Episode 17: The Lukas family did a 180 moving from California back to Gretchen’s stomping grounds in Oak Cliff. Not only were Mike and Gretchen forced to figure out their job status and living situation, but they had young children, Gwen and Ian, and were confronted with the big question every parent faces, “Where will I send my kids to school?” The Luki, as they call themselves, weren’t looking for just any school, they were looking for a home and they found it in Lida Hooe, the same elementary school Gretchen attended as a child. Diversity was an important factor in their decision. The Luki are white, while the Lida Hooe student population is 97 percent hispanic. They could’ve chosen a school with more families who look like them and initially they were afraid that going against the crowd would put their kids behind, but the Luki learned that you don’t have to sacrifice your morals to ensure your kids receive a solid education.
Podcast credits: Keri Mitchell, produced by Advocate Magazines
Keri Mitchell: And Gretchen, you grew up in Dallas?
Gretchen Lukas: I grew up in, yes, right here.
Keri Mitchell: Like in this neighborhood?
Gretchen Lukas: Yeah like in this house. Isn’t this freaky? So freaky. My siblings all live kind of in Lakewood now area, And we thought that that’s maybe where we would go or land. But we just came here. My mom was traveling. She rented us this house, and we’ve just been here for I guess three years maybe. Almost three years.
Keri Mitchell: So did you go to school around here too?
Gretchen Lukas: I went to Lida Hooe where we are sending our kids.
Keri Mitchell: You’re kidding?
Gretchen Lukas: Yeah. And to Arts Magnet downtown for high school and to Atwell for middle school.
Keri Mitchell: What has changed?
Gretchen Lukas: Ahh so much so much. First thing I’ve noticed moving back is now if people ask, “Where do you guys live now? Where do you live?” when I say, “Oak Cliff” the facial expression is totally different. For my entire life growing up, it would be like kind of shock and horror. It [was] followed by, “But you’re not Black” or “You’re not Hispanic.” You know? It was like this shocking like, “Whoa, how can you do it?” Because it had such a bad rep though. And then I had like a love-hate relationship with Oak Cliff. I would have times where I like really appreciated the fact that I was getting to have an experience where I was a minority in my little world. I would go from feeling grateful to like I remember getting really pissed off and blasting my punk music to counteract, you know, Maria, who’s our neighbor since I was a kid, her Mariachi music, you know, and like throwing rocks at their chickens. I wanted to be a big city punk rock girl. And we were like here, and [I was] nicknamed “La loca guera” crazy white girl. Now when I say I’m living in Oak Cliff, people have just a different like, “Oh, that’s cool!” What I love is that it’s changing. It is a much cooler neighborhood now. There is more diversity, different people moving in. Honestly one of the most exciting things well I mean it’s not exciting because it’s very practical, but sometimes practical things are very exciting is that roads get fixed, potholes are getting filled, infrastructure is being tended to. Whereas before, because of the demographic, it was just kind of the forgotten place with this amazing rich history though.
Keri Mitchell: That’s really cool. So then you came back home?
Gretchen Lukas: Yes.
Keri Mitchell: Did you have kids at this point?
Gretchen Lukas: Yes.
Keri Mitchell: How old are your kids right now?
Mike Lukas: Gwendalyn is eight. Ian Michael is five.
Keri Mitchell: Is that 3rd grade and kindergarten?
Gretchen Lukas: No, 2nd grade and Pre-K.
Keri Mitchell: So you moved here three years ago, three-ish years ago with two kids, and you’re thinking what? Let’s just send them to the school I went to?
Gretchen Lukas: No, not really at first. I was at first paralyzed with indecision, because it was our first child. Big decisions plus that’s how I make decisions is first I kind of freak, and then I process. Then, I overthink it. Then, I weigh some options. Then, I usually panic and go with some weird gut choice anyway, but Rosemont was being talked about more. So we like looked at Rosemont, but the truth for us was I couldn’t find any real difference between Rosemont and Lida Hooe when I researched online, and then it just really seemed like that’s just where the white people are sending their kids. At Lida Hooe they had even mentioned hardship transfers and I asked, “What’s the hardship? What’s the deal? What goes on here?” She just said, “Oh, it’s just, it’s just where the white people are sending all their kids,” and so I guess she assumed that maybe we would want to know that or something. Then, I had to honestly then face that part about myself, because now that we have a choice, it was almost harder instead of like, “you go where you go.” So now I have to say, “Okay, is it a factor to us at all?” like the racial balance of the different schools. I just couldn’t send her there, because there were more white kids there. So we just decided to go to Lida Hooe. That’s where I went anyway, and it is our homeschool and it’s two blocks away. And it’s so cute seeing our own little offspring walk up there and having flashbacks of me being like that little person, and I picture their little day.
