For a period of about 10 years, it seemed that all my neighbors and I ever talked about was where to send our children to school. The conversations were intense and heated, as one family’s decision inevitably affected the kids next door.
Dumb luck had landed my husband and me in Cobb County’s high-performing system, as we’d moved to the suburbs years before we had children and started paying attention. But as our sons moved closer to sixth grade, we discovered that our middle and high schools’ test scores weren’t as uniformly strong as those at nearby schools on the other side of Sope Creek. Some neighbors chose to sell and “jump the creek.” But we loved our home and decided to stay.
Our public high school had students from more than 65 different countries. A decade after graduation, my older son still has friends who are Indian, Brazilian, Korean, and American of all colors. Ramadan became as familiar a part of the academic calendar to him as Thanksgiving and Passover. In eighth grade, at just over five feet tall, he was the only white kid on the basketball team. Three of our players could dunk, and several went on to play college ball. When our team built up a double-digit lead, the other parents would start chanting for the coach to put my son in. Talk about bonding.
But at the time our second son graduated from elementary school, our local middle school had restricted access to its more rigorous classes. As much as we had embraced our older son’s experience, we chose to go private. In retrospect, we probably worried too much. Our sons’ friends from both schools later flourished at competitive colleges.
As Atlanta’s intown neighborhoods have gentrified and become less affordable, the suburbs have become increasingly diverse. Having witnessed this firsthand, I was fascinated to learn about Cobb County native Ruth Yow’s new research on demographic trends at Marietta High School, just published by Harvard University Press. We’ve included in our December 2017 issue an excerpt from her book, Students of the Dream: Resegregation in a Southern City, and an interview with Yow.
Apparently, our family enjoyed the waning years of a golden age when many public schools were racially balanced. In suburban systems across the country, demographics are rapidly skewing minority-majority—and not just because that’s who lives nearby. It’s true even in Marietta, a historic, small-town system with only one high school. There are no easy answers. I still question our decisions. But I do know that learning to cheer with people who don’t look like you sticks with a person longer than AP Calculus.
This article originally appeared in our December 2017 issue.