The first step is to penetrate the clouds of deceit and distortion and learn the truth about the world,
then to organize and act to change it. That's never been impossible and never been easy. ~Noam Chomsky

Thursday, November 10, 2011

School Schmool

What's up with picking a preschool these days?!

B.A. (before Ariam) we would stroll by the neighborhood elementary school just a block from our house and pat ourselves on the back for living so close to school. How easy! How convenient! Won't that be perfect when our kiddo comes home?! No commute for school, hooray!

These days, when we stroll by the neighborhood elementary school with it's big banner advertising ECE for 3 and 4 year olds, we pout, we roll our eyes, we sigh. We remind each other that "this will be the last resort."

What has happend to us? Oh, yes, becoming parents in a P.A. (post Ariam) world.

Yesterday we went to two preschool open house tours. Apparently these things are all the rage - practically replacing date night as a fall activity for all parents in our city. We couldn't even get on the waitlist for the open house for one of the schools!

As I sat in the little tiered and carpeted (you know the kind of carpet, that industrial blue stuff that starts peeling into little unraveling plastic strings at the ends) auditorium listening to a principal describe Montessori curriculum, I couldn't help but feel the crushing weight of parental responsibility crash down on our shoulders.

Here are some of the nagging voices of parental responsibility:
"Whatever you choose, it will set the stage for her life, happiness, career, future ....."
"This could be the auditorium you will be trapped in for school plays for the next 8 years..." (ok, my own concern not exactly parental responsibility concern.)
"White, Latino, White, Latino. White, white, white."
"Dual language is so important. He's telling us it is SO important. If we don't get her in here she'll practically be unable to communicate in life!"
"Montessori, montessori, traditional classroom, traditional classroom. Make your choice but don't choose wrong..."

How do you make these choices? Little neighborhood school, well in writing it sounds very sweet and quaint. In reality it is almost 100% Latino (not a problem at all except that it is as lacking in diversity as an all white school.) It is also not dual language, not top performing, not a magnet or charter school, not, not, not, not.

Do kids really need all of this scholastic input? At age 3? Do they? They might. I really seriously do not have an answer here. Mr. dual language Montessori magnet school guy says they do.

I don't remember anything about school before age 5. I think it was called daycare. I think they flicked me on the head if I was naughty, I spent afternoons napping, and my mom taught me my numbers and letters at home. Somehow I succeeded in life, although God only knows how.... ;)

Here's the thing. Today I had to be at the Children's Hospital for something. We're there reasonably often. But today I was not with Ariam so I had the chance to look and listen more. The woman I was with told me that right before I sat down in her office she had to call a family whose child had died to let them know they have a $1 million dollar medical bill. One million dollars.

Walking through the halls I watched kids in wagons, hooked to IVs, sip tiny sips of orange juice.

Ariam has medical challenges but not quite like these kids. We are so very fortunate that our decisions are not life and death ones. That we can spend our time worried about something as frivolous as 3 year old preschool.  We are so fortunate to have her. She is so fortunate to be healthy, alive, thriving. She is so smart. Already smarter than us. I want to make the right decisions for her even though I can't look in a crystal ball and see the end results.

So... here are the options for the fall so far:

1. Public school ECE (ages 3-5 in one class) with dual language classrooms. Large class sizes, Montessori based, half day program. Caucasian/Latino but not much other diversity. A magnet school but not in a fancy neighborhood with lots of funding and special "extras." Designed for kids to go age 3-5th grade with full fluency in both languages by graduation.

2. Private preschool (ages 3-4 in one class) with some Spanish taught/spoken. Small class size. Love and Logic based, full day program (but doesn't have to be 5 days/week.) Random diversity, heavy also on  Caucasian/Latino. Lots of parent involvement - bringing in favorite foods, sharing about trips to other countries, etc. Not Montessori - more group activities, field trips, etc. Designed to meet the needs of our neighborhood (in walking distance), prepare kids for kindergarten, and a fun environment.

There are other options. We have a list of SIX other programs to visit. A very diverse private preschool downtown (hello waiting list), our local school, another Montessori dual language program, and a couple of schools across town that would be annoying for commute now but could be good options if we relocated in a couple of years.

I have a feeling that in the end we will still have no clue what we are doing. We will put our numbers into a lottery for a lot of them, pay money to sit on the waitlists for the other private ones, and pray to God that it all works out.

It's pretty unsettling. This whole school thing. It's like the person who used to smile knowingly at the little neighborhood elementary school (yeah, the school and I were in solidarity about our need for a small one to enter my home) is gone. Replaced by rabid preschool weirdo mother.

Decisions decisions. How do you make this one? What weight do you give to language? diversity? distance from home? class size? price? teaching style?


Oh, and a quick pic of the little miss headed off to preschool in the fall. She started dance class.


  1. Does someone who rocks rainbow striped leg warmers even need schooling...that is my question? Doesn't her fashion sense alone prove that she's too cool for school? (from a person who recently quit her daughter from preschool- Emilio Reggio curriculum in case you're prone to researching the philosophy! LOL!)

    No seriously. I have no idea how to educate my daughter properly and have no idea how you should either- the gigantic bags under my eyes prove it. I'm sleepless about it all and a wreck. For real. Ugh. And when I do sleep I have nightmares about that blue industrial carpeting you talked about. Either that or forgetting my locker combination.