Mike Lukas: Yeah, I grew up in Cleveland, and when we moved down here, I had no idea what was going on with the school systems or anything. We weren’t sure with our jobs how things were going to go. Before, I was a touring stand-up comedian, and Gretchen was a stay-at-home mom giving birth to our children and getting them through their first five years. Then, when I got here I was done. I retired from stand-up. I was done. Once I had the kids, I couldn’t be away from them all the time. You have to travel like every other week, and it was just tearing me apart. So we had to figure out like, okay, what are we going to do? We have major adjustments, which was a big factor in living in my mother in law’s house. You would think that that might not be a good thing for a guy to do. Especially as a comic, you hear all the jokes about mother-in-laws and stuff, but we get along great. She ended up being a fantastic addition to the family. Like we call her flash, and it actually ended up being perfect because she flashes around and she helps everyone and she’s real efficient. It’s a perfect nickname for her. So, where’s flash? When’s flash coming over tonight. So, it’s kind of a fun thing. So when we got here and we had to decide schools, I mean we just did what everyone else does. You just go online and you kind of look around. I was just wanting to get it done, because I didn’t know like what I was going to do for a living. We didn’t know what she was going to do for a living. We were kind of living off of savings, and then you know, and that was dwindling fast. We sort of like made a shift very quickly to me being a stay-at-home dad and the idea that it’s right here was so much more convenient.
Gretchen Lukas: And then we had to make a school choice decision once more with our son, because Ian [was at] Reagan Elementary, [which] has their Pre-K program for three and four-year-olds. Because of his September birthday he was so ready to be enrolled in something, and so we went to Reagan and he began his little autonomous life. It was great actually. Terrific school and the campus, you know, and the principal and everybody there. They seem to have been really successful at pairing up and partnering up with the community and getting people there to create the garden and murals on the… It just has a very creative, colorful, wonderful feel. So visually I liked it over there more, but we knew at the end of Ian’s for school year that we could switch either way. We can either add Gwen there or bring Ian over here.
Mike Lukas: Then we proposed that to Gwendolyn, and she was just like, “Oh no!”
Gretchen Lukas: She flipped straight out.
Mike Lukas: And we had a big decision to make like you know. And then we did again. We looked at the two schools, and we looked at the numbers and the numbers were pretty equal for both of them.
Gretchen Lukas: And Gwen had been thriving at Lida Hooe just truly thriving. She’s a really, really good student, and she enjoys school.
Mike Lukas: But socially too like she’s made a lot of friends, and you know, she just fits in there.
Gretchen Lukas: Yeah. She’s the monkey bar queen. That’s how I think she kind of got her status there from a really young age. She’s got these great arms and calluses on her hands. She’s so proud of her calluses. She does them backwards and eyes closed too. I love it, but since Ian had only been 4-years-old, you know one experience. It’s not even like lucid yet I’d figured right? No linear memory yet.
Mike Lukas: Now what he misses about his old school is that in his old school it was only half a day. Now he’s got the full day, and we’re like, “Well, just so you know, you would have the full day there.” It’s hard to sort of explain that to a five-year-old, but he was like, “This new school is tough. It’s long.”
Keri Mitchell: But you love it?
Gretchen Lukas: We do! The principal, Principal Rodriguez, at Lida Hooe is fantastic. He has a great presence. He’s a dad himself. He’s got five kids.
Mike Lukas: You can tell that there’s a leader around making sure everything’s running smoothly.
Gretchen Lukas: He’s a really good male role model, figure head.
Mike Lukas: We get announcements from him that just says, “Hey, you know, it’s Principal Rodriguez what’s going on? Here’s what’s coming up this week.” And then he just kind of just lays it out, and then it’s like, “Okay, yeah, you can hang up if your English, but if you want to hear the Spanish stick around,” and then he goes into the Spanish version of it.
Mike Lukas: I think that’s really interesting for us just to go back to the other topic of putting your child in a situation where they’re going to be different. I went to a Catholic school. It was all white, and I don’t feel like I benefited from that in any particular way except for I didn’t have to face any differences. You know? Until I got older, and I had to do it anyways. And so we both felt that to allow our children to just dive into a situation where there might be a chance that somebody might point that out and how are they going to handle it and all that. And so far it’s never really been a factor. I’m really shocked that the only ones that really notice are the parents. We’re just another family. I’m incredibly happy that we made that choice as opposed to trying to protect them from I don’t know what. I want my kids to begin to learn that and to see that, and when they look at these other kids, I don’t want them to see those differences. I want them to say, “Hey, we have the same interests, you know, economically and socially and we’re a group here. We need to begin to see that. And I always say live life like Star Trek where you begin to treat everybody just by nature of what they’re able to contribute.
