This is a guest post in a series Jesus At the Blackboard. School decisions are high pressure, and different people are called to different things. In an effort to honor those choices and have a healthy conversation about education I have invited people to share their story here. Please welcome Melissa Thomas and check out her blog. You can find the rest of the series here.
Choosing School by Melissa Thomas
Choosing school is such a daunting task. Who will be responsible for the education of our boys? Where will we send them for seven hours a day where they will feel safe and loved. These questions started when the boys were three and two and fortunately for us, there was an easy answer. The most recommended preschool in a neighboring town. So, for preschool, it was an easy choice.
For Kindergarten, not so much.
My husband and I come from varied educational backgrounds. My mom was a teacher and I attended catholic School from Kindergarten through College. When I graduated college with a B.A. in Special Education, I spent two years teaching in a Public High School, four years in a Catholic High School, one year at a Catholic elementary school, one year teaching High School age adjudicated youth at a Day Treatment Center and then half a year teaching Middle School at a Catholic School. My husband attended public school through High School and then joined the United States Marine Corps from which he retired after twenty years. I always felt like the boys would attend Catholic School, too but we decided to look into all of the options. The one thing we didn’t want is for the boys to have to change schools. Even though the task of choosing a school for the boys to attend was our decision, the research, etc mostly fell to me. Obviously, public school was an option for us. It made the most sense from a financial perspective. It’s free to attend and the boys could ride the bus to school. Other options included a Montessori School, a Charter School and Catholic School. It’s important to note that we live in a town of about 5500 people so quite literally, every time we leave the house we have to drive at least 20 minutes to “go anywhere” except for the Dollar General and a gas station which are two miles from our home. Even choosing to drive the boys to the public school would be at least a 15 minute drive. In order to go to the mall or Costco we have to drive at least 30 minutes. So, making a drive to take the boys to school wasn’t really a huge consideration. We also lived in our town for about five years before our oldest started Kindergarten so we had “heard” from various sources the good and the bad of school choices. Homeschooling was not even an option because although I do believe it is a great option for those parents who want to do it, it is not for us.
Our biggest issue was finding a school that would suit both of the boys’ academic styles and personalities which are pretty much complete opposites of each other. Our oldest son thrives on structure and is very analytical and truly sees things as either “black or white” with not much give either way. Our youngest son, only 13 months younger than his brother, is very creative, spontaneous, dramatic and lives in a world that is “gray”. In a perfect world, the oldest son would go to a school with a military type academic setting and the other would go to Montessori School.
Unfortunately, sending them to two different schools was not an option.
Very early on, we eliminated the possibility of sending them to the local public school. Upon doing some research, the end of year test scores was just not great and we had heard from others that they were not happy with the school. (Note: We have since heard good things about the school and know parents who are very happy with it.)
We then took the Montessori School option off the table for a variety of reasons. The most important one being that our oldest son would just not do well there. I felt sure that I could find a school where our youngest son would fit in well or at least have a teacher who could accommodate his learning style.
Our final two options became the Charter School which is 25 miles from our home or the closest Catholic School which was the same distance away but in another county – which meant crossing a drawbridge that spans the Cape Fear River. The bridge that rises at random times of the day depending on river traffic (i.e. those huge shipping container ships). Both schools are similar in that they have high structure and high academic rigor. They require students to wear uniforms. Each has more flexibility in expelling students for repeated classroom disruptions. Both require at least a 30 minute drive one-way to school as there are no buses for students. The similarities didn’t really sway our decision one way or the other. But the differences did –
The Charter School is free, the Catholic School requires monthly tuition. (Which we could afford but not easily). The Charter School operates on a year-round schedule while the Catholic School is traditional. Students get in to the Charter School on a lottery system whereas the Catholic School requires only a simple application which makes getting in to the Catholic School a bit easier. The Charter School population is larger than the Catholic School.
After some discussion, we decided to take the chance on the lottery system for the Charter School. If our oldest son got in, our youngest son would automatically have a spot for the following year. The lottery entry basically consists of filling out an application. Then someone makes a list of all the students going in to the lottery, cuts the list into strips, folds the strips and places them into a clear plastic container. Quite literally, if the name is picked out of the container ( in front of a large crown of anxious parents), then your child has a spot. Once all the spots are full, a waiting list is created. At this particular school, there is a waiting list every year. Our oldest son was the last name chosen to fill the last spot! So, our decision was made – the boys would be attending the Charter School.
They are now in 2nd and 1st grade, respectively, and we continue to be so pleased with the decision. For us, the Charter School works for various reasons. Both boys have had teachers that are wonderful to work with and very accommodating of their learning styles and personalities. They wear the same thing to school every day. They have a set of school friends and a set of home friends which has given them each different perspectives on families other than their own. The driving is a lot ( 100 miles round trip everyday) but we have a lot of good conversations in the car. The boys also use this time to practice reading aloud.
The greatest result of our decision is that the boys love their school, too. THAT is probably the most important part because it’s not fair to make them go somewhere they hate for seven hours a day. Not when getting a good education is SO crucial to their future success.