The Right School can change a Child's Life


Saoussan Aitchaoui and her husband, Ayoub Bouriqui, studied the colorful map of schools. They tried to match the tiny blocks on the page to their corresponding booths.

Aitchaoui looked up from the maze of school names. She pointed left and then right. She stared back down at the map. Around them, families squeezed past, pushing strollers and tugging along reluctant children. They all were looking for the perfect school.

On this weekend morning, Aitchaoui and Bouriqui were among hundreds who showed up to the cavernous, World War II-era armory in Southeast Washington for EdFEST, the city’s annual public school fair.

A list of questions zipped through Aitchaoui and Bouriqui’s minds as they considered the right school for their 6-year-old son, Mohamed Ali: Does the school offer Spanish? What about coding? What forms do they need for enrollment, and what if one is missing? Will their son be prepared for a good life and career?

Aitchaoui and Bouriqui, like parents the world over, want better lives for their kids than they had. A good education — and all that it promises — is key. That, along with the prospect of high-paying jobs, is what brought the family last year from Casablanca to D.C., where they didn’t know anyone.

What greeted them was a complex system in which families can attend their neighborhood public school or enter a citywide lottery. Many are in search of special programs. Others just want a school that’s on the way to their jobs. EdFEST, which marks the beginning of D.C.'s months-long school lottery season, is a chance for parents to question teachers and administrators, mulling over the answers before surrendering to the luck of the draw. Last year, more than 20,000 families participated.

“I didn’t expect that there will be a lot of schools there,” Aitchaoui said. In Morocco, people just enroll their children in whichever school they want them to attend.

Amidon-Bowen, the family’s neighborhood elementary school, was just a few yards away. On paper, it checked most of their boxes: close to their soon-to-be apartment, a STEM lab, a soccer team.

After-school activities in Morocco typically cost money, Aitchaoui said: “If we are just talking about the educational system, it’s much better than Morocco.”

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