So here's where I am right now:
When we selected the oldest's middle school almost two years ago, we intentionally chose one that demographically felt more like the real world than his elementary. (We also chose the one that offered the International Baccalaureate, because if you want to talk bang for your tax dollar buck, wow is the IB it.)
This year I took over all responsibility for the Reward Store. The Reward Store is a positive behavior system that allows students to earn "green passes" for doing the right thing and shop every Friday with them. We stock super cool school supplies, toiletries, some seasonal items, and fun finds as I locate them at a reasonable cost.
Fridays have become my favorite day bar none, because I love these kids. They're incredibly bright and simultaneously not so bright, but they are all just trying so, so hard. Some of them shine and some don't yet, but I see the shine deep inside them. It's there.
I see pretty much every student at least walk by every single Friday there's school. Roughly half to two-thirds of them shop on any given Friday.
At the beginning of the year we did a brisk business in "locker swag" and school things. Fall is easy -- I can't tell which students are buying notebooks because they need notebooks and which are buying notebooks because they just want super cute ones.
Today marked the day I was painfully aware of which kids were buying scarves and hats because they need them, because the ones who didn't have enough green passes to buy them I would just see their shoulders slump. Hopefully I'd say, "Were they going to be a gift?" because we have some kids buying gifts right now (coffee mugs went flying out the door, ditto "zen gardens"). And the student would shake his/her head and softly say, "It's cold out," and then get back in line.
Today Senator Hagan and Aaron Williams, the head of the Peace Corps, visited the middle school, and my son among others played djembe for them! By all accounts it was an exciting experience for students, school personnel, and dignitaries alike.
That said, I slipped out before the guests arrived, because after three hours in Reward Store, I'm not exactly polished anymore, but also because today my heart hurt for those students who are trying so hard to get what they need, to earn it through their own efforts. Because they're right: it's cold out. No hidden meaning, just the truth. It is cold outside.
And that's where I am.