“My daddy picked a really good kindergarten!”
For many of you, today was the day. For me, it is tomorrow. I’m nervous, excited, proud, and sad all rolled into one. Got the lunchbox, backpack, camera, and, most importantly, an excited kid. Who wants to share their first day of kindergarten stories? Share in the comments below or write me a note directly. I’ll compile the best stories into a future post (no names to be used).
I named this blog “Search” instead of “Choice” for a reason. I have been fortunate enough to have choices, and my search has been exploring those choices. I’ve spent years writing about deciding whether to move, stay where I am, send my kids to a public, private or charter school. I know how fortunate I am. For many, perhaps most Philadelphia families out there, school choice is an illusion, a myth. Cost is an insurmountable obstacle for many who want to relocate to a neighborhood with a better school or choose private or parochial education. VTP and charter school lotteries are lotteries, after all, with seats only being offered to a few lucky families. You can take steps to maximize your chances at getting into a charter (apply to a lot) or being offered a seat via the voluntary transfer program (VTP) (apply to less trendy choices), but still your chance of winning a seat in either lottery process is only marginally higher than in the traditional “Mega Millions” lottery. A recent commenter on this blog summed it up this way, remarking that
…for most families in Philadelphia, even middle class families, school choice [is] a pipe dream. Of course we’re all looking for the ‘best fit.’ But there aren’t enough spots at the better public schools to accommodate every child. There aren’t enough good charter schools or enough spots at those schools. There aren’t enough private schools. Private school kindergartens are crowded with pre-school carryovers (a good bet for schools, since those families clearly can pay the tuition) and siblings, and even if you get a spot in one, it’s possible there won’t be enough aid to allow your child to go….
For many parents in this situation it’s catchment school or nothing. In that kind of climate, the concept of choosing a ‘best fit’ or deep examination of educational philosophy are foreign concepts. Following the political machinations of school budget deficits and superintendent scandals is just a depressing exercise. Many parents choose to take matters into your own hands to improve your neighborhood schools, but depending on the school, that can be a daunting effort that may take years to realize any gains. Of course, I am an advocate for expanding choice across the city as most of you are, but I am not in a position to effectively advocate for policy shifts that would enable that. I admire folks who are active advocates for education reform in Philadelphia, but advocating for reform is a long term process. I am not willing to make a school choice as an attempt to change the system–educating my child is priority one, advocating for school reform is secondary.
Which brings me back to this blog. I write honestly about my own experiences and try to serve as a platform for parents to share theirs (share yours!). I am among the fortunate minority who has choices, and all I can do as a blogger trying to create a useful resource for Philadelphia families is to help everyone maximize their own potential options.
My old friend Meredith just published an article in the Inquirer about choosing a backpack for your kid. Though choosing a backpack is not quite as weighty (see what I did there?) an issue as choosing a school, it is an important decision. My kid has never had a backpack before. He’s starting kindergarten, with new teachers, new expectations, new kids. I want him to be as excited about it as possible. The right backpack can make all the difference. OK, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit.
Anyway, I think I nailed Meredith’s challenge. I ordered this dinosaur backpack from Amazon a week back and my son practically froths at the mouth playing with it. He wants to wear it everywhere. He wants to carry his own kids gear in it when visiting his grandparents. He created a game with it–putting objects inside and asking his little sister to guess. It doesn’t shamefully shill Toy Story or Cars or some other commercial entity. Most importantly, he asks me every day when he gets to go to kindergarten! So, Meredith, I think I hit a home run, if I do say so myself.
While evaluating schools for my first child, I tried really hard not to neglect the future needs of my second child. I tried to picture both of my kids there, not just my oldest. For logistical reasons, obviously I want to pick a school that would work for both. Of course, going down the private school route, that decision becomes that much more expensive, but are there other reasons to choose a different school for #2?
Picking the same school for child number two is the default choice for most parents I know. Conventional wisdom states that the second child always gets the short shrift–fewer photographs, hand me down clothes, etc. etc. On the other hand, if you are choosing a school for a first child with every intent to send the second child there as well, both children are getting the same treatment.
I am lucky. My second child seems to be pretty flexible and easygoing. Even though she is three, I expect that she will thrive wherever my son goes and will actually prefer to be near him. For what reasons do parents make alternative school choices for child number two? I asked a couple of people that I know who made the decision to send their children to different schools. I paraphrased their comments to me below. Have you decided to choose a different school for your second child? If so, why? Leave your thoughts in the comments.
Parent 1: Personality
My first born child is outgoing and confident and I thought he would thrive in our local public school. My second child is a lot more introspective and reserved. We were afraid that our oldest would outshine the younger, inviting comparisons from parents, teachers, administrators, and other children. We were also afraid that our younger would retreat to the sidelines in the face of more outgoing kids. We were fortunate enough to get our younger child a seat at a nearby charter school that has a much smaller student body and smaller class sizes. So far, each of them has thrived.
Parent 2: Learning Style
My first child has a borderline learning disability. Though our local public school could accommodate his needs, we chose to send him to a school that specializes in those needs rather than our local public school. Obviously, it didn’t make sense to send our second and third children to that school.
Parent 3: Cost
My first child is at a private school that has seen drastic tuition increases over the last several years. It was originally our intent to stretch and send our second child to the same school. Instead, he has been thriving at a preschool for anther nearby private school that has a much lower price point. So we will send him to K at that school. Depending on our family finances, it is our hope to put the kids in the same school-dependin on how our finances shake out, it may be the lower or higher cost school.