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GETTING IN | INSIDE BOSTON’S SCHOOL ASSIGNMENT MAZE

A mother has high hopes but no room for Plan B

By Andrew Ryan
Globe Staff / March 13, 2011
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In the Old Colony housing development, the dank stairwell is cold and dark, even during the day. But inside Chrissanta Rudder’s second-floor apartment in South Boston, handwritten neon-yellow signs add bright splashes of color to the kitchen wall.

“Give them a love for learning,’’ reads one sign. Another says: “Teach them to be smart!!!’’

Rudder has already started teaching her two youngest girls to be smart, practicing strokes and circles with a pencil on lined paper she bought at the dollar store. She registered the girls — Chrystalbella, 4, and Candelaria, 3 — for next fall’s kindergarten lottery.

Pulling a rumpled blue paper out of an old cardboard box that serves as a file cabinet, Rudder showed off her six school choices for Chrystalbella. Her top choice was the Perry K-8 School in South Boston, because she likes the science and math program.

“She’s very smart,’’ Rudder said of Chrystalbella. “She’s like me — when she gets frustrated, she keeps going.’’

Rudder, 42, was born on Dec. 25, and her first name — Chrissanta — is a melding of Christmas and Santa Claus. She moved into her apartment in 2006, she said, after five years of homelessness. She is diagnosed with schizophrenia and does not have custody of her three older children.

Growing up mostly in Mattapan, Rudder attended parochial schools, she said. She would consider a Catholic school for her girls, but it seems out of reach on her budget.

“It would be hard,’’ said Rudder, who does not work but receives Social Security income because of her disability.

Rudder displays her most treasured documents on her home’s wall: her certified nursing assistant credential and her associate’s degree from Roxbury Community College.

Her girls look almost like twins at different stages of life. Chrystalbella is 18 months older and much taller than Candelaria, but they both have pigtails, smiles, and the same boundless energy. The younger one has her name in for a coveted preschool slot, a long shot for a citywide program with only 149 seats for children without special needs. Chrystalbella is guaranteed a spot, but it might not be at any of the six schools Rudder chose.

“I wouldn’t be happy,’’ she said. “But I have no choice.’’

Every day, the girls practice writing, repeating the same three letters until they get them right.

“Chrystalbella knows her alphabet. She knows how to sing,’’ Rudder said. “I want to get the best school.’’

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