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The Grophear family

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Deborah and Xolani Grophear

Updated: Oct. 2, 2011 -- Five-year-old Xolani St. Brice was all set to begin kindergarten, despite her mother’s reservations over the summer.

Courtesy of the Grophear family

Xolani Grophear on her first day of school at Jackson Mann school in Allston.

“She so wanted to go to her new school,” said Deborah Grophear, 30, an administrative assistant at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

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When Grophear heard earlier this year that her daughter had been assigned to the Jackson Mann Elementary in Allston, she was reasonably content. Her top choices were two charter schools, but neither option came through.

The Jackson Mann was actually her second choice in the Boston public school lottery, but she was pleased because she heard good things about the school. As a single mother on tight finances, she could not afford to consider private school or to move out of her Mission Hill neighborhood.

Then over the summer, she began to wonder whether she should keep Xolani in her Allston day care for another year, then try for her top charter school picks - the Boston Renaissance Charter School in Hyde Park and the Edward Brooke Charter School in Roslindale. Her daughter would have the continuity of her day care, and then hopefully go to one of the charter schools if only luck went her family’s way.

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But in the end, Xolani’s excitement about kindergarten was a train that had taken off, and her mother didn’t have the heart to stop it.

Grophear knew she had encouraged this attachment, too. Xolani’s day care is near the Jackson Mann, so when they passed the building over the spring, Grophear often pointed out, “There’s your new school!”

Xolani also grew excited about the shirt uniform that the kindergarten students at Jackson Mann wear.

Xolani’s reaction to Jackson Mann so far has not disappointed her.

“She seems to be doing well,” he mother said. “And she loves recess!”

Updated: March 28, 2011 - Deborah Grophear was nervous when she approached the silver metal mailboxes in her apartment complex. She knew the letter was probably coming last weekend, but she was away and didn't have a chance to check the mail until last Monday after work.

Her heart sank when she saw her 5-year-old daughter, Xolani, didn't get her first choice, the Hernandez. Then she read that Xolani had a seat at the Jackson Mann in Allston -- and Grophear, in her agitation, momentarily forgot whether she had even listed that school.

Later, after looking at her files, she realized that Jackson Mann was her second choice -- and she was overall relieved. She likes the fact that the school is in a relatively safe neighborhood, and near the preschool that Xolani currently attends.

"A school is as good as the parents, so if I'm involved, that will be good," she said.

March 13, 2011 -

Grophear had spent much of her childhood in a Brazilian orphanage, and then at age 12 was adopted along with her siblings by a New Hampshire couple. But the adjustment did not go smoothly; over the next six years, the unhappy teenager became estranged from her new home and bounced around different schools, before obtaining her GED at age 18.

Now 29, Grophear is raising a 5-year-old daughter, Xolanim on her own. Grophear said the girl's father is in prison and the couple has divorced. But she had been able to provide for her family through a full-time job as an administrative assistant at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. She and her daughter live in a two-bedroom apartment in the Mission Park complex, only blocks from her job.

She said that researching kindergarten slots for her daughter has been a logistical nightmare. She has had to take time off from work to investigate public and charter school options. She also encountered a lengthy delay when she learned she needed to convert her New Hampshire driver's license to a Massachusetts one to register her daughter for the Boston Public School lottery.

If her daughter fails to get into any of her top choices, Grophear is considering moving back to New Hampshire, possibly home-schooling her daughter. But that requires sacrificing a good job and home.

"I've come so far to let everything go," Grophear said. "That's why I struggle with the idea of moving."

But Grophear said she is prepared for that choice if she does not like her daughter's options. She hates the idea that her daughter's educational future "depends on luck." She also finds unbearable the prospect that her daughter, encountering a bad school, will become turned off to learning, as Grophear experienced in her own past.

"I don't want to have her dealing with feelings of struggling and not being able to get help," she said.

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