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December 11, 2008

Comments

Lisa O.

Mostly, try not to stress too much. The most important thing I learned in the past few years re: education is, that you do not have to participate in the stress and competition. I’m not 100% sure what your situation is – socioeconomic status, etc. – and I hope I don't offend – but the most important thing that my husband and I did to ensure our child a good education... we did before she was even born. By which I mean: the fact that she is the child of college-educated, affluent [relatively] parents (who read to her every day) pretty much guarantees that she's be fine. She’s an adaptable, fairly “easy” kid who’s always been developmentally right on target. So basically, she doesn't need a super special school environment. When you tour, you'll get a vibe. That is likely the most important thing to which to pay attention. Of course watch how engaged the kids are, how the teachers react to having tours turn up in their rooms, if there is art on the walls; these things matter. Go lurk on the playground for a while - watch to see how the older kids treat the younger kids. And, how would you socially fit in with the other parents? (You don't need to be "like" each other, but you need to be able to spend time on a school bus going on a field trip with some of them, hang out at school events, etc.) But mostly, check your gut and go with it. (And, while 1/2 day might seem best NOW, there is a ginormous difference betwee now and when they're actually in school, developmentally. My kid was SO different at 5 than at 4.5. A full-day really is fine for most, as long as they get decent recess and active time - even if that means PE, singing and dancing in the classroom to learn the months of the year, etc.). FWIW, we have always lived walking distance from school and I wouldn't trade it for most anything. I love it - from the built-in exercise factor to the feeling-like-real-community factor, it is awesome.

vanessa

I just thought I'd chip in about the day thing--I went to Pre-K here in DC, as did/do most of the kids I know. Pre-K here is free, and goes from 845am-315pm--so by the time the kids get to K they are used to a full day. I've rarely seen a kid who would have been better off with half day K. I think full day K is really the way to go for the majority of kids. Yes, its more time in school--but a good early childhood setting can do unbelievably good things for kids.
Good luck!

Jen H.

I will try to avoid writing you a novel, but basically, our son goes to Junior Kindergarten (he's four, but it's publically funded here) at the closest neighbourhood elementary school, which happens to be a two-minute walk from our house. A few reasons why this was a simple decision: 1) We live in a smallish town and there are only several elementary schools 2) We were really keen on him doing French Immersion, which is a big deal in our area, and it's the only school in town that starts them on it this early 3) It's a good school, the people are great, many of our friends' kids go there, no complaints.

You will get a gut feeling about one or two of the schools, and then you'll make a decision, and you'll likely never look back. Your girls are super bright, and you guys are smart and involved. Bottom line: They'll do great wherever you send them!

karla

hey...
kendra just told me that all schools in our state will be changed to all day every day Kindergarten next year, in 2009. it is going to be mandatory. i don't know if that is diff't for charter schools or not, but something to look into if that would change your decision at all...

bobbi

I have 4 kids - 2 are past kindergatrten and 2 aren't there yet. The best advice I can offer is what you are already doing...tour the schools and talk to the teachers and staff. Honestly, the details in kindergarten don't matter as much as you feeling comfortable there, because as you said, your kids will be fine. The toughest part for me (even with 2 years of preschool) was getting used to the fact that now they spent most of there day AWAY from me and home, and I needed them to be in an environment with a staff I trusted.

All that to say, go with your gut. You'll know the best fit for you when you walk in the door. Try not to let the details rail you into a place you aren't as sure of.

Rachel

Oh honey, I hear you. I, too, am a passionate public-school supporter. And I, too, found myself researching options before my daughter started K. The public school in our county is too large, underfunded and 10 miles in the wrong direction from our house. That last piece was the straw. I calculated that if A. got sick at school it would take me 45 minutes to get to her from my work. Unacceptable. There aren't any charter schools here, so we were considering (gasp!) pricy, private schools. In the end, we secured an out-of-district spot in the city school system where we work. She rides to school with us in the mornings, we pick her up after work. We're hoping there will be a spot for L next year. In fact, we're doing everything we can to lobby for it!

One of the things I love, love about this school is the diversity. That comes with being a city school in a university town, I suppose. There are 17 languages spoken in the homes of the children at this school. I second what Lisa said about fit. You'll know if these teachers and adminstrators are people that you can work with. You'll tell by walking the halls what's important. We had an enlightening conversation with the principal before we made our decision. I could tell immediately that he appreciated and supported his staff and (most importantly) that he really cared about the students. Children would wave or speak to him and, without fail, he called them by name.

I'm rambling now, sorry to take over your comments. Feel free to e-me if you want more rambling and raving. :)

liz s

Just remember it will never be perfect.

My 1st went to the JCC all day K program. It was just a step up from pre-school. Then she went to a transfer school that was closer to the U while I was in grad school. Then moved to our neighborhood school. I wanted the friends in the neighborhood. Now she is at a charter high school and friends are again all over the valley.

Child two has gone to the neighborhood school K-7 (current). They are OK and not being the religious majority is an issue. But he is not a Catholic School type of kid so that's not an option. He will probably go to charter high school.

