Kindergarten Round-Up

8 Dec

I’ve come to realize that I don’t do well with infinite choices. I can’t stand restaurants with huge, long menus. Picking paint colors for the house has always given me anxiety. And I would never be able to handle satellite TV – way too many channels!! I don’t think I’m bad at making decisions; I just like things to be narrowed down for me.

Knowing this about myself, I realize that I may be in some trouble here with my oldest daughter heading to kindergarten next year. All of a sudden I’m responsible for choosing a school from a very large inventory – a situation I was not entirely prepared for. Where I grew-up, we went to our neighborhood schools. Families looked to live in certain neighborhoods so their children could go to said neighborhood schools. That’s really not the case here, nor the culture.

Our neighborhood school happens to have a pretty good reputation, but no one in our neighborhood goes there. People from other neighborhoods go there, and they have lovely things to say about it. They “open enrolled.”

It seems like everyone is open-enrolling.  There are close to 20 kindergarten options in the school district where we live, and I know of people who visited more than half of those before making a decision. Then, of course, there are charter schools, traditional schools and even the option to open enroll in another district. Ugh, open enrollment…what are you doing to me?!

While I’m sure reality differs from my claim that everyone is open-enrolling, I can’t help but to feel obligated (and perhaps a bit pressured) to do my due diligence on the school we choose. But I am conflicted. As a former public school teacher, I do feel strongly about supporting and becoming involved with my neighborhood school. If all the parents looking for the best educational option for their kids abandon ship, who will be left to support teachers and advocate for change and improvement? Parents’ connection and community support are crucial in the improvement of our schools. I do feel a sense of responsibility in sending our kids to our neighborhood school, but I also wonder if maybe I’m using this as an excuse to avoid looking at that huge, long menu.

To support my neighborhood school unconditionally or go explore my options – that is the question. Well…the exploration has begun. Peer pressure doesn’t end in adolescence now does it? On Tuesday I went to my first Kindergarten Round-Up. After getting over the queasiness brought on by the thought of my baby going to elementary school, I tried to focus on what I should know to inform my decision. If the world is my oyster, what is important to me in choosing a school for my child?

During the presentation, parents asked great questions about class size and differentiating learning for kids needing more help in class or more challenge at home. There were questions about technology in the classrooms, time spent on core academic subjects and opportunities for outdoor play and specials. We learned about homework guidelines and uniform philosophies.  But when a mom asked about the bullying policy, the vice principal’s answer left me feeling disappointed. He said that there were procedures in place for dealing with bullying situations as they arose and that each incident was dealt with case by case. No talk of a zero tolerance school culture. No mention of any preventative measures. No discussion of building a safe, nurturing community of learners where kids’ are supported by teachers, administrators and each other as they learn and grow. It’s not to say that this particular school doesn’t support these things, but the missing dialogue spoke volumes to me.

It was in that moment that what’s important to me became very clear. I need to know that my kids are in a place where social and emotional learning are integrated into academic disciplines. I want my kids to be in an environment where respectful conduct, positive communication skills, and opportunities for cooperation and collaboration will help them build the skills necessary to succeed academically as well as socially. While I’d be fabulously proud if my kids sailed through school, mastering all the academic benchmarks etc….where will they be if they struggle with communicating and working with others?

“Bullying” may seem like a fairly focused set of behaviors, but it’s a whole lot more. It’s more than just teasing and aggressive behaviors. It has everything to do with how kids treat and think about one another. And I don’t think it’s possible for our kids to reach their full academic potential without placing massive focus on positive peer relationships.

So while I still feel overwhelmed in this endless sea of school choices, I’m feeling confident now in how I’ll be filtering the pool.

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4 Responses to “Kindergarten Round-Up”

  1. When the Kids Go To Bed December 8, 2011 at 8:24 am #

    I’m not usually a very emotional person, but I cried after leaving the school department when I enrolled my son into kindergarten. Good luck.

  2. Ashley December 8, 2011 at 8:28 am #

    I love reading your posts Hillary:) this one reminded me of the days of Tibby Elementary and cutting out ovals! I think you have chosen a great filter for school choice. Social and emotional needs are so important as well as schools that make kids feel safe and secure. Lets chat soon! I miss you. Ash

    • Hillary Manaster December 8, 2011 at 10:55 am #

      The OVALS! I can’t believe that was 14 years ago. Those kiddos we taught are all older than we were then! Crazy….
      Miss you too Ash! You always knew how to help me narrow down those choices 🙂

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