As parents, we make innumerable choices for our children that we hope will give them the best advantage in life. As college becomes more expensive and competitive, many parents are spending a great deal of time thinking about which school their child should attend as early as preschool. Every parent wants to make sure their child attends a school that has the resources and reputation to help him or her succeed. As transracial adoptive parents, we have another duty when choosing schools for our children. Not only do we need to select a school we feel they will be safe at, that they will thrive at academically and that will set them up for the best possible success in their future, we also need to ensure they are attending a school where they have racial mirrors: in their classmates, in their teachers, and in the school staff.
When you are deciding what school your child should attend, you should consider the following:
1. How diverse is the school’s student population overall?
2. How many students are members of the same ethnic or racial group as your child?
3. How many teachers are minorities?
4. How many teachers are members of the same ethnic or racial group as your child?
5. What is the racial makeup of the school’s administration and support staff?
6. What kind of initiatives does the school have to celebrate and champion diversity?
7. How do the administration and teachers approach the topic of adoption: have they received any training about working with adoptive students? Do they use adoption positive language?
This can all seem overwhelming to someone who, in addition to all of these things, also has to consider things like the school’s performance on test scores, how convenient the school is to home and work, and what type of school they can afford. Many of these data points can be easily obtained by visiting your state’s department of education website. There, you should be able to find school “report cards” for the schools in your area that outline school performance as well as a breakdown of the ethnic makeup of the students the school serves. Some of the other questions, however, require doing a little more homework. The easiest way to get them answered is to visit the school and schedule a meeting with a member of the school’s administration. Most school systems have regular “orientations” or tours for prospective new parents throughout the year and are also happy to talk with parents at other times. Don’t be afraid to seem like you are asking “too many questions” or taking up too much of their time. If possible, ask if they have a parent who you could talk to about the school as well. Ideally, another transracial adoptive parent, but at a minimum, a parent whose children are of the same race as your child. Parents will give you their honest opinion on whether a school is best equipped to serve your child.
Finding the right school fit for your transracially adopted child, specifically one where he or she will have as many racial mirrors as possible, can truly make a marked difference in a child’s academic performance, not to mention overall happiness. No one wants to be the odd man out in any situation, and your child is already a member of a family where it is possible he is the only person of his racial or ethnic group. Finding a school that ticks as many of these boxes as possible can help your child feel confident in her identity as an adoptee and as a member of her racial or ethnic group. Sometimes, this means the school your child should attend isn’t the “best school” in your town if that school has no racial diversity. It also sometimes means you have to put in some extra effort and fill out the necessary paperwork required by your school district to transfer your child to a school other than the one he is geographically assigned to. If you are considering a private or parochial school, do not think the benefits of a private education will outweigh the damage being the “token” ethnic student might do to your child if the school is not diverse. Be sure to weigh all your options so you can make the best decision possible for your child.