My wife and I were given a wonderful dilemma a few months ago: Keep our daughter in the preschool we truly love or move on to an independent school with a history of excellence and innovation.
Choosing your child’s educational path can be challenging and fraught with huge decisions, especially in a place like New York City. As parents, we must do right by our children. I am thankful that my mother modeled this. She was always pushing me and, to some extent, my elementary school to do more. She looked for educational enrichment and alternatives, which led to my entry to the Prep for Prep program and eventually independent school.
I am a proud product of both New York City public and independent schools. My wife attended public school while growing up in a small Pennsylvania town and is just now learning the ins and outs of independent school. But while our experiences couldn’t have been more different, we do have this in common: a commitment to education. This has led to many discussions of the pros and cons of both types of schools. The ultimate question being what route would work best for our daughter.
We chose independent school for our daughter. Here’s why:
Reason 1: The Mission/Developing the Whole Child
We are excited about Camilla’s new school’s mission. Her school will seek to educate her so she can “continue to question, risk, and grow.” She will be expected to “care, serve, and lead” and will be “prepared to challenge, shape, and change the world.” This mission speaks to us on so many levels. We are happy to find a place that will empower Camilla and aid her development from girl to woman as well as affirm what we have already been doing at home. As important as academics are in choosing a school, what was most important to us was the commitment to the overall development of our daughter. This school wants to develop a strong, thoughtful, empathetic young woman and not just an A student or polished athlete and artist. They are developing global citizens who are empowered to make change. That is compelling stuff. In order to aid this development, the school must be committed to diversity in all of its forms. The school’s overall statistics confirm that they recruit and attract families, faculty, and staff of different means, races, cultures, religions, and interests.
Reason 2: The Facilities/A Safe Space
It is hard not to be impressed with some of the facilities at independent schools. I remember Jenelle said, when viewing the facilities at my prep school, “This is nicer than my college.” I think all parents would want state-of-the-art labs or modern athletic facilities or breathtaking spaces to study the arts at their child’s school. However, what we feel quality facilities will do for our daughter is create a safe and fun place to learn, whether it is a warm and open library or the art room with fantastic lighting. She will also have the oldest students in her school right there, sharing the same spaces and hallways. Having these high schoolers model good behavior and work ethic will be a plus. Finally, this is a place where she can take chances, and fail. Answer questions, incorrectly. And learn and grow from these mistakes. You can’t fear failure, and she can become fearless there.
Reason 3: The Teachers
It is comforting to hear that our daughter’s school will not only continue to evolve their program and practice, but will properly prepare their educators to do so. Our daughter’s new school just created an institute that is solely dedicated to faculty professional development and allows the school to stay committed to its mission and truly be innovative in its educational practices. As a long time teacher, I find this it important to be able to hone one’s craft. To have your efforts validated is essential. This helps create an environment chock full of happy educators. What we saw were lots of happy teachers. It makes it easier to entrust our daughter’s education to a school with teachers who are happy to be there.
Reason 4: Athletics
What you are about to hear is just genuine excitement.
The place has a wonderful athletic program. As a now former athlete who was positively affected by my time playing organized team sports, I am not surprisingly happy she will have physical education. I am also really excited about the possibility of Camilla playing on sports teams there. They are even opening a new athletic facility this fall. Oh, and and some teams have preseason training!
Reason 5: We are done.
We are sending our child to a school that ends in 12th grade. So, basically, we are done looking for a school until college. That was difficult to turn down when we were accepted. The search process for independent schools is lengthy and time consuming, and the public or charter school process can be just as stressful. It is a relief to have the weight of the school search process lifted off our shoulders. We don’t take that lightly and feel blessed, especially since we would have also been looking for a new school at around the same time we would have been looking for a new residence. Now, we can just focus on our next place to live.
Independent school is not for everyone, whether for financial, social, or religious concerns. We are not affluent, and we are a bi-racial family, so we appreciate and understand these concerns. I know that my family is quite fortunate to be able to make a choice and attend this new school. But our school is also fortunate to have us because independent schools need families like ours, too. We are excited about what we might be able to contribute to the school and its efforts.
Now, our daughter has begun her school journey, and we feel confident that we chose the right school for her.
* Parents of children of color should know that the organization Early Steps aids families who are considering the independent school route for Kindergarten-aged children. There is also the organization I mentioned earlier, Prep for Prep, which places gifted students of color into independent schools after a challenging admissions process and rigorous 14 month academic program for 5th and 6th graders.