Music (and public school) saved my life

I read this bit on CNN earlier about a classmate of mine at the Governor’s School for the Arts. I got know him when I served as the rehearsal pianist in the cited Robert Brown’s stead for that year’s production of The Magic Flute – Ryan was one of our two Sarastros (there were two casts). Funnily enough, I remember getting into a physical altercation with somebody during a rehearsal, and I am 90% sure it was Ryan. Probably not a surprise to anybody who knew either of us.

Reading this made me think about how important caring adults, music, and public school were in saving me from myself. I grew up in a violent household without a ton of resources (though to give my dad credit he deserves, he put a lot of work into always paying for school and piano necessities), and I was a mediocre student at best. Without teachers and counselors who could read past the anger, I would probably have been bounced out of multiple schools, and who knows what would have happened then. Without the opportunity to deep dive into music studies before adulthood, I have no idea what I would have done in college and beyond, and I’ve publicly spoken about the huge impact my musical training has had on my professional success in technology.

I’ve been aware of the importance of having a program like the Governor’s School for the Arts available to me since my attendance as a high school senior. GSA is a free program that relies on a partnership with 8 surrounding public school districts for busing and admissions/school credit. Virginia Beach specifically has special programs within its regular public high schools, also with public school busing provided, so I went to a math and science academy in the mornings (well, if I bothered to get up that day) and then GSA for piano in the afternoons. Opera rehearsals were at night and I was paid for them as an actual hire, which was a very cool job for a teen. If we’d had to pay for tuition or transportation, a lot of things would have been a lot harder, and I may never have gotten to do it at all.

I think about this availability a lot as my child enters public school age in a time and place where private and charter schools are the assumed norm for a lot of my parenting peers, and I’m frequently the lone dissenting voice who continues to believe in taking part in an admittedly imperfect equalizing system. I put my kid into a charter school lottery for pre-K4 next year and was honestly rather relieved when he ended up pretty far down on the wait list. As a planner, it’s hard to wait for public school registration (which isn’t a very clear process to begin with) and there’s a lot less information out there about each specific school because they’re not trying to sell themselves, but I genuinely believe that getting to know the people around you and hopefully some people who are very different from yourself is a critical part of education. It might still turn out that the specific combination of the neighborhood school and my son doesn’t work out for whatever reason, but we have to give it a fair chance, the same way I believe that all of his peers deserve a fair chance.

Jersey City has universal pre-K which I think is critically important, so I’ll probably be volunteering at our two local pre-K4 options (regular and bilingual) to get a feel for them over the next couple of months; pre-K3 is almost all through city-contracted providers, so this year was not a local school. There’s also a progressive bent in me that wishes all parents were required to send their kids to their local public school for X period of time, because I am real tired of hearing nothing but negative talk from a bunch of yuppie parents who’ve never bothered to get to know the people or the schools directly around them. (Aside: said parents really don’t like it when you ask them if they’re sure the schools are the problem or if it’s that they’re trying to excuse their fear of unknown brown and/or “poor” people.)

Props to you, Ryan, and thanks for sharing your story. Even now as an adult, it’s comforting for me to know I wasn’t the only one, and if even one kid going through the same thing sees this and is inspired, I believe that’s some of the best success we can find.

1 response to “Music (and public school) saved my life”

  1. mercedesguera Avatar

    Loved the book. Saw it @Comedycentral with Trevor Noah, TY for sharing

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