Donna Black and her granddaughter, Alivia, at Wade Park School


Story by Justin Glanville Photos by Julie Van Wagenen

This story is part of a series about how families chose their schools.

A tough history

Years ago, when Donna Black’s children were in school, she was not in a good place.

“I was deep in my addiction to alcohol, and I couldn’t give my kids the attention they needed,” she says. “The streets raised my children.”

Her son eventually went to prison, and his toddler daughter, Alivia — Black’s granddaughter — ended up in the custody of Black and her husband.

Black was in recovery by then, but she was still apprehensive about raising a child.

A second chance

“I said to myself, ‘I’m not going to be able to do this,’” she said. “But after praying and praying, I came to the conclusion this is my second chance to get it right.”

Determined not to repeat her mistakes, Black enrolled her granddaughter in a daycare that emphasized kindergarten readiness. Then, at 4, Alivia scored high enough on an early entrance test to begin kindergarten earlier than the district’s official cut-off age.

Wade Park Elementary School, in Hough, was the family’s top choice.

Her top choice

“We picked it because they have a gifted program here starting in second grade,” Black says. “I wanted her to be in an environment with other children who are at her level, to enhance her learning.”

She also didn’t want Alivia to feel pressure to act less intelligent than she is because of peer pressure — something Black had experienced in her own childhood.

Beyond basic subjects, Wade Park offers early Spanish classes, music, media, and visual art, which also appealed to the family.

Black says she relished the chance to choose Alivia’s school. It was an opportunity to be proactive at the outset about the direction of her granddaughter’s education.

“When I was young, you went to the school in your neighborhood, period,” she says. “So I think being able to choose what’s best for your child’s education is a privilege and an honor. We have to make choices all through life anyway.”

Relationships matter

Alivia is excelling, but even better than the school’s academic offerings, Black says, are the relationships students have with teachers and staff.

“The first day back to school this year, there was a line of teachers welcoming everybody back,” she says. “I was in tears because I was so grateful for Alivia to know that her teachers enjoy teaching her, that they enjoy coming to class.”

Throughout the school year, Black is a frequent visitor. She volunteers however she can: reading to classes, serving as a supervisor on class trips.

Mostly, though, she just enjoys being present.

“I just want to let Alivia know I care, that’s she’s important,” she says.