Monday, July 23, 2012

Why We're Choosing Private School

This is a hard post to write because I still believe in public schools.  I have many friends who are public school teachers and I would choose any one of them to educate my children K-12.  They are the best in their profession.

You should also know that we didn't choose private school to "follow the crowd."  Our neighborhood is divided.  About a third go to the public school two blocks from our house, another third go to one of the various charter schools about a mile or two from our house and the remaining third go to the private school, the one William will attend in September, that is a block from our house.  There are also a handful of families in our neighborhood who are choosing to homeschool their children.  It's all a mixed bag which made the decision even more difficult for Brian and me.

Here are nine reasons we are choosing private school when William enters kindergarten this fall.

1. It's close.  You can't beat walking to school.  I don't have to deal with piling all the kids into the car in the dead of winter for drop-off and pick-up.  William doesn't have to spend an hour of his day riding a yellow school bus.  Instead he'll wait at the front door every morning for his middle school patrol leader to pick him up and every afternoon that same patrol leader will guide him back home.

2.  He didn't get in to the charter school.  We got a letter this past February letting us know that William was number 159 on the waiting list.  Even if he did get in, I'm not sure it would have changed our minds. But this outcome sure made our decision process a lot easier.

3.  Public schools aren't the same here or now.  I went to public school K-12 so it was hard to justify my great experience with our decision to not send my own kids to public school.  But I went to public school in a small town.  And it was the 80s.  A lot of things were different back then.  And there sure are a lot of things different about going to school in a small town versus going to school in the heart of a major metropolitan city.  Had we lived in a small town or even the suburbs, our decision may have been different.

4.  He stays at the same school through 8th grade.  Raise your hand if you had an out-of-this-world wonderful experience in middle school.  No?  Nobody?  Those junior high years are rough on everyone no matter what school you attend.  In our city, your elementary public school experience ends after fifth grade.  The students from those schools are then filtered into a handful of junior high schools for grades 6-8.  During those tumultuous years, doesn't it make more sense to keep things as consistent as possible for the students instead of dumping them into a new peer group and essentially forcing them to start their friend-making all over again?  In fact, studies show that the majority of middle school students who stay in the same school do not experience the academic decline shown by their peer counterparts who move to a new school.

5.  It isn't all about academics.  Maybe I'm the only one but I happen to believe school should be about more than just the three R's.  When we looked at the local public and charter schools most of their fact sheets included only percentages of students who passed proficiency tests in various subjects.  But on our initial tour of the private school the principal was touting emphasis on things like character development, community service, decision-making skills, team cooperation, conflict resolution and social and emotional well-being.  I'm sure public school students will gain these skills as well but I think it says something about a school as a whole when these are the philosophies they advertise first.

6. Faith formation is integrated into the classroom.  I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the private school we chose happens to be Catholic.  As a family of practicing Catholics, this aspect obviously played a role in our decision.  At a time when it seems the country is fighting tooth and nail to segregate faith completely, it gives peace of mind to know that my children won't run into a conflict for their Christian/Catholic values.

7.  There's a sense of community.  Many of the students who attend our private school are third or fourth generation.  Many of the teachers were once students at the school.  Alumni feel indebted and loyal to their schooling experience and continue to give back well into their adult years.  Many of them make lifelong relationships with the students, teachers and staff.  The community also extends beyond the school building walls as I can call many of the teachers my neighbors.

8.  Teachers work there because they want to work there.  Most private school teachers are paid much less than their public school counterparts.  Our private school is no different.  It's obvious, then, that the teachers who work there, are there because they believe in the school's mission and philosophy.  And as a parent, if you've ever watched Waiting for Superman, it's nice to know that none of the faculty are part of a union so any teacher who fails to do his or her job adequately can be let go quickly and efficiently.

9.  We probably can't afford it.  Alright, so this should be a reason not to send my children to private school, right?  But my point is that this wasn't an easy financial decision for us.  It feels so awkward when another parent tells me they wish they could send their child to our private school but that it was just too expensive.  I never know how to respond because what they are essentially implying is that it isn't too expensive for us.  Either that or we qualified for some huge financial aid package.  (We didn't get any financial aid, by the way.)  The truth is that we're not really sure how we're going to afford to send four kids to private school.  But we're cutting out unnecessary costs and we're taking it day by day, year by year.  We live in a house too small for six people.  We drive old cars.  We don't take elaborate vacations.  These are all lifestyle choices we've deliberately made.  I'm not saying every family should feel like it's necessary to bear this burden.  I'm just saying, it's a financial headache for us too.

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