Deciding how to educate our children is a big decision. The number of choices available doesn’t make it easy. There are public schools, charter schools, private schools, or home schooling. It can often feel like a search for one single, elusive “perfect” choice, and we fear we may mess our kids up if we make a “wrong” choice. To make matters worse, we all know parents who make school choice another extension of the mommy wars. They ardently praise one form of education while criticizing others. No matter what school choice we make, we’re bound to feel guilty somehow.
My husband and I had two choices about where to send our oldest child to kindergarten this fall. Megan could attend the public elementary school around the corner, or I could home school her (private school was not in our budget). After years of discussion, we chose to send her to the neighborhood public elementary school. I wrote about how we made the decision in a previous post.
We were not without some concerns. We don’t like the long full-day kindergarten programs found in nearly all public and private schools nowadays. We also were wary of public schools’ politically driven obsession with standardized test preparation, resulting in a gradual whittling away of time spent exploring the arts or playing during recess. We agreed that if we ever felt public school was not working for our family, we could do something different.
However, three months into the school year, Megan is thriving and experiencing more success at her public school than we imagined. I’ve seen several things that reassure me we made a good school choice:
A Good School Choice
1. My daughter’s teacher is excellent. On the first day of school, I took a photo of Megan with her teacher and posted it on my Facebook page. Several friends commented that they know Megan’s teacher from church, and they said she is a very good teacher. Megan has bonded with her and gives her a hug at the end of every school day. She even told me she wishes she lived with her teacher. During some brief conversations with the teacher, I’ve learned she shares many of my thoughts and concerns about education. The fact that she shares our family’s religious beliefs is icing on the cake. (There are more Christians in public schools than some people might assume, by the way.)
2. Two months into kindergarten, my daughter was reading and writing. We knew she would do fine academically, but she is excelling. We purposely sent her to a preschool that emphasized play, social skills, and basic academics rather than rigorous formal education, so this is her first time in a challenging academic setting. While all the reading we do at home has set her up for success, her school and teacher must be doing something right for her to pick up reading and writing so quickly.
3. My daughter is having rich, new experiences. She can run twice around the track in PE class. She made a self-portrait in art class. She is gaining confidence while buying lunch, finding her way around the building, and talking and working out problems with peers or her teacher. She is learning to navigate the world outside of our home, and her teacher says she is a leader among her classmates, advocating for other kids and mediating disagreements between peers. I couldn’t give her some of these valuable experiences at home.
4. Our school has a good culture among staff and active parents who support education. We all know family involvement is important in determining student success. The PTA is very involved, and parent and grandparent volunteers are welcome during the school day. I recently spent a morning volunteering in Megan’s classroom, playing a letter identification game with small groups of students. One day I was a guest reader and read a few books from home aloud to the class. A grandmother I know spends one day a week helping to shelve books in the library.
Some of my original concerns about public school – the long full-day program and academics that look less like what I did as a kindergartner and more like first or second grade work – have not been as problematic as I anticipated. While Megan is tired at the end of the day, she soaks up the academics and her teacher assures me she picks up on things quickly.
Our daughter would probably thrive as a home schooler or as a private school student, too. A child’s academic success is determined more by family dynamics and socioeconomic conditions at home than the school setting. That means that most parents – myself included – worry too much over trying to find that elusive perfect choice for our children’s education. Usually, there are several very good choices. For our family, this school is one of them.
Editor’s Note: This piece was written as part of an ongoing conversation nationwide leading up to National School Choice Week — January 26 – February 1, 2014. All schooling options, including homeschooling, private schooling, public magnet and charter schooling and traditional public schooling, are celebrated that week through independently-planned events. To read more opinions on the topic from parents, head to Twitter and search the hashtag #schoolchoiceworks.
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