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The end of the PS 321 line

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Smartmom’s days are numbered at PS 321. After 11 years as a very involved parent at this illustrious school, she’s is about to say adieu.

Sure, 11 years is a long time to be in elementary school and Smartmom is good and ready to graduate.

Sort of.

But it’s a big deal, a major transition and, truth be told, Smartmom is feeling very shaky about the whole thing.

Transitions. They are an essential part of the big shebang, integral to the process of growth and moving on. You can’t live with ’em or live without ’em.

Smartmom can still remember the transition from Teen Spirit’s private kindergarten to first grade at PS 321. This was back in 1997, the olden days before Elizabeth Phillips was principal

On the first day of school, Hepcat, Teen Spirit and Smartmom — with 6-month-old OSFO in the Baby Bjorn — walked nervously to that first-grade classroom carrying a huge shopping bag full of paper towels, hand soap, Kleenex and crayons (as requested by the school).

Smartmom worried that Teen Spirit might feel overwhelmed by the raucous public school atmosphere. But it was Smartmom who felt overwhelmed.

Walking out on Seventh Avenue, Smartmom felt pangs of anxiety. What would Teen Spirit make of this new school? Hadn’t he grown used to the precious, child-centered pedagogy and specialized wooden toys of a local Montessori school?

His transition wasn’t seamless. Transitions never are. But by Halloween, Teen Spirit had settled into life as a public school first-grader. And Smartmom adjusted, too.

Soon she realized how lucky they were to live around the corner from such a warm and well-run school, where learning is focused and fun and parents and administration work closely together to make the school even better.

When OSFO started kindergarten at PS 321 in 2002, she was well adjusted by the time she went trick-or-treating on Seventh Avenue dressed as a Disney Princess. She liked her cubby, choice time, read-alouds, and playtime with friends in the playground.

It was Smartmom who missed Beth Elohim and the mommy friends she had made over there. Fortunately, some were also sending their children to PS 321. But others she didn’t see as much anymore.

New friends. New routines. Change is fun — but also scary and sad because it means that Smartmom is aging and her children growing more independent. Despite all the grief outsiders give today’s Park Slope stroller moms, Smartmom is sadder and sadder that she’s not one anymore.

The same year that OSFO started kindergarten at PS 321, Teen Spirit started middle school at MS 51. Now that was a big change: 1,300 kids in three grades; a different teacher for every subject. That first day, Teen Spirit even walked to school by himself.

But Hepcat and Smartmom were dying of curiosity. They walked over to Fifth Avenue to spy on their son at lunchtime.

“Who is that woman in the camouflage pants that he’s walking with?” Smartmom asked Hepcat.

They maneuvered themselves to get a better look from across the street. “That woman” turned out to be a friend of Teen Spirit’s from fifth grade who had grown tall over the summer and had reinvented herself as a grunge-goth-punk rock-grrrl-girl.

Once again, it took a while for the family to get used to Teen Spirit’s new school. They never really figured out their way around the building or got to know many of the other parents.

But they adjusted. Eventually.

A few years later, it was transition time again. Teen Spirit went to a high school in Bay Ridge, which was too far away for lunchtime spying. And after two years, he switched to an even better high school in Manhattan.

Both parents knew to keep their distance, but Smartmom’s affinity for the school motivated her to volunteer as an advisory parent, which is something like a class parent (a term that would surely mortify any high school kid).

Smartmom kept her affiliation on the down low (she’s not sure if Teen Spirit ever found out). Secretly, she attended PTA meetings and got to know the school and a few other parents on her own. Naturally, Teen Spirit avoided her when he saw her in the hallway. And she acted like a perfect stranger.

So, it’s transition time again. OSFO finally found out that she will attend New Voices middle school on 18th Street near Seventh Avenue. She will take the Seventh Avenue bus to school and get to know a new group of teachers and friends (and parents; Smartmom hopes she likes the parents).

OSFO hasn’t lost any sleep over it. She’s excited about going to middle school and doesn’t seem nervous about riding the B67 or navigating a brand new social scene.

Naturally, it’s Smartmom who’s having the hard time. Will OSFO feel comfortable up there? Will she make new friends? Will she like her teachers? Will everything work out?

She’s afraid to leave her wonderful school around the corner, a one-of-a-kind place with a special community of friends and neighbors. It’s been the heartbeat of her life for so many years now.

But now, it’s time to let go.

Louise Crawford, a Park Slope mom, also operates “Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn.”
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