Friday, August 26, 2011

On why we have decided to "force" Chris to go to a private school...

Avid public school supporters that we are, we are sending our oldest son, Chris, to a private high school: Thomas Edison High School. It's a school designed primarily for kids with ADD, ADHD, and dyslexia (Chris has ADD). He is feeling deeply ambivalent about this decision, primarily because he is leaving many of the friends he's known for years in the public school system.

I find it ironic that we are voluntarily paying a vast sum of money to send him to a high school when he is not particularly enthusiastic about attending. He's done great in public schools--been on the honor roll and graduated from his IEP (which he was put on in 5th grade for math)--but we felt it was worth the investment to try something different. So here are the reasons we have painstakingly decided to opt for private for high school:

Small class sizes. Edison has an average of one teacher per eight students. This includes a large counseling staff who work with the kids to prepare them for life after high school. It also means that kids get individualized instruction designed for their own learning levels.

Outstanding teachers. I'll be honest. We have encountered some less-than-stellar teachers at the middle school level, and although our kids have not experienced such teachers at the wonderful elementary school in our area, I'm aware they exist. Many teachers get pretty impatient with kids who have ADD/ADHD, and Edison teachers are there because they love these kids. Of all the people I've met who have sent their kids to Edison or who has known someone at Edison, they all say the teachers are all excellent (and they all positively love the school). This is such a relief! No more fighting with administration about bad teachers!! A great teacher can make such a difference in a kid's life!

Frequent, high-quality communication. It's an adjustment to go from elementary school to middle school, where the communication is hit or miss, depending on the teacher. The middle school block teachers tend to be pretty fabulous, but Chris had two awful science teachers in 6th and 7th grade (they are no longer at the school). He also had an IEP case manager who was awful--who we had to lobby to get switched. It wasn't until 8th grade that we didn't have any complaints about the teachers, although I wouldn't say they were all highly communicative. As communicators ourselves, we really value that contact.

Experiential learning. Edison attempts to adapt its curriculum to topics that really interest teenagers. I'm not sure yet how that plays out in high school, but in the summer classes Chris has attended, he's studied math by planning the trip of his own design and used skittles for advanced calculations. They use iPads in the classroom and allow the kids to listen to music on headphones while taking tests. They do everything they can to engage the students--another critical factor for teenagers.

Small community. With a school of 80 kids, the students get to know each other and the faculty well. The school plans a lot of activities such as Halloween parties, all-school excursions, and other events. I'm really hoping that Chris meets some kids who will become his true-blue friends for life, who share his interests and values, and love him for who he is. I have often envied the stories of friends who grew up at a small international school in India, where they made friends for life and had a wonderful small school learning experience. I am in touch with very few friends from my large public high school.

Opportunities. I have no doubt that if Chris went to Wilson, he'd do fine. He'd probably even do great. But he'd be a small fish in a big sea. At Edison, he has the opportunity to be a leader--to be on student council if he wants to, and to get really engaged in the community.

Small school with big school opportunities. Because Edison is on the campus of Jesuit (although completely unaffiliated), the students can participate in the Jesuit activities. Chris will be playing drums in the Jesuit concert and marching bands; can audition for plays or work on crew; and can participate in clubs and dances. The Edison kids eat lunch in the Jesuit cafeteria. It's like going to a small school but having all the advantages of a large school (that is very hard to get into).

College prep. Seniors have the opportunity to take classes at PCC, and the school spends a lot of time preparing kids for whatever they want to do after high school. All high school students deserve this, but the fact is that our public high school can't offer the same kind of support.

All summer, we've gone back and forth about going to Wilson. Mike and I have repeatedly reminded him that he's very lucky to have this opportunity--Edison only accepted one out of every three students who applied this year. We've told him that we want him to try it for one year, and if he doesn't like it, he can always go to Wilson. He can't do the reverse--try Wilson for one year and then go to Edison if he doesn't like Wilson...because Edison accepts very few students beyond freshman year (because very few kids leave).

Today was freshman orientation, and he reported that it went well. He's still a bit ambivalent and feels  a bit out of sorts not hanging with many of his friends, but I realize this will be a process.

We are still STAUNCH supporters of public schools, and I can't imagine making this choice if we didn't truly feel it was the best thing for him at this stage in his life. We've never met a school levy we don't like. :) The public schools have served him well, and they will continue to serve Kieran and Nicholas well. However, with the erosion of the tax base in Oregon, public schools are able to offer less now...with larger class sizes. I am concerned that he might fall through the cracks at a big high school like the one I attended.

And the most compelling argument of all, at least for me: we wouldn't take out a loan to pay for the first year at this expensive school if we didn't feel like it was the right thing for him. I'm crossing my fingers that this experience is worth it! He's worth it.


  1. Marie - I feel the same way and our girls have been at OES for a long time. I think at the end of the day, you have to make the right choice for YOUR child. They grow up quickly, and you have only once chance at each grade. I wish public schools would be the right choice for every child - but until class sizes are smaller, they cannot be. Chris will quickly appreciate the individualized attention and he will make new friends while keeping his old friends. Hang in there and have a wonderful year. Don't feel like you need to defend your are doing what you think is best for Chris.

  2. Thanks, Will. I think I feel I need to defend the choice to myself, because I feel sad that not all children have these opportunities. I am also sad when people do not give public school a try, because how will our public schools ever improve if people do not stand up for them?

    In spite of the funding cuts, our kids have been served well by public schools up until now.