Why I Decided to Make My Life Less Crazy and Send My Kids to One Elementary School
May 27, 2016
Today is Aaron's last day of school. As always, it's bittersweet. I cried when I talked to Aaron's teacher this morning. She has been so fantastic and was such a perfect match for Aaron's personality. I wish we could just keep her for next year too.
Now you might be wondering, What about Maxwell? Well, today is not his last day. No, he still has another week because, you might remember from this previous post, he has not been attending the same school as Aaron. And as sad as I am about saying good-bye to Aaron's teacher, I am not at all sad about saying good-bye to this school year. In fact, I've been counting down the days, and even now, want to get up a do a little dance for joy that we are almost done, DONE, with two schools, and I hope not to do such a thing again until we're forced into it in junior high. It actually seems rather fitting that we're ending the year with a conflict of schedules since that is what we've been dealing with for the last nine months.
When we put Maxwell in the charter school instead of in the school Aaron was already attending, we had our reasons (namely: I wasn't so sure about the kindergarten teacher at Aaron's school; I wanted somewhere for Aaron to end up if he didn't get into the gifted program for third grade; I was curious to see what the charter school was like).
I think I knew from the beginning that it was going to be a hassle of a year (half day kindergarten is anyway, but then throw in two schools on two different schedules, and things become rather ridiculous), but what I didn't plan on was how removed I felt from both schools as I failed to do double duty.
There were different fundraisers, carnivals, art fairs, science nights, programs, volunteer opportunities, and schedules. Sadly, I found myself getting downright irritated anytime one of the boys came home with another flyer for something I needed to do or go to or pay money for. In the past, I've been excited for any opportunity to become involved; I've even sought them out. But this year, since they were coming in all the time from all directions, I battened down the hatches instead and waited out the year, prepared to emerge when it was all over.
I think part of the reason I sort of checked out for the year was because I honestly didn't know where we were going to end up for 2016-2017. I found it hard to put so much time, energy, and loyalty into a school that we would just be leaving at the end of the year (a bad attitude, I know).
But there were many unknowns, and we just had to wait and wonder (and okay, in my case, stress and agonize) until we finally heard back from various options.
First up: the charter school. I filled out an application for Aaron for the coming year. The charter school fills its classes through a lottery, but siblings get first preference. It's hard to get a spot in the upper grades since someone has to leave in order for there to be an opening. But if there was an opening, I knew Aaron would have a fairly good chance of getting it since Max was already a student there. And sure enough, in March we found out there was a spot in the upcoming third grade class. I didn't know if things were going to work out for him in the gifted program at his school, so I went ahead and registered him and essentially kept my foot in that door.
The second unknown was the gifted program. Aaron had been in it for first and second grade, and it was perfect for him, but prior to third grade, all of the students had to be re-tested (as well as any other students in the district who were interested) so that anyone who wanted to be in the gifted program had a fair chance of getting in. If Aaron ended up staying in the gifted program for third grade, I wanted Max at the same school (plus, I knew that with his personality, he would really thrive in the gifted program), so I had him tested as well. That testing happened in January and February, but we didn't hear the results until much later.
And finally, there was the French immersion program, which was also housed at Aaron's school. If Aaron made it into the gifted program, but Max did not, I still wanted them to go to the same school, so I filled out a French application so that Max could do that instead. We heard back from them in March and accepted the spot, to hold our place there as well.
So there we were with three different options. If you had asked me in September what my ideal school situation would be, I would have answered, "the gifted program for both boys" without a second thought. But in March, as I registered Aaron at the charter school, all while anxiously checking the mail every day for word about the other school, I began to change my mind. After all, even if Aaron and Max both got into the gifted program, that would only keep us safe for two years. Then Max would be the one going into third and Bradley would be the one going into first, and we'd have to go through this all over again. And then, if that worked out, we'd have to do it again in two more years with Bradley and Clark. I wondered if I should just pull the plug right then while I had the chance and switch to the charter school, regardless of the test results.
But as tempting as that sounded, I could never get myself to feel excited about it, mostly because I loved Aaron's school (and especially, his teachers) so much, and I couldn't imagine saying good-bye to them all, especially by choice.
What's more, and probably more important than what I thought, Aaron loved his school. When I approached him with the idea of switching schools, he was adamantly opposed: "Why would I switch?! I like my school and my friends." This is, of course, the response you would expect from a 7-year-old. In fact, you might expect it from a 6-year-old as well, but Maxwell showed no such reservations about switching the other way ("You mean I could go to chess club with Aaron? Okay!"). In fact, soon after the gifted testing, but long before we heard any results, he even started telling teachers, "Just so you know, I might not be here next year."
March and April were agonizing months for me. I know it's a blessing to have options, but those very options made me feel like I was going crazy. I thought about the school situation obsessively, going over the various possibilities, trying to determine which would be best for my kids and our family even though at that point it was still beyond my control.
We had to wait the longest for the gifted results, and although that was really hard for me, it gave me plenty of time to think and ponder and pray about this decision. I had gone over all the logical, practical, and educational pros and cons, so instead, I started to pay attention to how I felt: when I drove to the schools, when I walked in the front doors, when I talked to the teachers. And once I did that, the answer was so clear, it almost knocked me over, and it just became more sharp and well-defined as the weeks went on.
But we were still waiting on that final card . . .
It was a warm April morning and we'd just returned home from a soccer game when I checked the mailbox and saw two official-looking envelopes, one to Aaron and one to Maxwell, waiting inside. I know it sounds silly, but my heart leaped a little when I saw them and my hands were clumsy and shaky as I broke the seals. Both boys had been accepted into the gifted program, and I started to cry from the sheer relief of it all.
For months, the decision had felt so daunting and impossible, but when it was time to finally, finally, make the actual decision, it was as easy as pie . . . and not because it was made for us through circumstances but because we already knew exactly what we wanted.
When Mike got home, and I told him the news, he was totally nonchalant about it: "Oh really? Well that's good." Aaron and Max were happy, but after about ten seconds, they were busy with other things and totally forgot about it.
But me? I was on cloud nine then, and I'm still there five weeks later. The relief I felt at a decision finally being reached was overwhelming for me. It was like Christmas. After that, anytime I was in a bad mood (about anything!) I'd think, "Yes, but Aaron and Max are going to the same school next year," and the world would grow a little rosier.
I've thought a lot about whether keeping so many options open for so long was really necessary or even helpful. In some ways, it was a great comfort to me to know that if one scenario didn't work out, we already had something else lined up. But on the other hand, it created a rather stressful year, and I really didn't like feeling so divided between schools. Part of me wonders if we would have done better just committing to one school and having faith that things would work out the way we wanted them to.
But here's the thing: at the beginning of the school year, we didn't know what we wanted or what would be best for Aaron and Max. It was only after we waded through the months of insecurity that we (mostly I) felt at peace with a decision. I don't know if we could have got there any other way. Plus, Max really did have a good year and got to go to school with several of his friends from the neighborhood, and I'm glad for that. And I think a part of me would have always wished that we'd tried out the charter school. So I'm not going to say that we shouldn't have done it because it all led to a good decision in the end, so I guess that's what's important, right?
Of course I realize that even though this decision feels so right right now, it might not stay that way. And I'm okay with that. If anything, this year has taught me that we can be flexible.
Now if we can only get through this final week of school with Max so that summer can officially start!