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I’m Sierra. I live in the Boston area with my family.

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Choosing A School

by Sierra on April 10, 2012 · 19 comments

in Uncategorized

Ah, school decision making. How I don’t love you. Deciding where to send my kids for school feels like one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made as a parent, especially this year.

Here’s the sitch, for readers just tuning in: a few years ago I set out to homeschool my kids. Rio put a stop to that by announcing that she was going to kindergarten no matter what. She was speaking from this place that we think of as The Adult Inside, very grounded and sure of what she needed. So we listened and sent her to the wonderful Eliot-Pearson Children’s School, the lab school attached the Tufts Education Department. This year, both girls have attended EPCS, Rio in second grade and Serena in kindergarten.

Second grade is the final year at EPCS, so Rio needs to do something different for school next year. Serena could continue there, but we can’t really afford another year of private school, even with the generous scholarship the girls have been getting.

So we’re on to new things. Our choices are public school, charter school or homeschool.

For a long time I was strongly opposed to ever sending them to a public school: I don’t like the nationalism that’s embedded in every public school curriculum I’ve ever encountered, and I don’t like the short recess and heavy homework load and overall approach to learning that I saw as an education reporter in different schools. I had a terrible time in public schools myself, always out of sync with my peers socially and academically, and I wound up underchallenged throughout school and then also underprepared for the rigors of college. I want a better education for my children than what I got.

But Rio & Serena love school. They’re both extremely social learners, and they thrive within the flexible structure of a good classroom led by a deft teacher. I don’t know what they’ll get if they go to the local school, but it might be just what they need. It seemed worth checking out.

Rio was really gung ho to homeschool next year. She has a lot of good friends who homeschool, so that makes sense, but it also seemed to be coming out of a fear of change, and a worry that no school could be as good as where she is now. Since she’s done so well with school for the past three years, I encouraged her to at least check out some of her school options with me.

We looked at a few public schools, and chose one with a progressive, experience-based learning model and a bright, modern campus. The district will assign them to a school, maybe the one I picked, maybe not. I also put the girls’ names into the lottery for our local charter school, which has a very highly rated high school attached to it.

We haven’t gotten the girls’ school assignments from the district yet, but the charter school lottery results are in. Serena has been offered a spot in the kindergarten class. Rio has been waitlisted for 3rd grade, but she’s fairly high on the waiting list and likely to get a seat mid-year if not before school starts.

So what to do? Rio now has her heart set on going to the public school, and does not want to hear about the charter school. The public school certainly has a more attractive campus. But the charter school runs all the way through 12th grade, and has a better track record of getting kids into “good” colleges than our local high school does. It’s a small program, with about 90 kids per grade, which seems likely to build a strong community, especially in the upper grades.

Essentially: the charter school seems like it might not be the best cultural fit for our family. They wear uniforms. They’re very academically focused, even in kindergarten. But they have great test scores and college prep programs. The girls would have access to more resources there, especially at the high school level, stuff that they’d just miss out on if we sent them to our city’s public high school. Do I sacrifice something of their experience in grade school for the chance to get them a better education as they grow older? And how big a sacrifice is wearing a uniform anyway?

As for the public school: it seems less intimidating now that the kids have been in school for a few years. It’s less rigid in some ways than the charter school (no uniforms!) but it’s still a public school. There will be pro-US history lessons and nationalist holiday celebrations and an insufficient critique of cultural hegemony. They’ll be asked to pledge allegiance to a flag. What do I do with that?

Well, we could homeschool. I could scale back my writing to homeschool the kids, and I think I’d enjoy it. But knowing how much the girls have thrived in a classroom setting makes me leery of pulling them out without even giving another school a chance. I know it won’t be the same, but it’s possible it will still be good. They both love structured routines and learning with groups and seeing their friends every day. I could give them a lot of those things as a homeschooler, but it’d be harder. On the other hand, they’d have the freedom to explore and learn more creatively, and could spend as much of the day outside as they wanted. Of course, right now it is beautiful out and they’re watching cartoons. So maybe that wouldn’t work out quite how I’m imagining.

What I am trying to say is, I genuinely do not know what the best choice for my kids is. I don’t even know how to find out, other than doing what I’m doing: talking with other parents whose kids are in these schools or are homeschooling, visiting the schools and looking into homeschooling resources, and listening to my kids.

 

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  • lillibet

    One thing to keep in mind is that while school is a very important part of a kid’s life, it’s not the only part.  We’ve gone through much the same decision process and ended up settling on public school–at least to start and we’ll see how it goes.  But we’ll continue to add other challenges and experiences to the mix and to encourage A. to think critically about what she’s taught and I think that can have a bigger influence than one might think.  My own public school education was nothing great (and awful in ways that I plan to be alert for), but my family supplemented that significantly by dinner conversation, travel, etc. that have stood me in good stead.

