How is it possible that I’m having conversations with people about when Addison is starting school? How did she get this old?!
I’ve never lived in an area like this when it comes to schools (or anything else, for that matter). There is a local school district, entailing an elementary school (K-4) in our town and a middle (5-8) and high (9-12) school in the next town over. But we also live right on a county line, which means that just 2 towns over is a small K-8 school in L.A. County. That school is a “school of choice” and they actively recruit from our county because the number of students for whom it would be a home school is minuscule (there are literally only 15 homes in the whole town).
Homeschooling is also pretty big in this area. The reasons vary depending on who you talk to, but some claim that the local school district doesn’t do enough with bullying, meeting individual needs, and challenging academics. (I technically work for the school district in “Support Services,” but I have no direct knowledge related to any of the complaints I’ve heard.) There’s a charter school from down in the valley that has branch up here in order to support homeschooling parents in the area. (There is also a charter school 3 towns in the other direction, but it’s too far to be an option we’re considering.)
Over the past several months, a handful of parents I’ve known have been encouraging us to put Addison in the small L.A. County school next year, chiefly because of the small class sizes. From what I’ve heard, the kindergarten class is a K/1 classroom with about 15 kids total. Crazy, right? I have also had the opportunity over the last couple of months to meet and talk with the K/1 teacher. She does some community events (like a special storytime at the library) to meet parents and kids in the area. Yesterday we had a really good conversation about her methods in the classroom and philosophy of education as well as my particular concerns about Addison and how school will work out for her.
Addison is obviously very verbal for her age, which is probably the reason why so many people ask me about school because they think she seems kindergarten-ready. And if you ask her, she definitely is! She is going to preschool two mornings a week and is always telling me, “I said I wanted to go at least three days a week!” Well, get a job, lady! Preschool won’t pay for itself! She is also listening keenly whenever she hears Neal and I discussing school or preschool, which only became clear to me when I overheard her telling a kid on the playground, “I heard my mom say that I’m on the wait-list for another preschool day.” Do you even know what a wait-list is, kid? The elementary school is a pretty prominent feature in our town so she’s been there several times and inevitably we have to have a conversation about why she’s not quite old enough for school (it doesn’t help that some of her playmates meet the cut-off for either kindergarten or transitional kindergarten). Even before she turned 4, she was saying things like “I never get to take spelling tests like the other kids!” Um, who have you been talking to?
Having grown up with a public educator for a parent, I’ve always been a huge proponent of public education. Do I think it’s always the best academic education for a child? No. But I have always felt that if those who have the means or education to find other options for their kids abandon public schools, or the lowest-performing public schools, then it reinforces a troubling stratification in society. But it’s always very interesting when the “rubber” of your life philosophy meets the “road” of your actual child. I never in a million years thought that I would consider homeschooling but the older Addison has gotten, the more I have contemplated some benefits that it would bring. Or rather, some issues that it would head off. I have no doubt that Addison could meet the academic requirements of public school, but I do worry about the combination of her talkative nature and high energy level in the classroom. Ultimately, Addison would never forgive us for homeschooling her. She craves being out in the world, and with other people. “Home” anything is something she wants to limit her exposure to as much as possible. (So ironic, no?) But I genuinely worry about traditional schooling squelching her natural curiosity and creativity as well as teaching her that her fundamental nature is unacceptable.
It was good to have this specific conversation with the K/1 teacher. We touched on my concerns about excessive academic standards for 5 year olds. My desire for a more interactive, play-based curriculum for Addison. Fears about her being able to succeed (happily) in an environment where she is asked to sit still (and inside) for large portions of the day (all kindergarten options here are full day). I really connected with many of this teacher’s responses, the biggest being that with such a small class size she can allow a lot more movement, activity, and outdoor time without having classroom management issues. They go on many field trips (because they are small enough to not require a bus). They grow a garden. They have a tent in the classroom. She said that even when they do a traditional writing assignment, they are allowed to get up and walk around, go up to the “word board” to figure things out. I want to do a classroom visit to understand how this all plays out, but it sounded very promising. Not to mention the fact that someone who does a storytime and craft with kids in her free time must really enjoy her job.
While technically both of these elementary schools meet several low-income criteria, I can tell that many of the higher SES parents in the area are opting for the L.A. county school of late, which certainly creates a dilemma for us. Although Neal and I started out with more divergent ideas about our kids’ education, over time, we seemed to have converged on the idea that we will not just choose what we think is the “best school” or the “best school for our kid.” We will choose a school in which we can invest in a way that will help elevate other more at-risk students (without, of course, actively endangering or harming her). Because for all my concerns and worries about her, I know she has so many advantages in life in comparison to others, even in our immediate area. In a way, it’s kind of exciting to have these big questions looming — what will work for her? where are we needed most? — and a one-year deadline on making the decision. It’s time to get my research on!
And in case it’s too simple, how do we account for the fact that by this time next year we plan to have two more kids, quite probably with special needs of some type? It’s going to be an interesting year for us!