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Roslindale

The Rousell family

Denise Kitty-Rousell and her kids Sophi and Steve Rousell.

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Denise Kitty-Rousell and her kids Sophi and Steve Rousell.

Updated: Oct. 2, 2011 -- At first, Sophie Rousell wasn’t sure about her new school uniform -- the plaid jumper, the white shirt with the Peter Pan collar -- that she would wear to kindergarten. So in the waning days of summer, her mother had her stage dress rehearsals.

 “We decided we were going to have her put it on every day the week before school started just to get used to the process,” said her mother, Denise Kitty-Rousell, of Roslindale. “I just didn’t want any struggles.”

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Sophie came to love the uniform – and her new school, Mount Alvernia Academy in Chestnut Hill. 

Despite the price tag, the private school has been a relief for her parents and a thrill for Sophie, who is making friends and enjoying the new environment. Her mother has been pleasantly surprised that the morning drive to Chestnut Hill takes just 20 to 25 minutes, even less in the afternoon.

Sophie’s parents had grappled with whether they could afford private school tuition for kindergarten. But they had already been disappointed once in the Boston Public School lottery, when Sophie did not get assigned to any pre-kindergarten program. They predicted that they wouldn’t get one of their three picks for kindergarten and found a private alternative.

On the first day of school, Sophie was excited. But she grew anxious as the morning went on. By the time her mother left her school, “she was ready to start crying and she did.

But when she picked her up later, Sophie told her mother: “ ‘Right after you left, everybody started to cry. And then we all got it together and it was fine.’ ”

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Updated: March 28, 2011 -- Steve Rousell and Denise Kitty-Rousell gave up on the school lottery weeks ago. Believing that their daughter, Sophie, wouldn't get a good assignment, they made a backup plan for a private school.

If they'd gambled wrong -- and Sophie did get assigned to their favorite school, the Beethoven -- they would be now hard-pressed to accept. Their alternative plan would have cost them a $1,550 nonrefundable deposit.

"The cynic in me swears this will say Beethoven," Steve Rousell said anxiously, waiting for his wife to open the student assignment letter. He got so frustrated when she couldn't open it fast enough, he tried to grab it. Then she tore it open.

It wasn't their first, second or third pick. It was the Sumner Elementary, a Roslindale school that was not on their radar.

"This is like a worst-case scenario," Rousell said. "I'm so glad we did what we did."

"It's not like we haven't done our homework here," he added. "We have schools close to our house that we'd like our children to attend."

March 13, 2011 -- Steve Rousell walked to school at the Mozart Elementary, but only through second grade. That was 1974 and Boston was about to embark on a sometimes violent social experiment -- busing students across the city to integrate the schools. His mother wasn't taking any chances. She sent him to Holy Name Parish School in West Roxbury.

Now 45, Rousell rents an apartment from his mother in the same Roslindale house where he grew up. And he faces a similar decision about his own children's education.

His daughter, Sophie, didn't get into the Mozart -- or any Boston Public School -- as a 4-year-old. Although she's assured a spot in kindergarten this fall, she is not guaranteed a seat in one of her neighborhood's desirable schools. Rousell and his wife, Denise Kitty-Rousell, are reluctant to send Sophie elsewhere out of concern both for her safety and the quality of her education.

"When it is a child’s only safe place and that’s maybe their only meal, that kid is like, 'OK, I’m surviving and getting by,' " said Kitty-Rousell, 35. "They’re not necessarily focusing on, ‘I need to make sure my math homework is done.’ I just don’t even want that to be a thought when she goes to school. I want her to go in there for learning."

She'd like to move to the suburbs, but can't afford to. And until recently, she wasn’t wild about a Catholic school education. She's Jewish and doesn't want her children to feel alienated from their peers.

But the Rousells liked the message they heard about tolerance when they visited Mount Alvernia Academy in Chestnut Hill. They know what they are getting there, unlike in Boston.

"We just didn't want to worry about the city screwing around with us this time," said Steve Rousell.

So on March 9, they mailed a $1,550 nonrefundable deposit to the Mount -- even before learning whether Sophie got into Boston Public Schools.

Paying the $7,350 tuition won’t be easy. Rousell, a crew dispatcher for the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad, works overtime shifts each week to make ends meet. His wife, whose job was outsourced when she was pregnant with their second child, works three shifts a week, mostly waiting tables at a restaurant. She resents the assumption that families like theirs can buy their way out of Boston Public Schools if they don't like their offerings.

"What do you do with those of us who live in the city, can’t afford to leave, can’t afford private schools but don’t want to send their kids to Roxbury?" Kitty-Rousell added. "Their assumption is, you’re a privileged white person. In my opinion, that’s kind of racist."

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