As the school year winds down for kids and summer approaches I've been frantically researching and evaluating area schools to enroll Elaina into in 2010. My search left much to be desired.
We live in the historic district in an urban culture. The schools here rank lowest in state based on academic test scores. There is an extreme amount of violence and teachers are worn out.
I cried a lot in this search. I felt so much hopelessness. Not just for us but for the kids who are in these schools. Only a few manage to climb out of the ashes of inner-city life and become successful. It's a vicious cycle of poverty and poor education.
Our city is definitely trying to make a difference. I also found some private schools, one of which I'm very interested in. But the cost of private education would make you gasp- and it's probably cheaper here than in most places. I will still interview the one private school as they said they offer discounts for pastoral families (cha-ching!) and they're sending me that information in the mail.
In the midst of my agony in trying to find a place for my children to be safely educated my MIL reminded me that she has a friend who teaches in an area school. This was a school that I consistently passed over in my research... all because of it's NAME.
The school has a Latin name so I assumed it was a school for people of other language or connected with some religion. No, it's a charter school. A charter school, by my definition, is a publicly funded school that is still considered private in its own district. So it's still free as our taxes do pay for it, but it has the benefit of having it's own curriculum and rules.
Since I need to get my thoughts down, here are the highlights and lowlights:
Location- amazing! Right on the way to Daniel's work so he can drop off and pickup. Not only that but on a good day I could walk there. They love parental involvement, too, and often ask parents to become "Para's" to help the teachers out with reading books to kids.
Not only that but it's a beautiful, gated building with a courtyard filled with gardens (that the kids help plant as part of science). They have new playground equipment as well.
Curriculum- This school uses a special literary curriculum that is #1 in this area, probably even the entire state. Literacy (reading and writing) is their number one priority because once you have that the rest of the courses come much easier.
Spanish- all children are taught Spanish, using the technique "immersion", from PreK and up.
Ballet- invitation only class offered to students... for free! Obviously the outfits and shoes wouldn't be free. This is one highlight I hope Elaina (and eventually Abby) gets to participate in should we choose this school.
Music/Art- You can't live without these two! The music class apparently puts on musicals, too.
Outdoor Activities- most of the time these kids practically live outside for science and discovery in the earlier grades.
Field Trips- ties in with the above statement. We have many historical areas here and the kids practically go to free field trips constantly (fishing, for instance)!
Diversity- The main ethnicity in this school is Hispanic, but there are African American, Asian and Caucasian children as well. I joked with the teacher that if all of my MIL's grandchildren ended up in the school their Caucasian population would probably triple.
Basics- All kids get to apply for Free/Reduced lunch and almost every child receives it. Kids also get FREE breakfast and a FREE snack of fresh fruit some time in the morning or afternoon.
There are 200 kids and 14 teachers, approx. Serves grades PK-8.
Principal is very, very hands-on. She visits classrooms and reads to the children. She knows every student and their interests. BIG bonus for me! And apparently she will not invite a teacher back the following year if he/she was a bad teacher (mean, not doing their job, etc.). She also does not tolerate bullying and violence.
Scholarships- The school gives out scholarships to students who deserve and earn them at their time in this school. The scholarships are for private high schools, which I thought was AWESOME!
Summer School- Often we associate summer school with the "bad kids". Not in this case. This school does school the whole month of June to keep the childrens' minds fresh for the upcoming school year. I'm torn between loving and hating this aspect but I need more information on it (half day or full day? serious instruction or more summer-camp feel?).
NEGATIVES- All kids have to wear uniforms. I understand WHY they do this but I still don't like it.
Worried that with such a strong emphasis on the Language Arts the other subjects won't be as important. I know that's probably false but I worry nonetheless. Plan to discuss on our tour/interview.
This is not a Christian school so they don't teach Christian values. In order to be equal they cannot celebrate Christian holidays (Christmas, Easter) without celebrating every religions' holidays as well. We ARE allowed to opt out of things that pertain to things we don't believe in, thank God, so it's not a total negative.
Teacher I talked to was an early-grade teacher so she's not certain if the older grades talk about homosexuality and evolution as being truths/norms. But by being an involved parent you can thwart the stuff you feel is not fair/true. Because if they want to be FAIR (as with the religious holidays) then they cannot teach about these things without being fair to Christian beliefs that say otherwise. I do plan to say that if, when interviewed, they do teach these things.
So there you have it. The pros seem to definitely outweigh the cons. Though the cons from a religious perspective are bad. It's all a matter of being involved and communicating with your children. When I was in school, as a non-Christian, I still upheld the Biblical viewpoint on issues such as evolution (which was debunked, btw, and Mr. Darwin himself said he was wrong) so having them talk about it in class isn't necessarily the end to your child's belief system.
I'm starting to get really emotional about all of this. The only time Elaina and I have been apart was when her baby sister was born and I was in the hospital. She's just growing up so fast!
She's very excited about the prospect of going to school. And in a way I'm excited, too. I cannot wait to see her blossom into the very intelligent person that I already know she is!
So whatever happened to homeschooling?
Since Elaina was a baby I have felt that her being in school, with other students, was something she needed. I gave homeschooling a shot this last year to do preschool work with her and it just did not work out. She and I would end up frustrated at one another, the house would be a mess, I felt I was doing everything wrong... it was just too much pressure for me. Abigail would scream and cry during "school" time for attention. I felt so torn between them both and wanted to rip my hair out. It was NOT FUN. And early education should be fun.
Preschool used to be something that came naturally to me. In fact I was a preschool teacher as part of a class I did in high school. The high schoolers who took the class actually ran a preschool. We did Circle Time, Reading, Snacks, Songs/Fingerplays, Crafts, etc. under the direction of our own teacher who taught us the skills to run the preschool. This is an actual, accredited preschool that is very difficult for parents to get their kids into (always booked). In fact I went to this preschool when I was little and have VERY fond memories of it!
But preschool at HOME is way different from organized preschool in a SCHOOL.
I like organized school. I can't say I love public schooling (which is why a private or charter school is a great option) but I really feel we all need the schedule that schooling brings to an entire family. We'd have a start and an end to each day. I feel like a crazy person just flying by the seat of my pants every day of the week. I, myself, need structure as well in order to provide a stable home environment.
I would not mind homeschooling older grades (middle/high school) because that's more independent. My child wouldn't have to rely 100% of me the entire day, just when they needed help.
But for now this is something we're all eager for during the early years of education! I love the idea of homeschooling. But you have to remember to NOT feel pressured into doing it because other Christians are doing it or because of what so-and-so said. NOT everyone is cut out for it, as I found out about myself.
Are you going to have a baby or did you have a baby recently? Are you unsure about your schooling options or how to even enroll your child? You can visit your district's website for information on how to get your child enrolled into school! If you prefer to homeschool then you can visit your state's homeschooling website to get started there.
If your baby is young it is NOT too early to enroll them into preschool (typically ages 2-4). Many preschools and even kindergartens (age 5 by August 1st) get full FAST so put your little one on the waiting lists of the schools you want most.
Kids really do grow up fast. I can't believe the day has come to even look into all of this. And Abigail will be put on a list for 2011's preK program if we go with the charter school mentioned above. Never too early!