November 10, 2014


School for the boys---just when I think I have it all figured out, my perspective is turned upside down and I have no idea what I'm doing.

We were plodding along, happy enough in the tiny parochial school, making peace with the fact that Henry isn't having the best year but Liam is thriving. There's only one teacher per grade in their K-8 school, so you always know who you are going to get.  Next year it will be Henry's turn to get the fabulous teacher.  We are not members of the parish, so there are a few awkward but minor issues during the school year.  The very best things the school provides are an awesome kindergarten experience and a small setting where within two weeks every one of the students and faculty know everyone else's name and face.  It sounds cliche, but it really does operate like a family.

What's not to love?  Well for starters, the ancient building, the lack of technology, in fact, the lack of STEM period.  To be fair, the new administration has worked very hard to update the school but these improvements are mostly behind the scenes.  There are few enrichment or extracurriculars.  They just don't have the student numbers, funds or the specialized faculty.  Like everything else in life, it's a trade-off.  What the school lacks in shiny, new, fast and sparkly it makes up for in personal attention and safety.  Of course, there's the added intangible of strong value-based lessons.  Okay, so they are not exactly our values but they're close enough*

So why am I conflicted?  Because this weekend we happened to visit a shiny, new, fast (technology-wise) sparkly school.  I was early to pick up Henry from his Saturday science class.  The non-profit had leased classroom space in a public middle school and I toured the space as I waited.  The first thing I noticed were the band/orchestra/piano schedules.  Then I saw the display case with student products from all 14 of the afterschool clubs.  I noticed the fifth grade wing where teachers had written positive notes and attached his/her comments to each student's locker.  I saw the gorgeous, giant flat screen computers in the media center--the media center with huge skylights, an indoor garden, thousands of books, plush armchairs and sofas.  Then Liam and I got lost but found the gym and (separate!) lunchroom.

It was everything a school should be.  In my mind, I saw older versions of my sons walking down the hall.  They were thriving.  And to think, this school charges no tuition, has no entrance requirements.  You just bring your mortgage papers and your child can take a seat in one of the ergonomically designed desks.

But not so fast.  I couldn't show my mortgage papers.  I'd have to sell my house and move twenty miles.  Homes in that school district cost close to twice as much as what my tiny bungalow would sell for.  I'd have to pull my children out of  the school where they feel safe and secure, the very uprooting I swore I'd never do.

By 5th grade, Henry will have spent five years with the same 22 kids.  Even now, they know each other as well as siblings.  Can I take him away from that?  Do I remember what changing schools felt like?  Why yes, yes I do.  It was horrible.  And if we move, Liam will have to change twice--once in 3rd grade and then again when middle school starts.  Didn't his teacher just tell me about the benefits to social/emotional growth when going to school with the same group of children for nine years?

But what about STEM?  What about getting into a competitive high school?  What about diversity and broadening our social horizons?  What about photography club, SmartBoards and fifth grade piano recitals?

I just don't know.  I just. don't. know.

*I've always been particularly fond of  Mark 9: 38-40


  1. I hear you. The tradeoffs and the anxiety about school decisions can be overwhelming. But know that no matter what your boys will be okay. I just moved Sam from a private school in which he knew all the same students and the class size was small and there was a real community to a public school with a wide variety of learners where he is going to take time to make such close friendships. BUT I love the fact that I'm saving money and my child is getting STEM curriculum that is hands down better than what he would be getting at the private school. And I love that they taylor the learning to the individuals so there is so much more available for my child who is reading above grade level. He is being pushed to excel rather than being held back to fit within the class room norms. And I love that. The public school just has so much more available that I like for my child, even if he is having to sacrifice community for a while until he makes new friends. I do think he would have been fine at the private school too and I struggled with making the decision, but now that the decision is made I feel like I couldn't have made a wrong decision. hopefully you'll feel that way at some point too. Good luck.

  2. I don't think there is a "right" answer. Your kids will probably do great at either place. I moved A LOT as a kid and truly felt no worse for wear. And now that I'm moving my kids around, we look on the bright side: Fiona says "Mom there are good and bad things about Boise and good and bad things about DC but both are great!"-- what a wonderful lesson to learn. My mom did keep us in place for middle/high school which I think was good. Through high school we rented a tiny apartment just so my mom could have us in the best public (Palo Alto) school district in the area, even though we really could not afford to live in wealthy Palo Alto. The resources there were amazing, like you describe. But for elementary age- really it sounds like you are comparing a win to a win - both good in their own ways. If you are really considering this public school district, perhaps you oculd talk with some current families and get their opinions?

  3. I am in the education field as well, and I know how important all of that "flashy stuff" is but the benefit of a smaller, more personal school at the same time. Is the public school in your district not good? Changing schools would be a little hard for the boys, but perhaps a little more difficult if they are moving to an entirely different area as well. However, kids are resilient and they will be okay. Tough decision!

  4. The school decisions.... I am dreading this!!

    I agree with Claire that for elementary school, it sounds like both are good options. And from all your activities etc you post here I think you more than make up for the STEM your current school is lacking.