The 4-year-old roamed the halls of the Roxbury elementary school in pink snow boots, eating a banana plucked from her dad's messenger bag as she peeked through open classroom doors. Her father, Andy Berg, trailed close behind; her mother, Anna Ross, carried her baby brother, Charlie, as the blue-eyed, pink-cheeked 1-year-old grabbed at her earrings.
"Where are we going?" asked Ita as the tour group ducked into a stairwell.
It would have been easy for these busy working parents from Dorchester to be distracted. But they were intently focused on the task at hand. At every stop on the tour, they had questions: Does the school have a choir? How long is recess? What is that humming noise in the basement?
As they work to secure their child a spot in public school, Berg and Ross have been diligent and thoughtful, touring schools; researching test scores; talking to other parents. But the outcome is out of their hands. Ita will take her chances in the BPS lottery. A computer will decide what school she is assigned to.
For Ross, 36, raised in a suburb of Hartford where the quality of the schools was assured and the admissions process easy, it is a frustrating proposition.
"It would be fine if we were going to do all this and we were going to get into a good school," she said. "But I feel like we're going through all this, the anxiety, the taking time from work, and we're probably not going to get what we need."
If they have to, they say, they will keep Ita at her private nursery school next year, and try the lottery again when she is 5. But the odds of getting into a top school would be even slimmer then.
They are committed to their lives in the city. Ross, an adjunct professor, teaches writing at Emerson College. Berg, 39, a union carpenter, grew up in Dorchester, where he is raising his children on a racially diverse street dotted with triple deckers.
"I feel like I would be failing by moving to the suburbs," he said. "It's not for me. It's not what I want for my family."
But as they fed their children dinner one night this winter, Berg chopping basil at the kitchen counter while Charlie munched on pasta in his high chair, they acknowledged that they may eventually opt to leave the city.
"On my worst days, I feel like I've already failed by living here, instead of somewhere where Ita could just go to school," Ross said. "It's like I was too idealistic, and am I going to sacrifice my kids for an ideal? No."
They listed nine schools on Ita's application, and say they are reasonably confident they would like four of them.
"I'm not optimistic," Ross said. "The odds are against me. But there's nothing we can do but wait and see what happens."JENNA RUSSELL