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  • Sarah Twichell

    Of course I don’t know what’s best for your kids and your guess will be so much better than any I could make that I won’t even venture one.  But on the topic of nationalism, I will say that the day when I decided to stop saying pledge of allegiance at my public school was an important one for me both personally and politically.  

    I hope that your kids have an awesome time next year, whatever you all end up choosing.

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    keyne Reply:

    Because I had Jehovah’s Witnesses in my family, I chose not to say the Pledge in school — through several public school systems in Ohio, Arizona and Texas. I don’t remember ever being hassled for standing respectfully while my classmates did.

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    Andromeda Yelton Reply:

    Yeah, I wasn’t expected to say it K-6 (private school) and declined 7-12 (public).  My 8th grade homeroom teacher inquired as to why, but politely and privately, and did not argue with me about it; no one hassled me either.  (Like you, I stood respectfully; I just didn’t participate.)

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  • http://childwild.com Sierra

    I like the idea of choosing what’s best for the kids now and letting high school sort itself out later, but I’m not sure they’ll have another opportunity to go to the charter school; they kind of lucked into it this time.

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  • http://childwild.com Sierra

    So true!

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  • http://childwild.com Sierra

    I think it’s worth learning more about the charter school, but my instinct is that you’re right.

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    Marla, Sara's mom Reply:

    From the little I know about your family (through EPCS and your blog), I think that the “progressive public school” is a better match than the charter school.  Have you visited the public high school?  I’m impressed with some of what is going on there, and who knows what it will be like by the time our kids are old enough for it . . .

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    Sierra Reply:

    I have not visited either high school – my impressions are based on things like graduation rates and college placements and online rankings and reviews. Clearly, more research is necessary! What impresses you about it?

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    Marla, Sara's mom Reply:

    The reason I was most recently at the public high school was to donate blood so my opinions may be biased by the type of students that were participating in this event. But, just listening to the school announcements and looking at the flyers and posters hanging on the walls, it is clear that there is a huge variety of activities available both during and after school for students with diverse interests.  I have heard that some charter school students are disappointed in their options for electives, . . .  

  • jenn

    I started reading your blog after coming across your post “a funny thing happened on the way to homeschooling…” I totally could’ve written that blog myself! I soooo wanted to homeschool my daughter for so many reasons, but she had other ideas.  I entered her name in a local charter school lottery and agreed she could go to kindergarten if she got in…if she didn’t we would homeschool. She got in and has loved it ever since. Since you can homeschool or attend public school at any time, I would suggest you start with sending your kids to the charter school (we LOVE ours! the community of a charter school is awesome) If it doesn’t work out, they can always switch to the public school or homeschool…but once you decline your spot in the lottery there is no going back. 

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    Sierra Reply:

    Thanks so much for your feedback. That’s a really excellent point.

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  • Kristin

    My mom sent my sister and I to public school, but she always maintained that it was to supplement what we learned at home.  I skipped several classes because I had already learned the information from home.  Today both my sister and I have Ivy League degrees (her undergrad, me grad) and I know I have to thank what I learned at home rather than what I learned at school. 

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  • Micki

    I don’t know if this is important to your family, but you may want to also check the absentee policies at both schools.  I have noticed that public schools can be very strict on attendance..In my daughter’s public school, family events, vacations, work, helping family, ect, are considered unexcused, as we found out when we went on vacation in January.  In the upper grades, they will dock a childs GPA after a specified number of absences.  Tough to swallow for a mom who wants to show her child the world, but prefers the prices of the off season.  :)   I am eyeing the local charter school, they are a lot more family-friendly, with smaller class sizes.

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    Sierra Reply:

    That’s a great idea, thank you!

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  • Carmen

    I’d go with the public school. I think everything else falls out of the cultural fit and if you already have doubts about the charter school not being right (before personally experiencing the homework stress that is inevitable to assist its better exam results!), then I wouldn’t consider it.

    I’m also a fan of matching the school to the individual child.  

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    Sierra Reply:

    That’s a good consideration. So much to think about!

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  • Abbe Cohen Dvornik

    I also think that thinking about now and not high school makes sense – and I am optimistic about the public high school.  It might turn out to work fine for your kids, and that there are many years between now and then and many options to sort out and things to evolve.. 

     Also, I don’t know how declining a slot in the charter school affects future application, but I know there are chances (perhaps with worse odds than the kindergarten lottery, but not much worse odds than the third grade lottery?) to switch in for middle or high school if that’s what it turns out one or both of your kids need by then.

    If you want to talk offline about the progressive public school, K is in their kindergarten this year.

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    Sierra Reply:

    Thanks! I’d love to talk about the public school.

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