  2. We lucked into what I think is a great school for our kids (public charter, progressive, project-based learning, whole-child centered). While relatively diverse, it is limited in the number of students that share the same color skin as our Ethiopian kiddos. I definitely loose sleep over this.

    A few weeks ago we were considering moving to a different city (for many reasons) with much more diverse schools and a much larger African American population. I was feeling really good about it until I started researching schools and learned that while there would be more kids that looked like ours, there was NOTHING that focused on the social-emotional development of the kids and really met them where they were at like our current school does. In general, except for the super expensive private schools, the schools were kind of crappy. I didn't sleep for a few weeks.

    Ultimately, I am glad we're staying and that our kids can attend their little school through the 8th grade, but, man what a lot of responsibility and stress. I still wonder if they'll tell me someday that the only thing that mattered was that they were the only brown-skinned kids in their classrooms. All this to say, I hear ya!

  3. I would chose diversity over dual-language, hands down. For both my bio and adopted children. And for my adopted child, dual-language is actually a drawback (she has language issues...)

    I also like local. Especially if there is going to be more than 1 child. Because when you add in a commute and activities for different ages, etc... well, distance makes school more complicated, and it makes getting to know people more complicated. A local school automatically lends itself to building relationships because (hypothetically) the students are local, the parents are local, and everyone can engage more.

    As for teaching style/methods... there is not a one-size-fits-all or success-guaranteed approach. Kids are different. The environments in which they will thrive are different. Get into the classrooms while class is in session (those open house things are so deceiving.) Watch the classroom in action- the teachers. You'll know who will help Ariam bloom. And maybe she won't learn her numbers as quickly at one school as she might at another, but when she is happy while learning, she'll learn a lot more than just numbers, you know?

  4. I think we lucked out in the fact that we are incredibly capable of just ignoring these kinds of things. Seriously. We toured the preschool right down the street, really liked the director, really liked how diverse it was, and really liked how the attitude was "Eh, it's preschool. We'll work on the basics and even more beyond that if they're ready, but we're going to focus on giving them the social coping skills necessary for real world interactions." SOLD!

    Our oldest daughter is in kindergarten now at the local public school and I don't hate it. It's diverse. It's well rated. I have my issues with it but those issues aren't worth the several tens of thousands a year we'd pay for private schooling in this area so she's staying put. At some point I'm certain we'll reevaluate if we feel her basic educational and social needs aren't being met. But it wasn't worth the stress, time, or money to us.

    Besides, reading Malcolm Gladwell's book showed us that it's NOT what schools they are in as small children so much as the encouragement and opportunities they get outside of school that inspire greatness.

  5. If a diverse school in our neighborhood was an option I'd be so happy. Sadly it isn't. We're trying to find some options we could get on a lottery for in other parts of the city - because it is worth it to me to drive. But getting in a lottery is not a given. :( Isn't it ironic that when we chose to live in this particular city neighborhood as a married couple without Ariam, we thought it was *so diverse.* Funny how now I no longer think "spanish speaking" equals diversity. I really wish we had a school with kids of many ethnicities from many countries with many skin colors. Looking, but not finding anything except expensive private "international" schools....

  6. My best advice is to be very careful who you let inform your decisions about what your 3 year old "needs." Everyone is selling something to some degree right?

    P.S. Not that we shouldn't still try to do our best and all, but we're all gonna screw up this parenting thing one way or another. Grace, my friend -- give yourself lots and lots of grace! :)

  7. Your sweet daughter is growing up and looks so happy. You're a great mama. She is 3 years old and needs to know that she is loved. That's it!! Let the rest wait until she is ready like 6 or 7 ;)

  8. Oh, the school question. It's a tough one. We're homeschooling right now (Pre-K and probably kindergarten as well) in order to buy time until we have options that we feel fit our daughter's needs. But it's tough balancing diversity with academics with learning style. Research I've done on early learning suggests that when it comes to learning a second language, starting them at age 3 is advantageous because their brains are primed for language development at that point. (Personal research supports this, as my daughter came to us at age 3 and has picked up English--her third language--quite easily. She doesn't remember her first two languages, though, so maybe this is not the success story I imagine it to be.) However, when it comes to other academic achievements (age at which they learn to read, for example), it really doesn't matter whether they learn earlier or later. In fact, much of the research suggests that there is a disadvantage to being an early reader. I think that there are myriad ways to teach children various skills, and if you want Ariam to start learning a second language, you can introduce it to her yourself if the school doesn't offer it. I also know plenty of kids who didn't start learning a second language until they entered kindergarten, and they have all been fluent by fifth grade. You'll figure out what works for Ariam, and the good news is that if the first school she is in turns out to be a bad fit for any reason, she's got plenty of learning years ahead of her. You can always change your mind and not be ruining her educational future.

  9. I have three boys~all adopted and all a different race. We live in a very rural community in the South and racial diversity consists of caucasian, African-American, and Hispanic. My oldest son went to our local school for pre-k (age 4). After that, we decided that homeschooling was the best option for us. I knew that I could teach them whatever they would learn in pre-k while keeping them at home and teaching them how to be loving, friendly, respectful little people. After six years of homeschooling, they now attend an all-boy school that opened in the last few years. It's a good school, but sometimes I wish I had kept them home a little longer. I don't worry about the diversity of their school ( or lack thereof) nearly as much as the influence of the kids they hang out with on a daily basis.


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