Real Parents On: Education

There are so many challenges and decisions to make as a parent, and probably one of the biggest ones has to do with schooling. There are only really a handful of viable options -- public schools, private schools and homeschooling -- but underneath the umbrella of each of those is enough variations to make your head spin. My little one is only nine months old, but I can definitely say that even at this age, my eyes cross at the thought of weighing the pros and cons of each. Thankfully, I've recruited our fantastic panel of parents to share how they made their decisions. Here are their thoughts, mostly unedited (I removed any specific reference to the exact school if one was included):
Melinda says: City Public School

"It boiled down to a few things. My kids were already enrolled in public school when I married the family and the fact that I don't have the patience to home school (based on how tough a time I sometimes have doing homework with them.) Do I worry about the influences of the world in school? Yes, I know they hear words and things they shouldn‘t at school so I’ve tried to make our home a safe place. The over riding factor is that I believe our God is bigger than this world. I’m thankful for the opportunities my children have to go to some REALLY great schools within our public school system AND that they'll get money for college if I kept them in the public school system. I send them off to school in prayer and lift them up to Him throughout the day. For the sake of my children’s lives and my sanity I’ve chosen public school over home schooling them."

Amy says: City Public School or Private Christian School

"When we were living in the Middle East, my two oldest boys went to a British school because that was our only choice. Now that we're back in the States, I am looking at schools for them in the fall and still considering and praying about it. There's a local public school that has some great things to offer, but we missed the cut-off. We are also looking at a private Christian school in the city."

Jennifer T. says: Homeschooling

"Before we had children, my husband and I met several families whose children were unusual in the most positive sense of the word. One family in particular stands out. There were four kids, all very different, but all exceptional. The oldest liked gaming and was going to study elementary education in college. The next was quiet and demure and intended to study nursing. The third was “the life of the party” and was clerking at a law firm, taking business administration classes and preparing to become a pastor. The fourth was a sweet musician/soccer player. What they all had in common was that they were genuinely happy, well adjusted human beings, at peace with who they were. They loved their families and felt a part of something bigger than themselves. They carried themselves, not as people trying to figure out who they were, but as people with a vision for the future. I asked the parents what they did to turn out such great kids and they replied that they homeschooled. This started us on our journey towards seriously considering homeschooling as an option.

Some things we needed to consider: How do you homeschool? How do we prepare to live on one income? How do we make sure that our kids get opportunities for socializing, physical/musical education, etc..?

What made it easier: My husband and I both felt passionately about homeschooling and that we could give our kids a great education.

What makes it harder: We are sometimes met by skepticism and peer pressure to conform that occasionally sucks our emotional energy. We had to make a conscientious decision to live with less because of the loss of a second income.

For this season of my life, homeschooling is my job. Considering that I work long hours and get paid in the knowledge of a job well done, it’s amazing that I probably have about a 95% job satisfaction rating. My husband and I take great pleasure in the knowledge that we are cultivating an attitude in our children that learning is a life long rewarding process and that there are opportunities to learn and grow all around us. We love how we get to experience the joy that comes from being a part of our kids learning.

We love the deeper friendships that we have developed as a result of homeschooling. Many of our homeschooling friends come from diverse families economically, culturally, and philosophically. This has led to the development of friendships that we may not have experienced otherwise because we would not have normally “crossed paths” so to speak. Similarly, because in homeschooling you often take part in multi-age group activities, my children have friends of all ages. Also, because some families choose to homeschool when they have a child with a learning disability, we have developed close friendships with several children who have Autism and Asberger’s. We have been richly blessed by all of these friendships.

What do I not love? I struggle to avoid burn out. My husband graciously bears the burden of parenting on the weekends so that I can emotionally have some “downtime”. I often say on Saturday, “It’s Daddy’s day today, go ask him” (hopefully in a somewhat cheerful voice)."

Kelly W. says: A Different School for Each Child

"When we first started looking for schools about 10 years ago, it was overwhelming. My baby was only THREE! We visited all kinds of schools, public, private, etc. and as we "shopped", we began fine-tuning our required specs. It didn't take long before we settled in on a private Christian school. My kids were so small and impressionable. I wanted their early years in school to resonate with the same values that we were teaching them at home. And I didn't want to ship them across the city. We loved the school, the teachers, and the community of parents that felt like family (and still do). As far as we were concerned, as long as we had the resources, all of our kids would go to that same school. Then we had Josh. And had to get a plan B.

Since then, we have gone kid by kid, year by year. At the moment, my three boys are in four different schools, covering public, private, and cyber as well as both gifted and autistic support. We thought we had a perfect plan that would carry us through the years, but we found as our kids got older that sometimes what was once a perfect fit no longer could meet their needs.

