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Monday, September 2, 2013

Public vs. Charter vs. Private Schools

My son has always been a challenge to educate.  He's a really good boy and very smart, but it's been hard to find a school that is the right fit for him.  We started in our "neighborhood" public school; that is, the default public school.  Kindergarten was fine, but First Grade was a nightmare - a classroom with a loose structure (i.e. group working in "centers") that wasn't suited to a kid with auditory and speech issues.  About this time we also figured out our son had ADHD.

Next step - a "traditional" public school.  A traditional school is a regular public school except the kids wear uniforms and are taught in a more traditional way - desks that face a teacher who centrally presents the lesson from a textbook.  In our case, the "traditional" public school used Saxon math and Spaulding reading methods which were very beneficial for our son.  A kid who could not memorize 15 simple spelling words without a lot of frustration and tears became a great speller because he understood the phonics of the words.  Also, the teaching method was better because it cut out distractions by having only one source of instruction - the teacher.

Fast forward to 5th Grade.  In about 4th grade in our traditional public school, students were learning how to keep a "planner" - an organizer so they can track their assignments.  By the time 5th Grade rolled around, missing assignments counted as a "0" and students had approximately 5 subjects to track.  Executive skills were a must - the ability to prioritize, manage time, synthesize important points and stay organized.  Flat out - he lacked executive skills.  In a classroom with 30 kids even with his 504 accommodation, there was no way the teacher was able to work on these skills.  At the end of 5th Grade, he was failing most classes and convinced he was stupid.  Time for a change.

We made the radical decision to go to a charter school, but not just any charter.  We turned to an online charter school.  It's very close to home schooling, but with a structure of a school (curriculum, grades, lesson plans, etc).  My husband did the day-to-day teaching with the assistance of online lessons.  It was very successful - Christian had good grades and proved to himself that he could be successful in school.  Unfortunately, it was very difficult for my husband who was also trying to work full time, so we just couldn't continue.

This year we are turning to the next school choice option - private school.  Christian is attending a very small Catholic school that uses a "classical" teaching method.  So far we are very impressed with both the quality of the curriculum and the values and sense of community we definitely did not find in public school.  The small class size and the knowledge that he can do the work is motivating him to step up in both his study but also in those organizational skills.  After our experience with online school, we also recognize the importance of understanding exactly what he is learning and how to help him.

I'm so thankful we have so many choices for educating our children.  Not every kid learns the same way, but the only way to get the right education for a child is to keep pursuing what works for him or her.  I sometimes feel like a whiner for complaining about school, but I'm not sorry about advocating for what is best for my son, whether that is public, charter or private school.

Let's see what this year brings.