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The Boston Globe

Metro

Jamaica Plain

The Grant family

Masilo, Malia, and Carly Grant.

Globe Staff

Masilo, Malia, and Carly Grant.

Updated: Oct. 2, 2011 -- Malia Grant is officially a big girl.

 fMalia Grant on her first day at the West Zone Early Learning Center in Jamaica Plain.

Courtesy of the Grant Family

Malia Grant on her first day at the West Zone Early Learning Center in Jamaica Plain.

She’s said goodbye to her preschool and hello to her big-girl school, the West Zone Early Learning Center in Jamaica Plain. With her new school came new responsibilities -- getting herself dressed in the morning, packing her backpack, and catching the bus home.

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She’s also a big sister now, after her brother Gabriel was born in June.

“Malia is slowly adjusting to the idea that Gabriel cannot be returned to the hospital,” her mom, Carly Grant, quipped. She stepped into school with much less trepidation. “She was totally unfazed,” Grant said.

In fact, Malia couldn’t wait to try out the jungle gym, which made quite an impression on her during pre-K practice day, held the week before school started. And her joy, coupled with the fact that Malia is in a classroom with a good friend from preschool, affirms the decision made by Carly and Masilo Grant so many months ago: This is the school they wanted for Malia.

It was, after all, first on their list.

Updated: March 28, 2011 -- The Grant family feels like they just won the lottery. And they feel guilty about it.

Malia Grant was assigned a seat in the West Zone Early Learning Center in Jamaica Plain, the first choice on her parents’ list.

“There is just this mixture of feelings, joy and relief and feeling bad for other people who didn’t get on,” said her mother, Carly Grant. “My first instinct was ‘Oh my goodness! We’re thrilled.’ Then it was ‘Oh my goodness, I hope other people get lucky too.’ ”

When she took Malia to preschool the following Monday, Grant realized that others weren’t so lucky. And that’s when she truly understood that this was a random assignment process and the outcome was uncertain.

“We’re really thankful,” she said. “We just got lucky. It’s not fair. There is just no rhyme or reason.”

March 13, 2001 -- Carly Grant and her husband, Masilo, both grew up in small towns, where you attended your neighborhood school. So the idea of touring elementary schools, then ranking them and entering a random lottery only to inevitability be assigned a spot on a waiting list was “pretty baffling and bewildering,” she said.

Still, after succumbing to the reality that Malia was no longer a baby but a big girl ready for pre-kindergarten, Grant waded into the pool that is Boston’s school register process.

“I think it’s kind of crazy,” she said. “The more I hear about it; I don’t think there’s any method to the madness.”

The goal was to visit 10 schools. But Grant, a working mother and expecting her second child in the summer, only made it to six.

“I just sort of gave up,” she said. “The truth is the vast majority of this is out of my control.”

Between her husband’s hectic schedule as a medical resident specializing in anesthesiology and her schedule as a genetic counselor at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, convenience, or logistics as Grant put it, was a major consideration for this Jamaica Plain family.

When it came to which school offered what program, Grant said: “I just went with my gut on that. We can fill in that stuff. A lot of us are paying for private preschool, and we’re paying for soccer and dance.”

Their top three choices are: West Zone Early Learning Center, because it’s on her way to work and she loved the program; the Boston Teachers Union School, which she didn’t visit but “took a leap of faith based on things I’ve heard;” and the Ellis Mendell Elementary School, which is within their “walk zone,” or one mile from home.

If Malia, who turned 4 in January, doesn’t get into a BPS school the family will “be living in a cardboard box paying full-time private preschool and infant care,” Grant quipped.

But Grant said their family isn’t overly concerned about Malia’s long-term future in Boston Public Schools because she’s not convinced the family will remain in the city once her husband finishes his residency. They’ll probably stay in the area, maybe in Cambridge or Arlington.

“I guess I would like to be in a place where I feel confident in the public schools,” she said. And Boston, she said, isn’t it. “I hear that after third grade; it’s kind of pointless.”

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