I listen to NPR and tonight one story stood out to me as I raised my kids in Silicon Valley--it was a story about the great Silicon Valley preschool divide. Two of my three kids attended preschool there and I marveled to hear about this preschool divide. The story was about the children of high tech company professionals who pull down fat pay checks and who can afford lofty annual preschool tuition of around 27 thousand per year. OUCH. I cannot even imagine.
My ex-husband was an entrepreneur. He started several companies in Silicon Valley and we eventually hit it reasonably big with one of them. We were never the super rich. I stayed home for 15 years raising our kids. I was one of the last of the dying breed of "stay at home moms" and I lived in Los Altos and Mountain View along with the trophy wives dressed in cute little tennis dresses and where the high school kids parked fancy cars in the Los Altos High School parking lot. Even during the heyday of Silicon Valley, most families sent their kids to the local public schools, some were enrolled in Catholic Schools or in Pinewood, and preschool in those days was not free.
My son Jason attended the Montessori School that was located at the Almond Elementary School in Los Altos and for us, that was a luxury. It was a nice school and he had a great experience but by the time my last child came of preschool age, we opted into something new to me, parent preschool. Specifically, Los Altos Parent Preschool, which appears to still be there after some 28 or so years since we attended. It was then the affordable option.
What is parent preschool? Well, it is a cooperative school that had two paid teachers and worked with about four to six parents for each session and some 20 kids. As parents, you rotated through every other week or so and the fun part was I got to meet parents from all walks of life. Some big names in Silicon Valley sent their kids to Los Altos Parent Preschool and some of them showed up to have their special time with their child. I was fascinated that they took the time to be there and that they actually took time out of their busy days to be with their child for the preschool experience.
I learned about this school from my friend and neighbor, Gerri Carlton, who was on the local school board and who was dedicated to this little school. She had a son my daughter's age and I quickly got over my skepticism and learned to love this special school. Keiko was the name of the teacher and during my rotation I got to learn all my daughter's favorite songs and to meet all of her friends. My favorite part was meeting the parents and getting to know all of them. I have to say this was my favorite of all my children's educational experiences. I am glad we enrolled Jennifer and I think of it to this day. Thanks Gerri!
Back then, houses cost between 200 to 300 thousand dollars, today the same homes cost 2 to 3 million dollars and up. I do not even understand how young families afford to live in Los Altos anymore. Layer on top of that the cost of private school education and you are spending a lot of money.
Later, I moved to Palo Alto, and this NPR story focused on the AltSchool in Palo Alto and compared it to what the kids across 101 in East Palo Alto don't have. There is a huge economic divide between these two cities and even back when I was around these were two different worlds. This economy gap is real and it has only grown worse in the last 20 years. Not sure if there is any great solution but I was surprised that in Silicon Valley there is still no free preschool, but here in Austin, TX there is. I was happy to hear that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is building a free daycare and school in East Palo Alto, that is a very cool thing. THAT is visionary. Way to go Mark!