My Convertible Life

Monday, January 27, 2014

Choosing Kindergarten

When I was a senior in high school, I applied and was accepted to four universities. That was great – except that the only one I could afford to go to was my last choice.

Thankfully my last choice was still a very good option and it only took about two weeks on campus before I was completely on board. By the end of my freshman year, I couldn’t imagine ever going to the other three schools.

What I learned through that experience (among other things) is that college was ultimately what I made it. If I showed up ready, made an effort in my classes, talked with my professors, spent time making good friends and really invested in the school, then I was going to love it.

I feel the same way about my kids’ elementary school – and I want to say that to parents of rising kindergartners around the county as they fret over choosing the right school for their children. 

It’s time for families in Wake County to register for kindergarten, a milestone packed with emotion. And here, in addition to the angst over letting your little person spend the better part of five days a week with kids and adults you’ve never met, there’s the added stress of deciding on which school(s) to choose -- or wondering if you really even have a choice. We’re lucky here to have a lot of good options, but that creates its own challenges.

All over the district, parents are touring magnet schools, visiting their base school and weighing a host of other options both public and private -- although depending on where they live and what their circumstances are, some may have more real choices than others. A few years ago I was where they are now and I remember how worried I was about making just the right choice – a choice that was ultimately controlled by where the district had space for us.

Now that we’ve been in two different elementary schools over the past four years (through our choice, not a reassignment), I can see that we are fortunate to be in the same position I was as a high school senior. All of our options were good ones – some a better fit than others, but none of them bad. And ultimately what we – both the kids and our whole family – get out of the school is based on what we put into it.

Our children showed up prepared for school – a luxury that not every child starts with, I realize. My kids make an effort in their classes, learning to read and write, add and multiply, think and talk. They’ve made friends, in class and on the playground – and we’ve made parent friends, too, helping on field trips or waiting at school pick-up. As a family, we have invested in elementary school, not just through our donations to the PTA, but with our time and energy, through our communications with teachers, in our conversations at home with our kids.

So if you’re one of these parents in the midst of school decisions, here are a few thoughts:
  • It’s okay to feel overwhelmed. This is a big deal.
  • Kindergarten rocks. It’s absolutely incredible to watch those little people grow.
  • Go visit all the schools you’re interested in. There’s a lot you can learn from the way a school feels when you walk through it.
  • Talk with parents whose kids actually attend the school. Don’t put stock in hearsay and rumors. 
  • Know that every school will have teachers you love and others who aren’t as good a fit for your child. No school is perfect, not even Hogwarts.
  • Keep in mind that numbers – test scores, demographics and the rest – only tell part of the story. Don’t make assumptions.
  • Remember that your attitude toward the school sets the tone for your child. 
  • Trust that if you invest in your school, you’ll get a great return. 

Oh, and pack some tissues for yourself on the first day of school. It’s a doozy – but it’s worth it.

More thoughts on kindergarten and school choice:

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