Updated: Oct. 2, 2011 -- On the first day of pre-kindergarten, there was Play-Doh. On the second day, Ita Berg got to use a computer. But the third day was the pinnacle for the Dorchester 4-year-old, who was assigned to Mather Elementary, her family’s second choice.
“I got to hold a ukulele!” Ita told her parents proudly after school.
Her first week at the Dorchester school went smoothly, but nothing is perfect. “There’s not nearly enough pink in her uniform,” explained her mother, Anna Ross, describing her daughter’s chief complaint.
Ross, who teaches college writing courses, felt teary on the first day – her daughter “just looked so grown up.”
After dropping Ita off, she and her husband, Andy Berg, a union carpenter, attended a first-day breakfast for kindergarten parents in the school library, recently refurbished with a grant from Target Corp.
Nearly a year after the family started touring schools and grappling with the city’s school-assignment process, they felt good, so far, about their choice. And Ita was on her way to achieving her goals for pre-K, which included “real writing,” she informed her mother, “not baby writing like at nursery school.”
Updated: March 28, 2011 -- Anna Ross was still in her yoga clothes last Saturday when the letter dropped into the black metal mailbox along with a copy of The Nation and a postcard from the MFA. She stood in her front hall and ripped the tabs off the sides of the mailer while her husband, Andy Berg, waited beside her.
Even their 4-year-old daughter, Ita, was silent, wriggling on the floor on her mother’s purple yoga mat. The only sound was the rockabilly music playing on the stereo in the living room.
“It’s kind of hard to open,” Ross said nervously. She unfolded the paper and paused. “Oh, the Mather. That’s really good news.”
The sight of her second-choice school on the printout flooded her with relief. “I’m going to cry,” she said, then turned to her daughter. “You get to go to Calida’s school,” Ross told her. “That was the one I think you liked the best.”
She opened her laptop to look up the Dorchester school’s website. “I feel like I won the lottery,” she said.
March 13, 2011 -- Ita Berg seemed perfectly at home on a tour of the Rafael Hernandez School this winter.
The 4-year-old roamed the halls of the Roxbury elementary school in pink snow boots, eating a banana plucked from her dad’s messenger bag as she peeked through open classroom doors. Her father, Andy Berg, trailed close behind; her mother, Anna Ross, carried her baby brother, Charlie, as the blue-eyed, pink-cheeked 1-year-old grabbed at her earrings.
“Where are we going?” asked Ita as the tour group ducked into a stairwell.
It would have been easy for these busy working parents from Dorchester to be distracted. But they were intently focused on the task at hand. At every stop on the tour, they had questions: Does the school have a choir? How long is recess? What is that humming noise in the basement?
As they work to secure their child a spot in public school, Berg and Ross have been diligent and thoughtful, touring schools; researching test scores; talking to other parents. But the outcome is out of their hands. Ita will take her chances in the BPS lottery. A computer will decide what school she is assigned to.
For Ross, 36, raised in a suburb of Hartford where the quality of the schools was assured and the admissions process easy, it is a frustrating proposition.
“It would be fine if we were going to do all this and we were going to get into a good school,” she said. “But I feel like we’re going through all this, the anxiety, the taking time from work, and we’re probably not going to get what we need.”
If they have to, they say, they will keep Ita at her private nursery school next year, and try the lottery again when she is 5. But the odds of getting into a top school would be even slimmer then.
They are committed to their lives in the city. Ross, an adjunct professor, teaches writing at Emerson College. Berg, 39, a union carpenter, grew up in Dorchester, where he is raising his children on a racially diverse street dotted with triple deckers.
”I feel like I would be failing by moving to the suburbs,” he said. “It’s not for me. It’s not what I want for my family.”
But as they fed their children dinner one night this winter, Berg chopping basil at the kitchen counter while Charlie munched on pasta in his high chair, they acknowledged that they may eventually opt to leave the city.
“On my worst days, I feel like I’ve already failed by living here, instead of somewhere where Ita could just go to school,” Ross said. “It’s like I was too idealistic, and am I going to sacrifice my kids for an ideal? No.”
They listed nine schools on Ita’s application, and say they are reasonably confident they would like four of them.
“I’m not optimistic,” Ross said. “The odds are against me. But there’s nothing we can do but wait and see what happens.”