Updated: Oct. 2, 2011 -- In Charlestown, the rituals of starting school began in June when a mothers’ group helped organize get-to-know-you pizza nights at Warren Prescott K-8 School. Teachers and parents mingled, while incoming students made friends on the playground.
Later in the summer, kindergarteners and their parents met at the Bunker Hill Monument for Dunkin’ Donut Munchkins and a practice stroll five blocks to the school.
“I feel great,” said Kimberly Bertrand, who had contemplated moving out of the city if her 5-year-old son, Jack, did not get assigned to Warren Prescott. “I think that I’m just so in love with the idea of him walking to school. He is with his friends. That sense of community.”
Bertrand is a single, working mother, and public school will save her $1,300 a month in child care. An extended-day program for $20 a day will watch her son until 6 p.m., keeping him busy with homework, piano lessons, yoga, and plenty of play time. But more important for Bertrand, Jack will be in class with familiar faces from the neighborhood she affectionately calls “Town.”
She imagines her blond-haired boy wearing his navy blue uniform shirt with the Warren Prescott patch ($22 at Lands’ End). Jack rides his bike home from school, Bertrand said as she describes her vision, and he stops by a friend’s house to play become coming home.
The week before kindergarten began, mother and son visited a barber for a special first-day-of-school haircut. They then went to Pottery Barn, where Jack picked out a new lunch box, opting for a Spiderman motif over a dinosaur model.
And finally, as a treat, they ventured to one of Jack’s favorites places: The Harvard Museum of Natural History. Wandering past the university’s Georgian-style red brick buildings, Jack had an epiphany about the college, named centuries ago after a young minister from Charlestown.
“He said, ‘Someday after kindergarten I’m going to go away and I’m going to live at a school,” his mother recalled. “He said, ‘I think it will be Harvard.’ ”
Updated: March 28, 2011 - In Charlestown, dread mounted for Kimberly Bertrand as she waited for her 4-year-old’s school assignment. Word in the neighborhood was that 22 children with siblings had applied for the Warren/Prescott K-8 School. Siblings got preference and that only left some 25 seats for other kids.
For Jack, another school would mean he couldn’t ride his bike to class. For his mother, it may have pushed her to move out of the city she loved.
The letter arrived last Saturday after soccer: Jack got his first choice, the Warren/Prescott. Bertrand, 49, erupted with tears of joy. Private school applications immediately went in the trash.
But other than a glass of champagne with neighbors also happy with their school assignments, Bertrand’s celebration has been muted.
“At the park, at birthday parties, it’s very tempered conversation,” she said. “Jack got in, but one of his best friends didn’t. “There’s definitely no jumping up and down in public.”
March 13, 2011 - In Charlestown, mothers have distilled the school lottery so it fits into a single, gallon-sized Ziploc bag. Kimberly Bertrand learned from parents who already had braved the process to use the bag as a repository for documents needed for registration: passport, immunization records, utility bill, and Suffolk County deed.
The tip for Bertrand came from Charlestown’s robust mothers’ group, which assigns mentors to help new parents through the lottery and proselytizes for the local Warren/Prescott K-8 School. One night last fall, Bertrand walked to a neighbor’s house for pizza and wine and an informational session with parents, teachers, and the principal of Warren/Prescott.
”They talked about kids testing into Boston Latin and the sports program,” said Bertrand, who has a bright-eyed, blond-haired 4-year-old named Jack.
Rallying around the local elementary school fits with Charlestown’s strong sense of community, Bertrand said, and makes it the place where she wants to raise Jack. But as a manager at Cisco Systems and single mother, Bertrand acknowledged that an assignment to a school other than Warren/Prescott will increase the allure of the suburbs.
“My goal is to stay in the city,” she said. “My school choice will determine whether I do or not.”
Bertrand, 49, grew up in Vermont and came to Boston like so many twenty-somethings, attracted by the opportunity to work hard and play hard. She settled in Back Bay, but moved to Charlestown because money went further, allowing her to buy a handsome red-brick row house with a gas fireplace and a parking spot.
For Jack, a city beckons at his doorstep. The USS Constitution is a neighbor, and he almost knows as much about 213-year-old Old Ironsides as some of the tour guides. The Museum of Science is as close as the grocery store, a boon for a boy who talks about working as a scientist when he’s not dreaming of becoming a ninja.
But as his mother waits for his school assignment, she also has a stack of private school applications. In the short term, private school tuition would force Bertrand to significantly scale back plans to redecorate her home. Long term, it would send her to the suburbs shopping for a new home.
“I have a lot of other choices,” Bertrand said. “It will have a profound impact on his life and my life, but I’ve got a lot of choices. But a lot of people don’t have a lot of choices.’’