pictures taken @ This Is The Place State Park June 14, 2010
Ellie was five years old and would soon enter kindergarten. I had been a part of several school option conversations with other parents in my neighborhood. I had been informed of the teachers to seek out and which to avoid at our public school. I learned of a few private school options that not many of my friends were using. I had also been told about charter schools in the area. Never having been a mom of an elementary schooler the benefits (public vs. charter) were really unknown to me. I really liked the charter emphasis (service learning, spanish, etc...), learning on your academic level (vs. grade level) and uniforms.
At the time I worked closely with one of my friends in a church assignment. Her oldest child was in high school and her youngest was in the early elementary grades...with three in between. She was always straight forward and honest with me...but didn't usually offer up advice unless I asked. I sought out her opinion. "What should I do?" "Why have you stayed at the public school?"
I still remember what she told me...her oldest daughter was accepted into a spectrum program. This program is still available and is offered to the kids worthy of an "honors" program in elementary school ages. Only a few from each school are invited. She considered it seriously (maybe even did it for a year or two) and ultimately decided it wasn't worth it---attending school out of the neighborhood, kids attending different schools, the extra work, etc... "Now that this same daughter is in high school---she attends classes (the same classes) with a boy that stayed in spectrum. For all visible purposes in her eyes they ended up in the same place...and the same high school classroom" was basically what I understood her to say.
I decided to try to apply to the local charter schools anyway and we didn't get in. We didn't get in when she was in first grade either. Entering 2nd grade I felt like Ellie was well established in our public school. She had also been fortunate enough to have the teachers that most parents seek out in that school. We didn't reapply. In 2nd grade she entered a classroom of a teacher I knew nothing about. We were fine. I was the classroom mom. Ellie was learning. Kate was in kindergarten. I liked her teacher.
As the year progressed I became frustrated with Kate's learning situation. She had been a very early reader (of her own ambition...watching her sister learn to read) yet was still slowly going through the alphabet with the class and finally assigned very early readers when we hit January. It was slow and frustrating. I felt like her time was being wasted. I decided to put my girl's names in for the charter school lottery again.
In the spring of that same year Ellie was crying and didn't want to go to school. It broke our hearts. She was always excited to get up...got ready independently and LOVED getting off to the bus. Something changed---she was experiencing stomach aches and didn't want to go out the front door. The teacher was especially stressed and anxious over end of year testing. That combined with a few rowdy students in the classroom made for an uncomfortable learning environment for Ellie.
As the end of the school year approached we began looking at other school options seriously. We really loved Capital Hill Academy and were still hoping for one of the charter schools to open up. The morning we toured Capitol Hill Academy I called one of the charter schools and we were in! Ellie was drawn for the lottery! The first year Kate wasn't accepted (1st on the waiting list the whole year.) and my girls were at two different schools. They next year Kate was in.
Now that we have been at the charter school for a few years I believe that we made the right choice for our family. Sometimes I do look at many of my friends whose children are doing fabulously at our public school. They are great kids and having a great experience. It is so much easier...the bus nearly brings them to my front door!
Academic level learning I think has been beneficial for my girls...especially in literacy---in math they are at...or just barely over grade level. I wonder if it will be different for Sophie who will be my only daughter to have begun in this system from the beginning.
Uniforms I love! (Especially on a day like today...casual dress day...it took them 5 to 10 times as long to figure out what they were wearing) I LOVE uniforms! I feel like it gives the students an all day reminder of what they are there for. There seems to be an extra sense of orderliness and puts the kids on the same playing field. LOVE IT!
But as I listened to This American Life...the Back to School episode (thank you Natalie Norton for suggesting it on Instagram...I have been out of my TAL habit) all of this school ideology was presented to me in a different perspective and I suddenly thought of what my friend had told me all of those years ago---it isn't the school.
What leads to "success" in children...especially as they grow into adults has a lot more to do with what they know "non-cognitively" than it does with their letter grades (thank heavens for me...I wasn't a great high school student). The way their character develops is a greater indicator of their successfulness in life than any school test will tell you. The way they are nurtured at home, their ability to follow through with assignments, participating in a safe community, and developing character will take them further than anything else they learn in a classroom.
I was left wanting to listen to the podcast again, read this book...and also wanting to strengthen the traditions at home that create a safe environment for children. I want to be more cautious in choosing extra-curricular activities and be leery of digital technology interrupting real conversations and relationships. I want to have more reading on the couch, playing games around the table, dinners at home on the deck, and time listening and talking to each other. Another reminder (I am sometimes hard-headed) that it is not what we know but how we love that really matters.