It’s a new year! And here I sit, in a sea of elementary school information packs, eyes glazed over, thinking “How in the world does one make this decision?!” It used to be that you moved to the best district you could afford to, and then it was all downhill from there. (Or so it seemed to me.) So when pre-school or kindergarten rolled around, you just sent them off to the closest public school. Now, I feel like it’s a whole different ballgame…
When we bought our current house we didn’t even know if we were definitely having children, so the fact that the elementary schools were “good enough” was, well, good enough. We knew the high school left a lot to be desired, but there are lots of excellent private schools in the area… so we weren’t really concerned. We figured that was a long way off… and if things didn’t improve, we’d find a way to make private school work. Or we’d move. Bottom line… we weren’t worried. Flash forward seven years. We now definitely have a child, and he’s not really a child whose brain is meant for “mainstream” learning… so “good enough” has quickly become “not so much.” The final nail in the public school coffin was last June when a tax override was voted down and it became apparent that Spencer would be in a class of 30 (or more!) students. In short, that would be disastrous for him, and his education.
Second is our son’s personality. I’ve referenced before that our son is “spirited.” (This alone deserves a whole post) For now, let’s just work off the line “Spirited kids are the Super Ball in a room full of rubber balls. Other kids bounce three feet off the ground. Every bounce for the Spirited child hits the ceiling.” (quote from “How to Raise Your Spirited Child” by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka) That’s a very basic visual of my spirited child… but I think it works. Just picture Spencer, the Super Ball, in a traditional classroom setting. Not. Gonna. Work. Right?!
There are other, smaller factors that make us uncomfortable with the public school path… but I can honestly say that if the above two issues were non-existent then these other factors wouldn’t really matter. But still, they sit in the back of my mind as I read through this information. They include cultural diversity, length of the school day, lack of non-academic offerings, and required parental interaction.
So, that brings us to me sitting in a sea of school information packets. We quickly decided that we would explore true alternatives to mainstream/public education. This led us to look into Montessori Schools, Charter Schools, a Reggio Emilia school, and a collaborative school (which is also the closest to a true “private” school.) Before starting this process, I didn’t even know there were this many types of schools! I thought there was public, and there was private. Boy, was I wrong. One one hand, it’s exciting to know that my son has so many educational options… but on the other hand, it’s a wee bit overwhelming.
I’ll be honest, I’m finding I need to do research in order to do research. I find myself looking up terms and phrases in one browser window, while reading about schools in another browser window. And then I flip over and start reading through the packets sitting on my desk, on the couch, and the kitchen table. (There are not really so many packets as there are pieces in the packets. And I’m a “spreader of information,” thinking that if I can see it all at once, the whole picture will magically appear.) These packets are where all the nitty-gritty details are. The prices, the dress code, the philosophy on religion in school, the curriculum, the field trip information, the extra-curriculars, nut-free school information, bathroom rules. In short… EVERYTHING. So it’s very easy to get sucked into irrelevant details, and I find myself reflecting on questions such as “Can I commit to keeping my son’s hair trimmed off his neck and higher than his eyebrows?”… This should not matter at all, right?! Yet, here I am… contemplating it.
I was kind of hoping that by reading these packets, I’d immediately know which one was “perfect” for Spencer. But that’s just not the case. They all have wonderful qualities… but they also all have weird little quirks… or things I need to get over, like the “haircut rules.” We never planned to make this decision based on paper packets alone… but I was kind of hoping to narrow it down to just a couple this way. But, it looks like we will have at least four or five school visits over the next two months before all the enrollment forms/applications are due in late February. I’m quickly finding that, just like with the adoption process, we’re going to need to trust our guts and find the place that just “feels right.” We also have to accept that there is no guarantee that Spencer actually makes it into any of these schools. We know for sure that there is a waiting list at one, and an extremely competitive lottery at another. So, depending on how the next few months shake out… we could still end up at our third choice school—or worse—none of them! Egad. My nerves may not survive this.
In the meantime, I’ll be blogging about the process: The school visits, the application process, the differences in philosophies and educational approaches… and whatever else may come up as we navigate these unchartered waters.
Anyone have any tips for this overwhelmed, Kindergarten-shopping Mama? (Who also regrets procrastinating so long.)