As a kid, I loved school. Not only did I think learning was fun, but I had parents (and teachers) who believed in me and taught me that education was the gateway to my future. I always wanted to instill this passion for learning in my children. I consider myself so lucky to have found girlfriends that also place a strong value on education, and over the years, we’ve had many conversations about the joys and stresses of making educational choices for our families.At a recent girls’ night, I found myself fascinated by the fact that the four of us, with 12 kids between us and more than 15 years of friendship, have each made such drastically different choices in the education of our kids. We may share the same morals, values and family structure, yet we all have a unique take on what makes for the best educational choices for our kids. I interviewed each of them to help me highlight charter, private, homeschool/unschool and traditional district public school options.
Stacey has four kids who attend one of the Great Hearts Charter Schools, Archway Scottsdale. (Side bar: that’s not a typo, she seriously has four kids and somehow still showers every day. Saint status right there.)
How she made her choice. Stacey spent months researching schools the fall before her youngest began kindergarten. Although she talked to many other parents, actually going out and touring the schools turned out to be the most valuable tool for making her decision. As a former teacher herself, Stacey was able to see the size of the classrooms and the way the educators interact with students. She toured five district public schools near their home and about three different charter schools before making her choice.
Why she loves it. Stacey and her husband ultimately chose Archway Scottsdale after they fell in love with the great-hearts approach to their school environment. They wanted high academic rigor for their kids and saw this demonstrated in the classroom environments when they toured. Two teachers in each classroom, and overall smaller class sizes, has proven to be a warm, yet rigorous environment for learning. Her family also loves the core virtues that the school embraces in everything they do and the commitment of a strong parent community.
Advice for other moms making this choice. Stacey’s greatest piece of advice is to be prepared to get involved on the charter school’s campus. This allows for an inside look at the school environment, an opportunity to meet the staff and the chance to get to know the families of your kids’ friends.
Kari has three kids who attend a private Catholic school, St. Thomas Aquinas in Avondale.
How she made her choice. When looking at schools for her oldest child, Kari had an open mind, touring local public, private and charter schools in the surrounding area. She did her homework online by researching various programs, such as language immersion opportunities and the specific offerings of each learning school. Word-of-mouth played a role too as she spoke to many friends and family members who had made various choices around her.
Why she loves it. With her own private school background for elementary, middle and high school, Kari was easily sold on a school centered in a faith-based education, with strong moral values embedded into the everyday school setting. An added bonus for her is Arizona’s private school tax credit program, which allows some families to receive a scholarship towards their tuition at private schools. Kari also loves that the school has a great academic reputation in the community, a 24-student cap on class sizes and is conveniently close to their home.
Advice for other moms making this choice. If the cost is what’s holding you back from choosing a private or parochial school, Kari recommends you do your research on the options available through Arizona’s private school tax program. You’ll find a ton of resources and can determine if there are options to make a religious, private school choice more affordable for your family.
Rachel has two kids (and another on the way) who are homeschooled/unschooled.
How she made her choice. Rachel’s oldest son began at a large local charter school for his kindergarten year. Overall, he did great but the stress of all of the testing made him more anxious instead of excited about his learning. She and her husband began a significant amount of research online, and even read many books about the concept of homeschooling/unschooling. In the meantime, their family situation shifted, allowing Rachel to stay home and give homeschooling/unschooling a try.
Why she loves it. Rachel’s kids get their education at home through online resources and worksheets, but outside of the basics the kids get to choose the topic they would like to learn about next. This is then typically supplemented with trips to the library, hands on activities and documentaries. Her family loves the flexibility this provides them, especially as they have recently launched their own business. By creating an environment of natural and immersive learning they have noticed that the line between school and life is blurred. If one way of learning isn’t working then they switch gears to try something else.
Advice for other moms making this choice. Don’t try to replicate the school environment at home. Instead, work to create an open learning environment and don’t stress about sticking to deadlines, certain curriculum or expectations. She also notes that after making this choice, you may be faced with criticism based on the stigma that comes with homeschooling. She encourages moms to stay the course and understand that people who criticize often come from places of fear or uncertainty.
A little about my choice. My kids are the youngest in our group with the oldest just about to embark upon Kindergarten. My husband and I are both proud products of public schools and based on the experience we had, I knew that traditional public district schools were the right choice for our kids. We bought a home near a highly rated district public school in the Paradise Valley Unified School District because I still love the concept of neighborhood schools – where kids can walk or ride the bus to school and experience community together. I feel like this approach contributes to vibrant neighborhoods and that support for local public schools even increases our home values.
The most important factor in our choice is the access to a wide range of programs to individualize the education experience and give every child an opportunity to shine. It’s too soon to know if our kids will have an interest and aptitude for art, athletics, science or maybe even math. Exposure to all these programs through the experience at a traditional public school, with the support of a state certified and appropriately qualified teachers in each area, will help make them well-rounded kids.
And lastly, I love that public schools have to accept and serve all kids. From special needs to highly gifted and everything in between. Diverse classrooms mirror the real world and interacting together helps reinforce those all-important soft skills, like communication, respect and kindness.
As parents, we are our child’s first and best teacher. Arizona allows for school choice and if you’re in the midst of exploring your options, I hope a snapshot of journeys helped provide you with four unique perspectives on what education can look like for your family.
What are some other factors you’ve considered in making a school choice? You can share in the comments below.