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.