Why I Decided to Make My Life Crazy and Send My Kids to Two Different Elementary Schools
Sep 11, 2015
It's an innocent enough question: Where are your kids going to school?
But for me, it has a long and complicated answer.
This year, Aaron is in second grade, and Maxwell is in kindergarten. They're not going to our neighborhood school. And they're also not going to the same school.
When people find out about this, their natural response is, "Why?" And the underlying implication is, Why on earth would you do that to yourself?(!) (I wonder that myself on a daily basis.)
But I did have my reasons (still do), and so I'm writing all of them right here so that, in the future, when I get asked that question again (which I'm sure I will), I can just direct people to this blog post where they can read all the juicy details for themselves.
Let's start back at the very beginning (two whole years ago).
Aaron attended kindergarten at our neighborhood school. We loved it. We walked to school almost every morning. We had lots of friends in the neighborhood. His teacher was absolutely amazing.
And then, towards the end of his kindergarten year, we moved. Not far, but far enough that it put us in a different school district. And a bunch of options opened up to us.
Our new district has thirteen schools with dual language immersion programs (our former district had just one). You know what those are, right? Students have half of their days in English, and the other half in the target language (French, Spanish, or Chinese are our choices here). You apply to get in, and then if there are more applicants than spots, there's a lottery. All of the language immersion programs begin in first grade, so we were moving into the new district at the perfect time to get Aaron into one of them.
Our neighborhood school happens to house one of the Spanish programs, so the decision should have been so easy: put him in the neighborhood school, and by sixth grade, he'll know Spanish. Who wouldn't want that?
But the neighborhood school didn't appeal to me for three reasons: first, when we moved into the neighborhood, there were hints of some recent drama at the school (it had pretty much blown over by the time we got here, but I like to avoid drama (although, turns out, not going to the neighborhood school causes some drama of its own)). Second, I wasn't set on Aaron learning Spanish (the school also has a traditional classroom in each grade, but that's where some of the drama was...). Third, the school wasn't within walking distance, and once I realized I'd have to drive no matter where Aaron went, I was more open to other options.
Even with all those reasons though, I probably would have considered going to the neighborhood school if everyone in the neighborhood actually went to that school. But they don't. Not by a long shot. In fact, within just one block of our home, I know of kids going to seven (yes, seven!) different elementary schools. I don't want to diverge into the controversial topic of immersion schools, but I will say that before we moved here, I had no idea that, regardless of whether you love them or hate them, they do tend to divide up the neighborhood.
Anyway, back to Aaron and the decision of where to send him for first grade. I was very interested in a school just a couple of miles away that housed both the French immersion program and the gifted/talented program. (We were more interested in French than Spanish because Mike speaks French.) My sister-in-law's kids had been going to this school for years (two of them were in the French, two were in the gifted), and they loved it.
So we applied for the French program and also had Aaron tested for the gifted program, and then we (mostly I) stressed over deciding between the two. On the one hand, we were very tempted by the French program because we were amazed by our nephew who, by fourth grade, was speaking beautiful French. It can't be argued that knowing another language is going to be more and more of an advantage in this global world.
But the gifted program matched my own educational philosophy and goals a little bit more. You might think this is silly, but one of the main things I was excited about was when I learned that the gifted teachers gave out virtually no homework. That's a big deal to me. I'm not sending my kids away for seven hours a day only for them to come home with an hour (or more!) of homework every night. No thank you.
So we went with the gifted program, and that is where Aaron spent first grade. No regrets there. It was a great experience for him and us.
Now enter Maxwell.
The logical choice would have been to send Max to the same school as Aaron, right? But it wasn't as simple as that.
For starters, there was only one kindergarten teacher at Aaron's school, and we hadn't heard the most flattering things about her, so I wasn't super enthusiastic about sending him there, although I'm sure he would have been fine.
The more pressing concern had to do with Aaron. Yes, Aaron. See, a few of months before the students in the gifted program begin third grade, everyone gets retested. In first and second grades, the gifted program is really just an accelerated reading program, but in third grade, it morphs into an accelerated program in all subjects. Retesting ensures that everyone who would like to be in the gifted program gets a fair chance. Just because a child learns to read at four years old doesn't necessarily mean that he or she is "gifted" (it could just as likely be a case of overzealous parenting). But by third grade, you assume that those who didn't get the head start, but are truly gifted, will be excelling by that point and ready for something more.
It's an idea I wholeheartedly agree with (I remember first reading about it many years ago in NurtureShock), but it feels a little bit different when it's your own child's intelligence on the line, and you realize there's a chance he might get nudged out of his spot. It might sound like I don't have faith in him, but I think I'm just being realistic--there are a lot of smart kids out there.
So anyway, part of my reasoning behind my decision for Max had to do with what my plan was going to be for Aaron if he didn't get to stay in the gifted program after this year. By third grade, he wouldn't be able to get into any of the immersion programs, so I wanted a traditional classroom that would be a good fit for him. And that's when I started thinking about the charter school that's a five minute drive from our home.
We have many friends in our neighborhood who go to it, and we'd heard amazing things about it. In fact, we tried to get Aaron into it for kindergarten, but we were two blocks outside the boundaries. Now however, we were within the boundaries, so I knew our chances of getting in were much greater. I realized if Max got in for kindergarten, then Aaron would have a fairly good chance of getting in for next year because of sibling preference.
So we handed in an application, Maxwell got in, and that's where he's going for kindergarten.
As of today, Aaron has been in school for three and a half weeks and Max for two weeks, and so far, the two schools thing hasn't been horrible. We have some great carpools worked out, which means I'm not doing four different drop-offs and pick-ups every day. However, I anticipate some frustrations in the coming weeks when they both have their school carnivals on the same night and also when their breaks don't match up (since one is a charter school and the other is a public school, their calendars are not the same).
But whether or not it proves to be a hassle is not really the point. It most likely will be a hassle, but the point is, Is the hassle necessary? And right now, I'm not sure.
Gabrielle Blair (aka, Design Mom) recently wrote a post about school and how their family's philosophy is basically, "We don't fix it until it's broken." I agree with that. Why make our lives harder if the simple solution (in this case, sending our kids to the neighborhood school) works perfectly fine? But that's exactly what I did. I might have loved our neighborhood school, but I never gave it a chance. Part of that was driven by a fear of missing out on opportunities (it's easiest to test into the gifted program in first grade; your chances are better of getting into the charter school in kindergarten). Part of it was driven by family and friends who were going to the schools we were interested in. And part of it was driven by the right things clicking into place at the right time.
I kind of meant for this post to be the explanation of all explanations (hence, the length) so that I wouldn't have to explain my decision any more. But in writing it all out, I'm realizing that I really just opened a giant can of worms. I could talk so much more about public school, immersion programs, gifted programs, charter schools, or even homeschooling (why am I not homeschooling? I ask myself this very question more often than you might think).
I'm hoping this will be our only year at two different schools. I want my kids to see each other in the hall or on the playground. I want them to be able to share stories of teachers they had in common or memories of the same projects. At this point, I know which school I'm hoping they both end up in, but we'll just have to wait and see which way things fall. Dividing them up between two schools might not even be necessary, but if it is, I'm sure I'll be glad I did it.
Education can be a touchy subject, but I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments (as long as they're kind, of course). Also, if you have any questions for me, I'm happy to try to answer them.