Haves and Have Nots

Thursday morning. It has been forcibly brought home to me in the last week just how great the gap between those who have money and those who do not is, at least here in San Diego. I had a fairly comfortable (upper middle class) upbringing and have been fortunate to have enough money to do most of what I like as an adult, so this is pretty eye-opening for me.

Alcott had a track meet last week at a public school in one of the most affluent areas in San Diego. This week's meet was at a private school in a very upper middle class neighborhood. What both schools had in common was that everything was top of the line, best money can buy: personalized nylon warmups for all of the kids, personalized hurdles with the school's name emblazoned across them, all-weather track so that athletes have less stress on their joints, beautiful stadiums that are clean and safe, and an abundance of kids in every event. What Alcott's school has: 100% cotton heavy sweats (non-personalized, of course, because they'll be given to another kid next year), hurdles that don't match (much less personalized ones), an awful old track with ruts and puddles when it rains, some metal bleachers that shake when the wind blows, and about 1/3 the number of kids participating in track as the other two schools.

As I sat in the lovely, comfortable stadium yesterday, I had two thoughts: first, that it's not fair that some have so much when others have so little, and second that I need to find out what I have to do to get Alcott into that private school. Tuition is almost $10,000 a year, but they have 25% of their students on some form of financial aid and his grades are fabulous, he's a wonderful boy with good manners and a desire to do well, and VLSCI (the company that I happily work for) is relocating about 2 miles from their campus next year. And then I thought, "Why can't I just get some gazillionaire or foundation or something to upgrade the facilities at his current school?" But that's not the way that it works, is it? The have nots get a run down school with asbestos remediation problems, subpar athletic facilities, parents who don't attend or support the athletic events, and students who struggle more than they should have to in order to take their moment in the spotlight.

For some (thankfully not Alcott), athletics will be their ticket to a better life. They'll get scholarship money to play football or basketball or baseball or whatever at a four-year school and that will expose them to people, experiences, and knowledge that they never would have ordinarily encountered. Yes, it would be nice if they were as focused on their academics as athletics (and some most certainly are), but not everyone has the brains or drive to suceed in that way. I shudder to think what the arts and music programs at Alcott's school look like. Actually, I wonder if they even have much of either, and that makes me sad again. Band was a conduit to making friends and gaining confidence for me as a kid...what will the shy kids with low self-esteem do if there's no band, no art classes, no chorus? I know that they've got great high-tech equipment and classes (great computer lab, awesome web programming classes, and high tech marketing, just to name a few) because they got a HUGE grant from the Gates Foundation to get that off the ground, and that is really fantastic, but I worry that high tech will not replace fine arts in building a well-rounded young adult.

This is rambling, and I apologize for that, but I'm so angry about all of this. The kids at the schools I visited this and last week don't have to choose between being high tech aware and learning about art and music. They don't have to worry about whether their track will be OK to use after a rain storm. They have support and encouragement to do and go and be anything they want. Shouldn't every kid have that?

And, in the meantime, I'm going to find out what I have to do to get Alcott into that private school. I will do things for this boy that I wouldn't do for anyone or anything else including, apparently, selling out my conscience.

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