For those of you who know me in the real world or who’ve been following this blog for awhile, you know that I am a public school educator. I have been working in the school system- specifically in low-income schools- for the past thirteen years. I am a big believer in public schools and have a deep sense of pride in the work that we do.
But my husband and I have decided that public school is no longer the right choice for our son, who will be starting first grade this year. We didn’t come to this decision lightly nor by ourselves. We consulted with his team of teachers and support personnel, researched many different options, visited different sites, talked to family, prayed about it, and finally reached our decision. Suffice it to say that it was not an easy choice to make. However, in the end, everyone in Ben’s life agreed that the school we chose looks to be the best possible match for him.
I’m writing to you about this decision not to encourage everyone to leave public schools and pursue private. I’m writing to say that this decision is as individual as each precious child. This decision makes sense for our family for these reasons…and many more…
1) The pace is slower
Public school teachers are bound to standards and pacing guides that clearly lay out the information that needs to be taught in a specific amount of time. Teachers often feel a push to get it all in. I see it every day. Private schools have the flexibility to design their own curriculum. Ben’s school has chosen a curriculum that focuses on teaching through hands-on, multi-sensory learning, and the majority of learning happens in small groups. Ben is a smart, capable boy, but he had a hard time keeping up with the pace of the curriculum in kindergarten, which led to higher anxiety for him. His teacher and I both agreed that this would only get harder as he progressed through the grade levels. We made the decision to make the move now before the struggles became too much.
2) Less emphasis on testing
Let me say that I am all for assessments and accountability. I believe that we need to assess children to know their strengths and weaknesses, and to use that information to guide instruction. However, it had become clear from both Ben’s PreK and Kindergarten year that Ben does not perform well on tests. He has difficulty focusing, even when he takes the test in a very small group. Therefore, the results of the test are usually not an accurate picture of his abilities. Public school uses testing as a measure of so many things and spends so much time in preparation of testing. His new school will spend much less time on assessments.
3) Little to no homework
Again- I am not against homework on principle, but I believe that homework should be a way for the child to practice skills that are taught in class. I don’t believe it should consume all of the evening hours. Ben will read with me every night and do a reading log, along with some math games to reinforce what he is learning in math. That will be it.
4) Smaller class size
Ben is a child who requires extra assistance, and this is very hard for public school teacher to give (though they certainly do their best!). Had he remained in public schools, in order to receive a smaller class size with more assistance, he would have had to go to a self-contained classroom that had all students with disabilities. Ben’s new school has a class of sixteen with one teacher and one full-time teacher assistant who is always in the room. This will provide him with more adult support while still staying in a class with a mix of children with IEPs and “regular” peer models for him, which he needs. In addition, it is a multi-age class with both kindergarten and first graders in the room. I am thrilled about this because it will allow him to revisit some of the foundational pieces of kindergarten that he still needs without him having to repeat kindergarten. He’ll also have the opportunity to visit other teachers in the school for science, writing, social studies, and Christian virtues in the afternoon as each teacher has one subject in which she is the content area expert. They also have a social skills curriculum called Super Flex to teach flexible thinking using superheroes. Such a smart plan!
5) Time for the “extras”
Sadly, because of the curriculum demands, there is little time for the “extras” in public schools. Also, because it is a public school, there are certain things, such as religion, that cannot be taught. Ben’s school is actually one section of a large church (which is one of his favorite parts about it). It has a huge gymnasium (rare in Florida, by the way) where they often blow up bounce houses and has a rock climbing wall. Ben will have two recesses, one indoor and one outdoor. Lunch is thirty minutes and the kids eat with their teachers in the classroom (there’s no cafeteria). In addition, they have PE twice a week, two days of drama, and one day of Spanish. All children receive support from the speech and OT teachers who come to the class twice a week. Friday is more relaxed with learning games in the morning to reinforce concepts learned in the week (remember “Fun Friday?”). In addition, the class is equipped for children with sensory needs. It has a trampoline, a chill-out tent for when things get to be too much. They do brain gym every day to help the body and brain connect. The kids can sit on wiggle cushions or T stools (a special chair with one leg for kids who need to move while sitting). Oh, and they take a field trip about once each month. I could go on and on about all the “extras” that are really what will make the difference in Ben’s learning this year.
And so as Ben gets ready to enter his new school, he is sad to be leaving his old friends and teachers behind but excited for his new adventure. After Open House, he told me that I had found the perfect school for him. That he matches his school like puzzle pieces fit together. I hope he is right. We did our best. I told him that there will always be challenges that come up. “But now I’ll know what to do when I am frustrated. I have a tent,” he told me. And so, I am cautiously optimistic at the start of this new school year. We’ll miss his friends and teachers at his old school and we are grateful for all they have given him. They set him on the right path and we appreciate everyone’s support as we begin this journey into the private school world. I’ll keep you posted as we continue on this journey.