Child 3 I don't know what to do. He has an August 24th b-day. Boy, late Aug. b-day makes me want to hold him back. F-I-L is totally against that. I'm waiting until April to decide.

What to ask. All day K do they nap or have rest time. How do they work with kids of varying levels of ability. I ask about diversity, but that's due to my state. National test scores. For a charter, ask about the board. Basically, they will have standard answers for all of this, but you will get a feel for the school based on how they respond to your questions.

Good luck!

Sarah

I am a (childless) first-grade teacher and am well aware that the following is straying into ass-vice territory: First grade and even K have much more of an academic focus than they used to. Keep in mind that most kids entering first are expected to write sentences and be reading at a basic level. I would be very wary of half day K, especially if your kids went to two years of pre-school. Full-day K would make the transition to first much easier.

mayberry

You may want to investigate how much support each school has from the district and when its charter is up for renewal. In some schools/districts this is totally a nonissue but in others it is. My daughter attends a charter that just got renewed for 5 years, with the support of the entire school board. But the last time around, the renewal was for only 2 years and was very hard fought.

Abra Leah

As a teacher (with a child starting kinder next year, too), I do value everything everyone said - good environment, kids engaged, etc. But, I would also look at what curriculum is being used. Are they using a balanced literacy program and not some outdated Letter People junk? Do they use a lot of hands-on manipulatives for math and science? What is their character education program like? What discipline system is used? Do you hear more positives than negatives from the teachers? Are the expectations posted and rewards and contingencies clear? What is the structure of the classroom - are there learning centers, group/individual/work-with-teacher areas? Does the daily schedule follow the normal highs and lows of the day? What types of assessments are used? What kind of enrichment activities are available? How much one-on-one instruction is available? Is there a kinder aide?
I'm shopping, too, so I'm right there with you!

Gina

Our son just turned two, but I have thought about these issues are great deal and have a few thoughts.

The background: we live in a relatively nice and affluent city with a terrible public school system. So much so that over 80% of the white (i.e., affluent) parents send their children to private school.

This leads to a very odd dynamic socially in our schools. The biggest complaint that I hear from parent friends that have school age children in our system is that they are not comfortable with the social aspects of our system. While the academics are also quite dismal, I believe we can compensate for that. The social issues are another story. For example, in our district there is a very odd situation where in the 7th grade there is a 2:1 ratio of boys to girls. Apparently skewed ratios like this are relatively common. I also know several parents who pulled their kids out of public school due to language and behaviors that they were picking up from other kids. The short story is that one issue I would consider is how you see your girls fitting in with the other kids and if you feel good about those kids being your girl's friends. Can you imagine those kids over for playdates? Can you imagine your kids over at the other kids' houses?

In our experience with daycare one of the biggest factors in our son's happiness was adult to child ratio. So I would tend to favor a class of 30 kids with one teacher and one aide over a class of 25 kids with only one teacher.

For what its worth, I went to full day K as a child and I thought it was great. I was rather shy and introverted, but loved the academics as opposed to preschool.

For only having a two year old, I sure have a lot to say! I hope that one of the schools is a natural fit for your girls and you have an easy decision. Good luck.

Tracy

We are going through the same process for our oldest. She will turn 5 in January and is in her third year of pre-school. Our public school system where we live is small, outdated and somewhat conservative and only offers a 1/2 day program - 1 teacher, two classes. The private schools are few and most are either catholic or christian schools (not an option for us personally). There is one Montessori school in the area that offers a full day program so we are considering that as an option. It's a tough decision for sure! Even though we are looking right now for our singleton, we are asking questions about our twins and what the school's policies are regarding twins. Other than that, we are trying to go with our gut.

Thank you for all the good comments...it's helped us to read what some of the other readers experiences have been.

Tracy

We are going through the same process for our oldest. She will turn 5 in January and is in her third year of pre-school. Our public school system where we live is small, outdated and somewhat conservative and only offers a 1/2 day program - 1 teacher, two classes. The private schools are few and most are either catholic or christian schools (not an option for us personally). There is one Montessori school in the area that offers a full day program so we are considering that as an option. It's a tough decision for sure! Even though we are looking right now for our singleton, we are asking questions about our twins and what the school's policies are regarding twins. Other than that, we are trying to go with our gut.

Thank you for all the good comments...it's helped us to read what some of the other readers experiences have been.

Laura K.

We stressed and stressed over the K decision for K. Our neighborhood school? C's district? Mine? Private? Ultimately we feel that the choice we made was the right one and I felt like I agonized over it more than I needed to.

I didn't read what others said, but I'd say you really want to ask about ACTUAL class sizes, not just averages. We know that schools are allowed to report class avgs. by taking EVERY certified teacher in the building when making an average, even the teachers who don't have their own set class(like P.E., art, etc). That's why in C's district, they reportedly have a class avg. that looks much lower on paper than it is. But I digress...ask how large the K class usually is, if there is an aide, etc.

