Thursday, April 20, 2017

Kindergarten 101: The Secret to Picking the Best School

If you have a 4 or 5-year old, spring time means you're on the brink of a big decision.  Come fall, your kiddo will be entering the "real world" of school and you are tasked with picking the very best place for your precious little one to bloom and grow.

Awesome, tree-hugging experiences with my son's school.
Around these parts, I think we are blessed with an array of choices.  Neighborhood schools, charter schools, and home school choices abound.  How is a parent to make sense of all the variety?  How do we pick the right place for a 5-year old, without really knowing what type of human they will blossom into during the next 6-8 years?

Truth is, we take a guess and hope for the best . Because we don't really know, do we?  We could shuttle our kid across town to attend a school focused on performing arts, and they may bloom into a bookworm with no interest in center stage.  We could go for the convenience of our neighborhood school and realize that our kids' gift for science and inquiry is slowly being stifled.

As a parent that has agonized over this decision, let me reveal to you the honest truth I have learned about school choice.  There is no such thing as the perfect school. Nope.  Doesn't exist.

If parents accept this truth, I think we can approach this kindergarten conundrum with a tad less anxiety.  Our kids aren't perfect, and schools have flaws.  Our job is not to make our kid's educational experience perfect.  Our job is to find a good fit for our child.  And then, and this is an important point that many parents miss, invest in that classroom, that school, and that child as if our future depended on it. does.

Communities are not improved because parents stick their kids in the right school and they grow up to be great adults.  Communities grow and thrive because citizens roll up their sleeves and dedicate themselves to the hard and important work of making life rich, positive and productive. 

Abundant cultural opportunities,
like the Chinese Moon Festival,
at my daughter's school
So if you think picking the "perfect" school is the pinnacle of your involvement in making sure your kid gets a good education, please think again.  Picking a school is merely the launch pad for your new career of being an advocate, volunteer, donor, and friend for the community you have chosen for your family.

Our family is blessed to have kids attending two very great schools.  Really, they are both far above average in so many ways.  But I'm going to tell you, after being in the trenches for a few years, that neither is perfect.  My daughter's school has a dizzying array of performing arts, and a mind-blowing playground that will knock your socks off, but they also bury kids with (IMHO) an obscene amount of homework.  My son's school that boasts a hands-on, science-focused curriculum with small class sizes and a true "family feel", also lacks a library or a cafeteria facility.  I could go on, if my goal was to nit-pick.  But it's not.

My goal is to reassure parents that even the most shiny, new, modern school may not be the utopia you imagined as you attended kindergarten round-up with your little one.  Truly, the school is what you make of it.  As parents our job is not to stand on the sidelines and whine about the disappointments we have because our kids' school isn't perfect.  Or to move our kid from school to school to school because we don't like this or that.

Our job as parents is to understand that schools are run by humans, and are inherently varied, wonderful and flawed all at once.  The perfect school choice does not exist.  So please take a deep breath, relax and know that NO choice you make for your child will be without doubt, conflict or challenge.

However, if we approach our relationship with our children's school, much as we approach our relationship with our children themselves, how might that look?  Would we use kinder words when speaking with the school secretary?  Would we voice our concerns directly with the administration instead of slamming school policies on Facebook?  Would we ask to hear the teacher's side of the story first before defending our child's behavior?  Would we realize that what we put INTO the relationship is tightly correlated with what we (and our children) get OUT of the relationship?

Breathe easy kindergarten parents.  Perfection is no longer your goal.  You're just entering into a new relationship.  It will be messy, surprising, exciting, challenging and beautiful.  Your satisfaction and your child's success has less to do with making the "right" choice and more to do with the care and feeding of the relationship itself.

The best school for your kid is the one to which you give your best.

No comments:

Post a Comment