When my oldest son was 10 years old, he attended an over-crowded school that substituted the state testing standards for a curriculum. Recess was not guaranteed, and PE was once a week. It was an oppressive environment, and he came home like a caged animal every day. Then one day he got to visit a different school. A school that had 2 recesses and PE every day – and somehow still managed to produce excellent students. He came home from that school day a different kid – happy, relaxed, confident. That day I had a glimpse of what his life could be if only he was in a different school, and I knew it was time to make a change.
We haven’t done everything right as parents, but one thing I would not change was our willingness to leave a bad school situation behind, and find the school that would work for our children. Our journey, with four kids, has taken us through almost every option available to families: public school, parochial school, homeschool, Christian school, and finally, independent school.
I have a lot of stories, but my favorite is the time that one of my sons went from gifted to remedial to gifted – in the same week because standardized test scores drove every single decision at that school. That was the time I learned that if you feel the strong desire to cuss like a sailor at a school administrator, that school probably isn’t a good fit for your family.
Usually, it would be our disappointment with the academic standards of a school that would prompt us to change. Like everyone, we always wanted to believe that our children were being educated to the best of their abilities, but that can be trickier than it sounds. We’ve experienced “death by worksheet” disguised as academic rigor and state testing guidelines masquerading as a curriculum.
One time, the reason for a change was less about academics and more about the culture of a school. My older boys were in a school that treated parents like enemy combatants, and the students like hostages. It was awful. The kids weren’t allowed to talk – even during lunch period. Parents were never asked to volunteer and were never needed. It felt like the school had something to hide, and that made me nervous. I didn’t think my kids’ school should make me nervous, so we left, and homeschooled for the rest of that academic year.
Options for Changing Schools
I know some of you are reading this and thinking that you don’t have options, but I want to encourage and challenge you to think in terms of possibilities. For example, the most expensive private schools can afford to offer financial aid. Alternatively, a private school that is under-enrolled might negotiate for less than full price tuition in the theory that a partial pay student is better than an empty seat. In either case, you won’t know unless you ask.
Also, there are all kinds of private schools out there. We sent one son to a school that supported homeschooling families by offering options homeschoolers find hard to manage at home – science labs, math, and also sports teams and music options. I was amazed when I learned about this school, and I realized that I was making too many assumptions about what kinds of schools even existed. Charter schools and magnet schools are everywhere. Maybe you will be amazed at what you see.
This might sound crazy, but maybe a bad school situation is a nudge for you to be open to moving or changing jobs. My husband’s job relocation once helped us to escape a bad school situation. If we had been happy in the school where we were, I might not have been as enthusiastic about his job opportunity. Maybe an unhappy school situation is leading your whole family to a change.
Over the course of 17 years of my kids in K-12 education, I’ve seen it all – or it feels like it anyway. I have learned a lot, but mostly I’ve learned that the right school can change a child’s life for the better. My oldest son was able to change to the school he visited that day long ago, and his brothers and sister were able to follow him there over the course of time. That school has been the best place for my kids and our family, and it has been worth every sacrifice to have them there.
If you are unhappy with your kids’ school, then I hope you will start looking around and exploring your options for change. Our kids are in school for the bulk of the time they are home with us. You owe it to them and you to make it the best experience you can make it.