You most likely will not be surprised to learn that I took the decision of where to send our children to school very seriously. Deciding where to send your children for several hours a day for the school year is something to take seriously.
In our neighborhood, about half attend the local public school and half attend the charter school. The people who attend each love where they are and have a nice long list of the benefits of their school.
In deciding, I went and observed classes at each school. I took a notebook and pen and I just wrote down any thoughts that came to my head while I observed classes. Both are good schools. Both provide excellent education with fabulous teachers. When it came down to it, we went with the school that just felt right for our family. There are a few reasons I can list as to why we went with public, and I will, but I could easily have written a list in favor of the charter school, also, if that is the way we ended up going. Also, my view is that parents are a key part to their children's education, so I think no matter where you are, you have great power in aiding the learning that happens.
Here are the "paper" reasons we went with public:
- Proximity: The public school is within walking distance to our home, while the charter school is at least a fifteen minute drive each way. Spending an hour a day driving to and from school wasn't really high on my wish list. Plus, children at the school are from all over the valley, so playdates with friends would be much more of a drive than if we were at the public school.
- Community: While my immediate neighborhood is half and half, the majority of the community goes to the public school. The children at church and on our sports teams would be mostly students of the public school. I like the sense of community we have being connected to the children in our town. We are more plugged in to the community because we are interacting with the community at school.
- More Relaxed: This might surprise some, but I like that the public school classrooms are more relaxed. I felt like the charter school classrooms were, for the most part, too serious. I want my kids to still be able to be kids while they are kids. I like more fun in the classroom. Of course I love structure, and that abounds in both schools, but the public school just felt more fun to me.
- Still Small Feel: Our school has high moral standards. High standards are taught, ethics and morals are taught, and the values of the community are upheld. I love that about this school.
Not all public schools are created equal (nor are all charter schools or private schools). As you decide what is best for your family, be sure to consider your exact school options. A discussion of the pros and cons of any school is difficult to do on a global level. The ups and downs at my school will vary from the ups and downs of a school in some small town in California. I can assure you that there are schools I know of in the United States that would make me say no way to public schooling. We would do charter, private, or homeschool instead. So this is just a general list of possible problems you could find in public education.
- Moral Issues: You may or may not be in an area where the morals taught (or not taught) and upheld. You want the tone of the school to be harmonious with the tone you want your child to experience. Your child will spend many hours at the school, so the moral tone is important.
- Peer Influence: Many people choose to homeschool because they fear the influence of peers on their children. In some areas, this is a valid concern. Some areas of the country are able to still have children who are children, but in others, children are forced to grow up to quickly and know too much about drugs and morality issues at too young of an age.
- Class Size: Some public schools definitely have overwhelming class sizes. If this is true of your public school, that school might not be for you. There are things parents can do to help this issue, like helping in class.
MAKE IT WORK
Like I said above, I believe parents need to be involved in their child's education. Even if you are sending them off to school for the day, you are still the parent and need to take an active role in making sure your child is meeting her full potential. I don't expect the full learning spectrum to be met at school any more than I expect my child's religious teaching to all happen in our three hours a week at church. As many hours as a child spends at school, she spends far more out of school. Here are some ideas to get the most out of schooling.
- Healthy Habits: You need to make sure you maintain those healthy sleep habits you stressed about in the baby days. Sleep is very important to your child. A school-aged child should still be getting about 10 hours each night. Make sure food is also healthy at home, and pay special attention to breakfast. Your child will need a hearty enough breakfast for her to make it to snack or lunch time.
- Stay Informed: In my experience, every teacher my children have had has sent home a weekly note so parents know what is going on at school. Read those notes. Also, talk to your child. As about the day. Be available to your child so that when she is ready to talk about school, you are there to listen. Go to parent/teacher conferences.
- Volunteer: Volunteering in the classroom with give you information faster than any note reading or a quarterly visit with the teacher. When you help in the class, you get to observe what is going on. What are the dynamics? Which children are children you think you would like your child to invite over for a play date? You will also be able to visit with the teacher. She will tell you the funny/cute things your child has done. She will talk to you about anything your child needs to improve on. You will learn so much helping in the class room. I try to help two times a month in each child's class. This amount is enough for me to feel like I have a good knowledge of what is going on at school and also enough for me to have a good relationship with the teacher.
I also volunteer on the PTO. This helps me know on a school level what needs are. Because of my work with the PTO, I know most of the staff at the school very well. Now, if you can't be in the classroom for whatever reason, you can still contribute. You can offer to do things from home to help the teacher out. Perhaps you can coordinate volunteers for the classroom. I know monetary donations are always helpful--whether you buy the items to send to school or give the teacher money to buy items she needs for the classroom.
- Ask Questions: Find out what you can be doing at home to help your child at school. Your teacher is your partner in helping your child. She will be thrilled to have a parent who is willing to work with the child at home. Keep communication open so you know any areas that can use improvement.
- Work At Home: Be involved in homework. Help your child practice spelling. Read with your child. Provide enriching activities at home. Continue to work on self-control and focusing skills. Kaitlyn's new kindergarten teacher (and she was Brayden's) recently remarked to me that my children do well because I put a lot of time and effort in helping them to do so. She told me it shows. Your efforts at home are fully noticeable.
There are many, many considerations when deciding where you want your child to attend school. This post only scratches the surface in general terms. You might be concerned about specific programs at the school, like gifted programs. You might wonder about music, art, physical education, computers, etc. The overall size of the school might concern you...think through what is important to you. Spend time at your prospective schools. Talk to parents who school where you are considering. In the end, go with what you feel is best for your family. No matter what you choose, you will be able to make it work.