The learning curve

Seattle Public Schools allow us to choose where our kids go to school – sort of. Spots are allocated on the basis of where one lives, whether a sibling already attends, and participation in special programs; race was also a consideration until a lawsuit eliminated it.

Years ago we saw parents agonize over kindergarten choice as if their kids’ entire future hung in the balance. Our research and visits led us to choose our neighborhood elementary school, where both kids had a wonderful learning experience. We enjoyed having six years there before middle school choice rolled around.

We didn’t see big differences between middle schools and knew Lauren would do well wherever she went. We also understood that middle school is as much about social growth as about academic learning. She wanted to go to the school where she knew more people and that was fine with us. Once again, it’s been a good experience.

What happens in high school is more consequential for a kid’s future, so we decided to look at the two public high schools in our ‘cluster’ and at two private schools. Susan and I scheduled visits, attended ‘choice nights’, talked with kids and parents, and gathered other information. We also urged Lauren to collect her own data so we could compare notes and hammer out a decision. She visited all four schools, passed the requisite entrance exams, and came up with the opposite of our list. Uh-oh.

Lauren is a great student. We never have to remind her about homework and her teachers rave about her work and her creativity. She’s disciplined in her studies and earns excellent grades without breaking a sweat. Lauren devours books, enjoys participating in sports, and is a leader with many, many friends. Shouldn’t she have more say-so in where she goes to high school? That’s what we thought at first, but we changed our minds.

Our ‘educational philosophy’ boils down to this: we want the kids to love learning. As we looked at possibilities and thought about Lauren, we concluded that one of the private schools would best encourage her love for learning, help her grow as a leader, and nurture her spiritual life. None of her current friends plan to attend this school, however, and that made decisions more difficult.

Registration was a few weeks ago and Lauren is signed up for classes. I think at some level she was relieved that we made the choice; there was a lot to sift through and our criteria for deciding kept evolving as we learned more. The process challenged and stretched all of us, and it was hard to be at loggerheads with Lauren on occasion. I wanted her to be happy with the decision right away, even though that is hardly in the job description of a teenager. At times I felt like a bad parent because she wasn’t happy with it.

But things have changed. We asked Lauren to trust us on this one and give the school a chance; she appears ready, willing and able to do that. We’re sure that her remarkable ability to meet people will enable her to make many friends quickly in this new setting. She’s wearing one of the school’s sweatshirts around home, and is thinking and talking about activities in which she’d like to participate. Hard decision? Yep. Good decision? We think so.

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