When it came to school my mom had two choices: send me to the Catholic school 5 blocks away or the public school 3 blocks away. That was it! She opted for the private school. For me the decision was a hundred times harder. Maybe I made it harder than it had to be. Maybe because we are first time parents and this is our only kid. Regardless it was not easy choosing a school. There are tons of choices but figuring out the right one was a long and exhausting process…at least for us. We decided to send our son to the neighborhood public school. Ironically, we said we would never send him there. We heard that it was a terrible school. We heard the test scores were horrible and it just didn’t seem like the school we wanted to send our kid to. So, we seriously contemplated sending him back to his private school for another year. But instead I did some research. I checked the test scores and no they weren’t what I considered necessarily great. But I looked at how low they were in past years and how much they jumped in recent years… to me that was a good sign. Then I joined the Facebook group for neighborhood families who were going to the school. I read a lot of positive comments from parents who were happy with the school. I even was able to email one of the teachers and get feedback from her. She even invited me to volunteer in her classroom. I sat in her classroom for three hours and she was fantastic. She was so great with the kids. She was friendly but firm and had full control over her class of 20. The kids were engaged and gave her hugs before it was time to go to lunch. I was able to ask her a lot of questions when she had a spare moment. She had a variety of kids in her class. For some this was their first time in school and others had preschool experience. So my question was how do they teach 20 kids who are at all different levels? I thought it was impossible quite frankly, but I was wrong. I saw for myself it can be done. I left thinking there are some very hardworking and dedicated teachers doing great things at that school. Then one of the parents recommended I volunteer another kindergarten teacher’s classroom. She was also fantastic. Then my husband and I took a quick tour of the school and were honestly not impressed. It’s old, it needs a new playground, and the media center was nothing to brag about. Now, while I liked what I saw teacher-wise I just wasn’t 100% sure it was the right place for our son. I was still looking for more.
Then we visited two private schools and one we really loved because of the curriculum and what it had to offer. It was everything we were looking for…small class size, foreign language, great media center with iPads, great extracurricular activities but the one thing that came between us and that school…DISTANCE! It would’ve taken us 45 minutes one way just to get there and probably 50-60 minutes to get home in rush hour. Then we thought about a charter school. I toured it and it sounded great. I’ve heard both the good and bad about the school. But I still had questions so I spoke on the phone with the principal. Ultimately, we just didn’t feel confident that the school was going to work for our son. So, then my son’s pre-K teacher told us she thought our son should come back for another year for kindergarten. She felt he would do well and he liked it there. We thought so too and I registered him. Kindergarteners learn at a first grade level, which sounds great but then I wasn’t sure that was going to be right for our son either. He had like 30-40 minutes a night of homework in pre-K so I could only imagine what it was going to be like in kindergarten. Did I want our son to be a workhorse in kindergarten? While yes he would be learning at an accelerated level, but was that really the best thing for him? In the end we decided no. Our thought was not to put that much pressure on him at such a young age. He will have plenty of time for that later on down the road.
So, we were right back to square one and running out of time because school was three weeks away from starting. So, I called the principal at the public school we had visited several times to ask her a few questions and to see if she would respond sort of as a test. I left her a voicemail and after a few days I heard nothing. So, I wrote this school off again. Then a day or two later I got a call from the assistant principal. She was calling on the behalf of the principal who was out of town. We talked for about 40 minutes. She was pleasant, patient and answered all of my questions. She told me her kids went to the school and that they came from an accelerated preschool as well. She said they were taught to their level and learned a lot. She told me to feel free to call her anytime and to let them know if there is an issue so they can work to improve. After I hung up with her I was sold. Now, I still wasn’t 100% sure about it, but I definitely had fewer reservations. We met his teacher beforehand and liked her right off the bat. We had also heard great things about her from other parents. Our son liked his classroom and felt right at home immediately which was a good sign.
So on the first day of school I asked my son how his day was and he said GREAT! I couldn’t believe it. He loves school, but great has never been how he described it. I was happy that he was happy, but for whatever reason I still wasn’t 100% convinced about our decision just yet. This bit of information didn’t help. I learned my son had 32 kids in his class with three teachers in the room. That’s waaaaaaaaay too many kids in my book. So, I immediately emailed the assistant principal about this and she said they were on top of it and hoped to have it taken care of soon. Evidently, more kids than they expected registered and the kindergarten classrooms were overflowing. So, a week later another classroom opened up and they moved the extra kids from each class out. I thought that was a very good sign that it was resolved so quickly.
By the third week I volunteered in my son’s classroom and of course observed. Again, I was impressed with what I saw. I was pleased to see his teacher really had a handle on things. The kids were engaged while learning. I even spent a few minutes in the lunchroom watching my son having fun with his new friends. I left that day thinking my son is in good hands. He’s okay, he’s learning and most important he’s happy and that’s a huge relief.
My advice to other parents is: figure out what you want from a school for your child. I ended up figuring it out as we went through the process. I also realized I may have had some unrealistic expectations which made the decision process that much harder. Definitely do some research before you pick a school. Don’t just go by hearsay. Go see for yourself. Definitely meet with the principal or assistant principal and observe a class. Talk to the teachers. Don’t let the school’s appearance necessarily cloud your judgment. Just because it’s not the most state of the art place or doesn’t have all the bells and whistles doesn’t mean your child isn’t learning. Keep an open mind because things aren’t always what they seem. Test scores shouldn’t necessarily make or break your decision. There could be a variety of factors as to why they could be low. Be involved! Volunteer in the classroom when you can and get to know your child’s teacher. Bottom-line, you know your child better than anyone else and ultimately only you can figure out what is going to be the right learning environment whether it be public, private, charter or homeschool. We never imagined our son going to public school, but that’s how it turned out. I feel good about it so far… we’ll see how the rest of the year goes.