Friday, September 27, 2013

Getting Caught Up in it All - The Private School Question

Way back when, forever ago, my husband and I moved from New York City to Washington, DC. There were a variety of reasons for this move, but one of them was that I really didn't want to raise my children in Manhattan.  I didn't want to deal with the crowds, the constricted living spaces, or the competition for good schools.

I had heard enough around my firm about preschool applications and kindergarten applications and people waiting at 6am in the rain in a line around the block on sign up day.  My sister, an English PhD student at the time, had been hired by parents to write their kindergarten application essays.  That's right. Parents in Manhattan hire PhD students to write their application essays (well, not all of them, but just a few is enough).

We moved to the DC area, and eventually ended up in a neighborhood with excellent public schools.  It was one of the main reasons we chose our house, in fact.  Mind you, I don't really know what makes a given public school "excellent," but the district is consistently rated as one of the top in the country, so that was good enough for me.  I am a public school kid, and so is my husband, so it only made sense that our children would attend public school.  I never really considered anything else, actually.

Fast forward a few years, and Braden was enrolled at a neighborhood Montessori school.  It was an adorable school and was perfectly fine, but it wasn't a great fit for him.  On a whim, I applied to two private preschools in DC that I had heard amazing things about.  I did not expect him to get in, and in fact, part of me hoped he wouldn't, so we wouldn't have to make a tough personal (and financial) decision.  Of course, he got into both.  He's been at his "new" preschool for a year and half now, and it has been nothing short of amazing.  Truly.  Worth every minute of the longer commute, and worth every penny of the ridiculously high tuition.

Through all of this, I always assumed Braden would go to our local elementary school for kindergarten, once he was done with preschool.  I mean, why wouldn't he?  That's why we moved here, right?

But the reality is, almost every parent I talk to at our current school is applying to private school for their child next year.  I knew this, going in.  It's the nature of the school.  So I made a concerted effort to stay ignorant, to avoid those conversations, and to keep to the original plan.  I didn't want to be swayed, or to get caught up in the hype of it all.  But.... I couldn't help it.   I started hearing the names of all the private schools.  I started doing my own internet searches.  And I started thinking about things like student-teacher ratios and recess time and arts programs and school philosophies. And despite my best efforts, I started thinking, Maybe private school would be better for Braden?  

Then, this morning, I made it official.  I made my first appointment for a tour at a nearby private school.

Here I go - I am officially on the private school application ride.

The process is intense, and intimidating.  It's not just the school tours.  There's the parent nights.   The open houses.  The teacher recommendations.  The "playdates" (aka, interviews) for the kids. And, most daunting of all, the testing.  Getting a 5 year old an IQ test seems overkill to me, and I'm not entirely comfortable with it.  Not at all, actually.

But I'm going to do it.

I'm going to do it because I want to see what's out there, and I want to make an informed decision. I'm not saying we won't send Braden to our public school.  Maybe we will.  But, notwithstanding my departure from our original plan, I feel compelled to explore our options.  I may be a hypocrite, but I am a well intentioned one.  I just want Braden to be happy.  To be nurtured.  To be appreciated. To be comfortable.  To be confident.  To be at the school that is the best fit for him.

It's ironic that I should come to this crossroads right now, because it seems that the whole public versus private school debate is all over the news lately.  People feel very passionately about it. To be honest, I haven't really followed the articles much, and I don't have that much of an opinion on it.  People should do what they feel is best for their child, whatever that may be.

That's all I'm trying to do.  Wish me luck.


  1. Sounds daunting. We will be enbarking on all of this craziness over here because private school are the only option. No public schools, so we couldn't even opt out if we wanted to! This is for pre-k and I'm getting worried. School spaces are notoriously tight and getting in can make a huge difference in quality of life, ie commute, school hours, activities etc. Good luck!

  2. Regardless of any school philosophy, student-teacher ratio, recess time and art programs, I would never ever put my children in a school that requires an IQ test for a five years old child. Never. If you have good public schools go ahead and put him there. Maybe he will not have art classes but he will know normal life and that is the best thing that can happen to him. And to you. I think this is just crazy. It reminded me of the Ted video of Ken Robinson, one of the most inspiring I have ever seen when he talks about entry process for children in Kindergarten (so, this is all you have done? You have been around for 36 months and this is it?) Costanza

  3. I'm not surprised to read this. If you have the money, there's no question private school is going to be a better experience, and more power to you that you can provide that for your kids.

  4. I totally understand! I avoid talking about school, too, but it inevitably comes up- "You aren't sending your child to public school, are you?" Well, actually, I planned to. Perhaps if we had one child, private school would totally be an option, but we have two and can't very well have one in private and one in public. Then I start thinking about the lovely commute I'd have if they went to a DC private school- not having pray for smooth traffic to pick them up on time, knowing they'll have every resource available... It's tough not to at least try to fight through the ridiculous application process. Maybe the other parents are so insanely wealthy that our respectable combined salary will qualify for financial aid. Who knows.


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