and a few folks I considered friends, too. Why? The piece by Gady A. Epstein and Erika D. Peterman points out some of the issues.

Clemens Crossing Elementary School is just plain wonderful and shouldn't be maligned. But it's really a shame that a few Clemens Crossing parents choose to go to other schools rather than help out at their village middle school. The $37,800 they spent on school buses could have paid to support lectures for our kids by Nobel laureates.

It really is amazing how so many parents "short change" our children's ability, even desire, to make new friends.

What's the problem? Southwest Columbia is one of the more affluent sections of the planned city. There are parts of Columbia where real-estate values attract homeowners who are wooed more by resale value than by Jim Rouse's dream of a colorblind village.

Sometimes I think Columbia should have an "entrance exam." If you don't buy the concept of a harmonious America where people can be any color, any origin, or have any size paycheck and still be able to sit side by side to watch Independence Day fireworks at the Town Center, hey, there are other places to live.

So what's going on at Wilde Lake Middle School today? We are off to a wonderful start.

I smile smugly to myself to see all of the children going to class so orderly and happy. The teachers are talented and enthusiastic. Contrary to comments about alleged "fights in the halls," I found a beautiful rainbow of young people streaming into school all motivated to learn and succeed. Our new principal, Brenda Thomas, is an absolute gem. Wilde Lake has had a wonderful assistant principal, Tom Sauders, for some time.

Karen Campbell and the rest of the school board displayed a visionary and sagacious outlook when they lifted the "protected status."

Face it, some parents were just not going to be happy with their children at Wilde Lake Middle. If they remained, they could be profoundly disruptive. Morale could decline. They now have the option to leave. I wish them and their children well. There is no angst or tension in the air at Wilde Lake Middle.

Everyone is there because they want to be.

Rick Wilson Columbia

The writer is president of the Wilde Lake Middle School PTSA.

We whites must stop lying to ourselves ...

Every time I read an article such as "Columbia parents vote with their bus," (Sept. 14), I wonder how much longer we white people can lie to ourselves. The reason those parents are exiting Wilde Lake Middle School is because the minority enrollment is up.

If white Americans look honestly at our culture, we have to admit that ultimately we will run out of space to isolate ourselves from people of color. It's a selfish world where people can say that if something doesn't help their child, why should they bother with someone else's child.

What happened to the social contract? The $37,800 collected to run buses might have been used to set up after-school programs for the academically disadvantaged or to implement activities that would help ease communities past the racial divide that is splitting our country.

Barbara M. Simon, Columbia

The school controversy outlined in the front-page article, "Columbia parents vote with their bus," is not about an alleged decline in standards at Wilde Lake Middle School. It's about white flight.

My wife and I moved to Columbia because it was special. The Columbia ideal is for people of all racial, ethnic, socioeconomic and religious backgrounds to live together. But that doesn't happen by itself.

What happens when white flight takes hold? It means many of our children are apt to grow up with the same fears and stereotypes as the preceding generations.

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