The hard stuffI'm agonizing over where to send my beloved daughter for kindergarten. I've decided against continuing her at her current (private, Montessori) program, in part because it's the most expensive of my options, in part because the parents I've talked to are very happy with the primary classes, and less so with the motivation in the elementary, and finally because the class she'd be moving to is largely made up of boys--noisy, disruptive boys, in this case, who seem to get the majority of the teacher's attention. As a "good girl," my daughter seems likely to get less of the teacher's time and energy. And let's face it, as a control-freak with a PhD, I've hit the wall on the "at your own pace" element of Montessori learning. In theory, it's great; in practice, I want something more structured.
I realize that my decision needn't be permanent, but in several cases, one needs to enroll in the school (public OR private) to guarantee places in subsequent years, so I might not have this many options again.
So, I must decide, this weekend, before leaving for a week-long vacation extravaganza, while revising one article and drafting another, among these 3 schools:
School A is a public "arts magnet" elementary. Several of my students and grads have worked there and really liked it. The teachers are energetic, and art, music, drama, and dance are integrated throughout the curriculum. It's free, with a nominal fee for additional before-and-after care. It's not within walking distance, but then, none of these are. It's pretty close to my campus. It's ethnically and socio-economically diverse. The staff, I confess, has not been very helpful or informative, but then, I'd rather have them focused on my child. Big drawbacks: almost no science, lots of
"rote" work and worksheets, most students entering have had little pre-school or preparation, and there will be 24 students/class with one teacher and possibly parental or student-teacher aid. She'd love the art, music, and drama. I'm not sure how the math and science programs are.
School B is the public school favored by most of my colleagues whose kids are in local public schools. It is slightly closer (both A and B are near my campus; less than 2 miles from our house), and has a pretty well-balanced curriculum--which means minimal art and music, some science, and lots of worksheets. The principal is responsive and committed, the teachers are happy to be there, and an active parental support system tries to make up for the kinds of things that regular school budgets don't provide. Again, though, 24 kids per class. One teacher. Two inexpensive local or nearby choices for before-and-after care.
Both schools A and B are subject to the tyranny of our ridiculous state assessment tests, and while that's not an issue for her next year, it soon will be. There's also the "hard edge" that local public children have--they are very "old"-seeming--and she would have to develop some of that soon to thrive. Both are fine choices, and would be perfectly acceptable if I hadn't explored option C. To make it worse, while I have toured all three schools, the public school information sessions don't happen until after I will have to make my choice and leave town.
School C is private. It's about 20 minutes away and would require me to drive her to school at least once/day (there is another family, and possibly one more, who would carpool). It has one class per grade level, 18-20 students per class, and 2 full-time teachers in each class. She visited it yesterday, and was clearly both welcomed and challenged. It's expensive--pretty much the outside of what I can afford to pay (just below what I pay now, for tuition plus childcare). Students do lots and lots of hands-on art, science, music, Spanish, computers. It's well-established, with an active parent/family network. Unlike the other private schools around, the expenses are minimal once tuition is paid (other schools add supplies fees, trip fees, meals, etc., etc.--this one doesn't). The curriculum is centered on reading and math. There is lots of outdoor activity. On the downside, it means driving, gas, bridge tolls, and more stress (?) for me, although it's not really much farther than I take her now. The student body is not nearly so diverse as the local public schools, which will become more and more of an issue, I suspect. And the childcare is expensive, so her day (and mine) will be a bit shorter.
I can't sleep. I make one decision, and then regret it at 2 a.m. Everyone I ask has an agenda: pro-public schools. Anti-public schools. Private schools "attract a nice group of families," some say; ""private schools are for snobs and troublemakers," say others. "It's too expensive," some say, while others say, "what's more important than education?" "You don't want to be one of those parents," friends say--you know, the ones whose kids are already putting together a Harvard application and learning their second language. "Save that money for college," I've heard, and "these are the most important years for her." She would be fine at school A or school B. School C would be great for her, though, so why should I settle for fine?
It's all right, and it's all wrong, and no one knows her like I do. She's smart, willful, playful, creative, musical, much more athletic than her mother. She's stubborn, and not likely to push herself to do something difficult. She can read, and pretends not to. She's quirky and loving and inquisitive, and asks me hundreds of questions about how the world works, why the universe is the way it is (she's very concerned about Pluto's recent demotion, and wants to see for herself why it's no longer big enough to be considered a planet). She loves to cook and garden, and knows a smattering of Portuguese, Italian, and Spanish--somewhat interchangeably. She's brave and adaptable and self-sufficient. And the one other person who could make this decision with me is no longer around. I can imagine the various things he would say, but I can't envision where he would end up, given his bias against snobbery and his all-consuming love for his daughter. Of course, if he were here, I'd be more confident that she would learn about the world, and bugs, and planets, regardless of what she got in school. I'd be able to do without those hours and hours of childcare. But this way lies madness, right?