Gretchen Lukas: Yeah. One of the most important things that I would or could pass on to our children would be to value and respect life. But just life period [including] all people. My parents raised me as a Buddhist and [being] humanist is a big element of being a Buddhist, and one of the most valuable things that I felt I learned was having the chance to form my own opinions early when you’re adaptable and don’t have any hate or preconceived notions or bad experiences. I like the opinions they formed, and I think it created an adult who I feel I live with a real open heart towards people. I know I can connect with anyone, and that’s what I hope that our kids might have.
Mike Lukas: And you started at an early age, and it took me a long time to get to that same place.
Keri Mitchell: What do you think parents fear when they fear differences? What are they really afraid of? And then what do you actually see when your kids are facing differences at school?
Gretchen Lukas: We were actually talking about this today, because I don’t know what it is that you fear. I don’t know if you think that they will be less than in some way or maybe like scary or maybe dangerous.
Mike Lukas: I think people fear that their child is going to be judged differently or excluded because they don’t look exactly like something else. Maybe they think their own child can’t acclimate, and I think a lot of people fear a bad influence. They look at another culture, and they might look at news stories or the way the media focuses on one small aspect of that culture. They might assume that that’s how everyone is until you actually go in there and meet these people and go, “Oh, every culture has families that just want to raise their kids and be safe. They want an education and if they get sick, they don’t want to go bankrupt. That’s what the 99 percent all have in common. We all just want that. People want us to be afraid of each other, because if we’re divided, we can’t make decisions based on our group. And we can’t make change the rules of the monetary system to be advantageous for everyone instead of just the upper tier. If we’re all split up and talking about Republicans and Democrats, gays and straights, Hispanics, blacks and whites, and Catholics, Muslims, Jews and Buddhists, then all those other rules get changed to the advantage of the uppers. And then all the middle class gets bled out, and that’s what’s happening in our country right now.
Gretchen Lukas: I am so curious to find out any parent who does make a decision what are the fears or the concerns, especially once you’ve established that it’s basically academically kind of the same. There’s not really huge advantages, you know? I can tell that Rosemont has a more active PTA, and with more money coming in through the PTA, there’s more bells and whistles really. But I also feel like it’s kind of weird to have come back, and I do see a lot of my Caucasian brothers and sisters who have come into the hood now but not assimilated. That is weird to me. If you come into a place and you’re like, “This is awesome…well, I mean the craftsman-style homes are awesome and the old tree-lined streets, but I’m not going to go to that school,” [it’s kind of odd to me]. Maybe they’re afraid of like is everything going to be farther behind, because there’s language barriers? Maybe they’ll be bored. Maybe they won’t be as challenged. Maybe I’m a woman and to be honest, I’m from a suburb and I’m just afraid that my daughter will fall in love with like the sexy machismo, a Latin man, and I don’t know how I’m going to handle that in the future. So, it’s Kindergarten, eff it, where are the white people let’s just go there. I don’t know. It’s weird. I hope I’m not turning all the Caucasians against us, because I don’t mean anything by it. I just mean there’s nothing to fear. If anybody is afraid, it would be kind of cool if we all mixed it up.
Keri Mitchell: So how does Lida Hooe do it in terms of like, do you guys have a PTA? What does parent involvement look like at your school?
Gretchen Lukas: I would like to be more involved.
Mike Lukas: Always. The problem with us is because of the nature of our work. If I’m here, I got to watch the kids, because she’s working. Then it’s tough to spend that time. So one way I’ve figured out a way to work around that scheduling is I’m able to go on all the field trips. So I’m the field trip dad. So, in that sense we try to be a part of it.
Gretchen Lukas: Honestly, I feel like all of it is such uncharted territory, and even though I know we’re eight years in with Gwen, but she just started second grade. I still kind of feel like we don’t really know what we’re doing. I don’t know what we’re doing. I’m not sure what I do next to be honest, except I know I have a desire to. Yeah. I don’t know. I’d like to be in the PTA. I don’t know.
Keri Mitchell: I loved those answers because I mean, one of the things I’m thinking about in kind of covering this is what does this look like you know, when we’re looking for something. I will be honest, one of the reasons we chose our school was partly social or at least one of the reasons we’ve stayed there. I love the other parents. I think they’re incredible across the board. It’s fun to make friends, and also it’s fun to work with people toward a common goal. So I do think that there’s a factor of that that plays into choice sometimes, but I also think what you’re talking about is, you know, we’re all involved as we can be. We’re not trying to be, you know, the best PTA in Texas or have the most bells and whistles necessarily. We’re trying to do right by our kids and hopefully all of the kids at the school. That’s the point, right, of parent involvement and engagement is to help the kids as much as you can, [that would be true].
Mike Lukas: I always feel like it’s not enough. You always feels like it’s not enough, but so does being a parent.
Keri Mitchell: You know, I mean it’s all perspective and relative I think.
Mike Lukas: Yeah. Yeah.
