Before we moved, we lived in what felt like the suburbs of the suburbs. It was a quiet area, but had plenty for us to do. Actually, we loved living there. We had our son’s entire educational career planned out.
Then we moved to a bustling metropolis. L.A. is huge and sprawling to the point where, depending on where you live, it feels like something between a city and a suburb. A kind of cramped suburb?
Anyways, my plans for my son went out the window and, with him starting Kindergarten in August, we’re kind of in overdrive trying to get his educational career back on track.
What I love about the city is the insane number of regular, charter, and magnet schools there are for just about everything. We’ve found schools that teach entrepreneurial skills starting in Kindergarten, tailor their curriculum to each student, offer an emphasis on science and technology, integrate students with various degrees of ability, and more. It seems perfect for our four-year-old son who was born 5 weeks early, loves science and technology (he and his dad very patiently put together a Lego Wall-E for ages 12 and up in about 2 weeks because he loves robots so much), can do simple math when he wants to, and lugs around a scientific calculator like it’s his best friend. Seriously, where did this kid come from?!
But what I hate about the city is all the options. I know; there’s still a good chance he’ll end up at the school he’s zoned for, which we have serious concerns about. After all, we have to apply to each school’s lottery process in order to get him in. But trying to pick out the appropriate schools for our son in order to apply has my eyes glazing over.
After spending most of the winter holidays fretting, I finally calmed down and decided to look beyond rankings. Besides, I found out most of the ranking sites are basically garbage and use data from 2-3 years ago.
So, what have I been focusing on?
- What the school offers. I read the mission and vision statements as well as what the principal has to say. I look at what programs they have to offer and what their curriculum emphasizes. My son likes science, so schools that empasize performance arts are out (though they look like real possibilities for our overly dramatic, dancing daughter).
- Student body size. I’ve attended large and small schools and my son is like me, so I have a good idea of what school size will likely work best. Small schools run the risk of closing or might not have the necessary resources to ensure student success. They’re great in that they can foster a healthy community, but, unless it was designed to be small, they may not be able to offer much. On the other hand, big schools are just big. They might be carrying more students than they can manage and students become a number unless they stand out. It’s easy to get lost in them. They may be able to offer more, but may also run out of resources. So, I look for mid-size schools of a few hundred.
- Student to teacher ratio. I have a feeling my son will do better with a lower ratio. Low enough that he gets the attention he needs, but high enough that he has plenty of classmates and can blend in when he wants. Ideally, I’d like under 20:1, but, in a huge city, that might be asking too much. 25:1 is just out of the question. How does a Kindergarten teacher keep track of 25 five-year-olds?
- Student body and number of teachers growth. If the student body grows, but the number of teachers has flatlined, the student to teacher ratio is only going to grow. But if the student body is steadily decreasing, the school might be in trouble. I’d love to see the two numbers grow together or the teacher number to rise, but, again, that might be asking too much.
- Demographics. I don’t want to raise my kids to be racially biased, and I know L.A. is diverse, so I look for the more diverse schools. I want them to have the opportunity to engage with as many different individuals as possible. This also includes socioeconomic status. I don’t want my kids going to school with all the wealthy kids or only those below the poverty line. They’ll have a higher chance of being bullied, ostracized, or drawn into negative habits. Kids can be mean and manipulative. So, I look for a balance, or at least diversity.
There are so many great things awaiting my kids in the city, but selecting elementary schools is just headache inducing. Options are great, but then comes the nail bitting wait to see if our son gets into one of the handful of schools we really like for him. I’m not even going to think about where to try to get our not even two-year-old daughter into.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, all the best of luck. If not, I’m suddenly jealous of you.
Though I think the important thing to remember is that no school is perfect, children’s interests change, and parents play a vital role. Wherever he goes, we’ll always be practicing with him and supplementing. But we’ll still be hoping he gets into particular schools.