*The pros: We have been able to stay in the city and be a part of our community. There are a lot of options in Pittsburgh and I have felt that I could "customize" to meet each boy's needs. They each have their own educational arena and therefore have been able to form their identities independently from their brothers. Also, I have met & worked with a lot of great people!

*The cons: Unfortunately there are a lot more "cons" as my kids get older. It is becoming harder and harder to balance it all, keeping track of everything on four different school calendars, loads of paperwork, and multiple school events and meetings. I live in the van. While I used to be very active in their schools, it has become virtually impossible now to be a regular presence. What I do manage to accomplish would be impossible to pull off if I worked outside the home. (And as a result, paying tuition on only one income has been rough on us financially. I often feel pressured to figure out how I can fit a job in on top of it all. It is, sadly, also one of the reasons we are leaving one of the schools.) My kids have never gone to a neighborhood school and are often outsiders. The Autistic Support program at Pittsburgh Public moves the kids to a new school every 3 years and Josh has to start over again (we also don't find out where he's going until 2 weeks before school starts). We are anxious about applying for high schools this fall for Noah, because we're not sure if he will get a suitable placement and high school is a pretty big deal. Ironically, our once broad options and getting slimmer with each passing year. We are seriously considering a move to a suburban district that can meet ALL of our kids' needs……on the same calendar……in the same neighborhood……with the same classmates……for free."

Madison says Considering Options for a Soon-To-Be Preschooler

"I really don't have any set in stone thing as to what I'm gonna want for Ashton in school. I do know though that I will be wanting him in Early Intervention Classes and Preschool Classes if at all possible. I feel like that the earlier you start, the better impact it could have on their life in general; and maybe that's not true whatsoever and they did some study in Switzerland proving it wrong, but something in my brain tells me to get the kid learning about stuff before he gets to where I'm at, absolutely dying trying to finish up these last 20 assignments. I have been lucky enough to experience all different types of schooling in my life which included home schooling, a private school, 2 public schools and cyber school which may definitely go into play when I decide on what I actually want to do school wise for him. Ideally, I would totally love to home school him, but I think it just depends on the time and situation of it all. I think a lot of it will also be based on how he does end up developmentally and how he does do in some preschool or early intervention classes. So far, I have another year to actually start worrying about these things and figuring it out... but, I'm not in any way opposed to any of the schooling I've taken. They all have their pros and cons and I think it ultimately depends on the child."

Kelly H. says: Public Borough School (city suburbs)

"We are currently in the process of deciding where to send our 4 yr. old (soon to be 5 yr. old) to kindergarten in the fall. The district that we live in has two elementary schools, divided by which borough you live in. Even though our home borough does have an elementary school, we are hoping to get her enrolled in the neighboring borough's instead; which is the other borough that the district includes.

Our borough's elementary school has a much larger class size (average 24-26 kindergarten students) vs. the neighboring borough’s class size (approx. 16 kindergarten students). Also, teacher experience is a big concern for us. Our daughter has been in preschool for almost two years now and is already doing tasks on a kindergarten level. I’m afraid with a larger class size and teachers with less experience, she may get bored and “lost in the crowd”. I have already noticed that when things are too easy for her, she gives up and won’t do them and gets really antsy. I’m not sure that she can be challenged enough at our local elementary school.

Living in a small town on the outskirts of the city and having a husband who is a minister, we feel very strongly to live in and be a part of the local community that he ministers to. The borough where my daughter's school is, is not more than ½ mile from where we live and we have several families and kids in the church from that borough that attend our church, so we still feel a very close connection and basically feel this it is just one large borough instead of two small ones neighboring each other. But it is difficult, because in a perfect world we would rather have her attend the local elementary school because this is where we live. But we also want to make sure to give our kids the very best start in life, including their schooling and if choosing another school is the best choice then we will do whatever is necessary. There are rumors that the school district will be restructuring the zones in which kids are tapped into for attending the elementary schools. But this is not something that will happen next school year or even at all, it’s just being discussed. So it is possible that down the road the class size and situation at the local elementary school may change and we may feel comfortable in having her attend that school if/when that happens.

There is no concrete method for choosing the best school, only research and school visits as well as input from other parents whose children attend those schools will be able to help you make the right decision. Give it up to the Lord and pray about the best decision. And make sure to stay involved in your child’s education no matter what age. That is the only way you will know what they are being taught, how they are being taught and if you need to make changes in their education. I will also say that the Principal of the school can be another huge factor; what kind of reputation he/she has with the community, their level of experience, how many times have they been transferred or changed jobs, etc."

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