Keri Mitchell: That was like a therapy session ya’ll. That was great. Okay so you talked a little bit about, you’ve kind of got this whole kind of culture of people who, “Oh, this is so cool. This neighborhood is so cool, but we want our kids to go to school with people who look like them.” What could change that? Anything?
Gretchen Lukas: Oh God, that is a wonderful question.
Keri Mitchell: Are there other white people at your school or are you it?
Gretchen Lukas: There are some.
Mike Lukas: There’s that one kid. You know the guy, the guy. I don’t know. I mean there’s very few. There’s maybe two or three.
Gretchen Lukas: Maybe a couple other families I think.
Keri Mitchell: Is that because nobody is zoned to the school?
Gretchen Lukas: No.
Keri Mitchell: Oh it’s not. Why?
Mike Lukas: Well, you’re asking a question that I think the world is asking right now is like how do you get people of different races to be cool with each other?
Gretchen Lukas: I think we should have school mixers, old fashioned sock hop style. You know what I mean? Like once a month we have a host school in your [neighborhood] for us like Oak Cliff schools. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. And you host it and all the other schools are invited and maybe it’s presented like that like we want to take part in all the diversity that is here maybe in Oak Cliff. Once you get used to something, it’s amazing what your mind can then open up to you and think next. If we could inspire people, challenge them, challenge them to meet each other, I think it’d be really cool if all the kids knew each other in this whole neighborhood. How amazing would that be? That doesn’t exist anywhere.
Mike Lukas: I never hear anything about race when I listen to the kids talk, you know? But definitely like the parents are like, “I’m the white guy.”
Keri Mitchell: When you knew that most everyone who looked like you were sending their kids to one particular campus in Oak Cliff, did you worry at all that by sending your kids to a different campus that you were somehow going to hold them back? That they weren’t going to get a good enough education. Was that at all a concern?
Mike Lukas: I thought of it for sure. Yeah. But then when you look at the numbers and you look at how kids are being educated there’s really little difference. And then it comes down to does the kid feel comfortable enough in that scenario to thrive? Not just survive, you know, how do you know that? I don’t know what our kids are going to do at any school, you know, before they go there. So, it was a very scary decision because you’re like are we are screwing over our kids’ potential education because we’re trying to make a point to have them mix. Which is more important? In my mind, at this age in grade school, you can only teach a kid so much, but if you can expose them to those bigger themes in life like races are all the same if you just get to know the people inside, [that’s so much more valuable]. I’d way rather them learn that. Once they get into middle school and high school, you can start specializing them in math and Algebra and all those things, you know, if you’re really worried about those things. At this age, to me, that’s a way more important consideration: the generalizing of their vision.
Keri Mitchell: And what’s been your experience? Do you feel like they’ve had a similar experience as they would have anywhere else educationally?
Mike Lukas: All I know is my kids are reading and they’re writing, and my second grade child reads at an 11th grade level. Right. My son is in Pre-K, and he’s already learning to read.
Gretchen Lukas: He’s doing very well.
Mike Lukas: They’re doing incredibly well. The things that they’re thinking about and talking about, you know, I mean I can’t imagine what else kids are, at that age, going to be doing. I can’t imagine that there’s more.
Gretchen Lukas: There’s so much pressure on every decision, and there’s no way to fully know because also you can’t predict any of it. It doesn’t even really matter necessarily what I had discovered about various schools. It’s like who is your child? What teacher do they get at what phase in their life teaching? Your child’s at what phase in their learning or their seeking? And to me, there’s so many other variables in navigating a life, and it can’t all be predicted and planned out. And all best decisions can’t be made from getting enough information from the experts. I think sometimes you just have to go with your gut and then just truly adapt to whatever happens or however it turns out. Like if this was a horrible experience, well then now we’re going to change schools. We’ll try something different. You know?
Mike Lukas: And we would have completely been open to that as well if it didn’t work out for our kids, but here’s how I know that it’s working. Every single morning, both of my kids can’t wait to go to school, and that tells me everything I got to know. When I was that kid, I did not want to go to school. I hung onto the telephone pole, so I didn’t have to go on the bus. They just want to learn.
Keri Mitchell: Anything else you guys want to share? You guys this has seriously been awesome.
Mike Lukas: Oh good.
Keri Mitchell: I’ve learned a lot.
Mike Lukas: I guess the only thing I would leave with is I don’t want it to be about race necessarily, because to me, it’s gone so far beyond that with us and them there that to point that out at this point just seems a little bit weird. We don’t think about that so much anymore. For this podcast, of course, you have to examine it and kind of look at the decision, but we’re just really happy to have found a group of other families who are trying to raise their kids in a clean, positive way and give them a place to do that. And that’s what we found in Lida Hooe, and that’s what I want to stress the most it feels like a home.
Thanks for listening to The Uninformed Parent.
This podcast is a production of Advocate Magazines, with music by HookSounds.