Also, ask about parent volunteering. Do the teachers make a schedule for parents to come in and help in the building or the classroom? Also, what does the teacher do (newsletter, etc) to communicate w/parents?

You will also be able to learn a lot from the way the classroom looks. You'll see evidence of centers, cubbies, kids' art work on the walls, etc. I can usually peg a teacher's style by looking around his or her classroom. I think this is even more true of Elementary teachers than it is of secondary teachers.

If you get a chance at all to talk about instruction, you might want to find out how the teacher differentiates for all the different learning levels in class.

My final suggestion is that you send a letter to your local sup’t. and tell him exactly what you wrote in here about why you are not sending your kids to his district, even though you’d like to support public schools.

Good luck. I think you'll have a good vibe for each building/atmosphere after taking the tours.

Laura K.

We stressed and stressed over the K decision for K. Our neighborhood school? C's district? Mine? Private? Ultimately we feel that the choice we made was the right one and I felt like I agonized over it more than I needed to.

I didn't read what others said, but I'd say you really want to ask about ACTUAL class sizes, not just averages. We know that schools are allowed to report class avgs. by taking EVERY certified teacher in the building when making an average, even the teachers who don't have their own set class(like P.E., art, etc). That's why in C's district, they reportedly have a class avg. that looks much lower on paper than it is. But I digress...ask how large the K class usually is, if there is an aide, etc.

Also, ask about parent volunteering. Do the teachers make a schedule for parents to come in and help in the building or the classroom? Also, what does the teacher do (newsletter, etc) to communicate w/parents?

You will also be able to learn a lot from the way the classroom looks. You'll see evidence of centers, cubbies, kids' art work on the walls, etc. I can usually peg a teacher's style by looking around his or her classroom. I think this is even more true of Elementary teachers than it is of secondary teachers.

If you get a chance at all to talk about instruction, you might want to find out how the teacher differentiates for all the different learning levels in class.

My final suggestion is that you send a letter to your local sup’t. and tell him exactly what you wrote in here about why you are not sending your kids to his district, even though you’d like to support public schools.

Good luck. I think you'll have a good vibe for each building/atmosphere after taking the tours.

Katie

Charter schools are talked about a lot in our house because of what J1 sees at work. Charter schools are (in most cases) for profit places. They come and go. Salary to teachers is well below average and many do not have to be state licensed. J1 find his students in and out of charters all the time. It only makes the public schools worse because the school does not get the state subsided for that student to add income to the school district. There may be a magnet school in your district? Something they could go to if shown promise while in K and 1st grade. I think what they get at home is just as or more important that what they get at school.
We feel the same about public education- J1 is a public high school teachers, and yet we are sending E to a Catholic school because of the all day K. It was not our intention to continue for next year but the stuff she comes home with and the questions she asks about faith/church/God/Jesus just floors us. It has given us more opportunity to help her grow in her faith that I don't think we would have received otherwise. J1 is very torn on what to do. Our public schools are excellent. If there were bad it would be a much easier decision.

tuesday

My kids went to private preschool and public kindergarten. I wanted to make sure that they could be in the same class if they wanted to be (they wanted to be separate and it is working out better than I thought!) BUT I wish I had full day kindergarten. I didn't until they were in the half day which is all that is offered here. 2.5 hours is not enough In my opinion.

Amy

I'm an elementary school principal, and I find the comments on this fascinating. Fortunately, our school district is excellent...the only people in the community who do not send their children to public schools are those who send them to a Christian school because they want a more faith-based curriculum.

I agree with what many have said--you will get that "gut feeling" when you tour the school. Pay attention to how teachers speak to students in the hallways, on the playground, etc. Look around the rooms at the setup--how desks (or tables) are arranged, if student work is displayed, etc. At my school, my guidance counselor and I personally do lunch duty every, single day with kindergartners so that we learn their names when they are in K and will know them the rest of their time in our school.

Our K program is full day, but they have snack time, lunch time, and a nap built in. Additionally, they have time in a full day to go to music class, p.e., library, Spanish, and computer lab each week (they go to each enrichment class 2x weekly)...something I would imagine is hard to cram in during a half-day program.

We deal with vastly different ability levels with some students having never set foot in a PreK class to those who are reading already. We accommodate that through a 75-minute reading class each day where those who are reading are grouped together in two separate classes and those who don't even know their letters yet are grouped together in two other classes. The children who are just starting out have two paras in the room with them, making the ratio 7:1, so they are getting a lot more individual attention.

I just re-read this and realized it sounds like I'm trying to advertise my school...Sorry! I just love the topic of education. Good luck finding the right fit for your girls. You have proven time and again that you have great motherly instincts. This will be no different.

liz

MM had a great time in Full-day, as did I when I was a kid. Many K teachers in my county (half-day only) report that they would prefer full-day because by the time the kids really get settled in for the day, they only have about an hour and a half to cover the curriculum

That said, go with what feels right to you when you visit.

liz

We sent MM to private kindergarten, because the half-day public schools don't work for a dual worker family.

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