One of Our Best Parenting Decisions: Choosing SF’s Public Schools

Michele McMahon-Cost, PPS-SF volunteer and SF public school parent, tells us why her decision to attend public school was the best for her family. 

As our son navigates his freshman year at Lowell High School, my husband and I have reflected on the educational experience he and his sister have had in San Francisco’s public schools. It hasn’t always been easy, but we believe choosing to “go public” has been one of the best parenting decisions we could have made.  

After growing up in a middle-class white suburb, we wanted to give our kids a more diverse educational experience. We realized that despite San Francisco’s diversity, it’s easy for families to self-segregate by neighborhood and school choice. So in order to provide our kids with the most diverse socioeconomic and cultural experience, we determined that we needed to choose SFUSD. 

Although they didn’t realize it at the time, my son and his sister were in the minority on their first day of kindergarten at Marshall Elementary. They were in a room of full of students who didn’t look or speak like them, and all but a few were from different socioeconomic and ethnic groups. Thanks to dedicated teachers and a supportive school community they thrived during that first year, making friends and learning a second language.  

Ten years later, our hope of providing our kids with a much wider and expanded worldview has been realized and they have grown into compassionate and empathetic young adults. They have not only received an academic education, but a cultural education as well.

Our public school experience has also provided a wealth of topics for family dinner conversations and has given us insight and a connection to many of the current issues facing our fellow San Francisco families. We’ve talked about hunger issues and why the SF Food Bank distributed food each week at our school. We’ve discussed immigration and heard first-hand accounts of classmates who fled to the U.S. from violence in Central America.  

Our kids are not just learning about social justice, they are living and experiencing it every day. This has provided them with invaluable perspective on their individual place in our society, one that is currently struggling with racial and socioeconomic divisions  

Although we live in a diverse city, it wasn’t until we became public school parents that we were really forced out of our cultural comfort zone. For the first time in my life, I was the one parent in the room that needed translation during a meeting. It gave me a glimpse into the struggles that many non-english speaking parents face, as well how our teachers and schools are challenged each day educating San Francisco’s diverse student base.  

Being part of the public school community has engaged us in issues that may not directly impact our family. We have made friends across socioeconomic and cultural lines and now have a broader, more diverse understanding of the city in which we live.  We are better informed and are now committed to making a larger impact in our expanded community.   

We knew our kids were in for a transformative experience, but didn’t realize that as parents we were in for an education as well, which is something we are truly grateful for — thank you San Francisco Public Schools.

Michele McMahon-Cost is a Bay Area native and has lived and worked in San Francisco for 24 years. She is an active public school volunteer, including serving as a school site council representative at her children’s elementary school. Michele is a high school and university graduate from California public schools.

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