Friday, April 4, 2014


We still don’t know what to do about it. 

We could have gotten more house for the money if we’d looked east and bought into one of the few upscale urban neighborhood that are cropping up around New Seasons grocery stores and historic city parks, but let the school system - which included an elementary school with a Spanish immersion track, a French charter school, and one of the best high schools in the state - heavily influence our ultimate decision. 
Entrance to both the Spanish program and French school is by lottery – as a neighborhood family we have a 40-50% chance of getting into the Spanish program and a 25% chance of getting into the French school. But aside from the benefit of language immersion, the schools are just ok. The Spanish program in particular seems to benefit from an active and dedicated parent base, but by report has a number of teachers who do little but make the kids copy sentences during class time. Most of the kids would be like ours – born to middle class American parents and raised here.  The facility itself is bright and cheerful with well-maintained grounds, large play yard and is located at the end of a quiet suburban street. Munch and Wow’s friends would be the kids we’ve already met playing in the street outside or down at the park. The parents I've met of the kids in the English track are less happy, and those with the financial resources to do so are thinking about private school. 

I am more concerned about the French charter school. It’s about two miles away in an urban location and without its own playground or outdoor facility. Once a day the students get walked to the nearby high school for recess. The school has only been open for two years and the funding for the next few years isn’t guaranteed. LD didn't get a good impression of the staff, parents, or facility when he went for Kindergarten open night. But I’ve been in email contact with two mom whose kids go there, both of whom have had good experiences with the school. 
And finally, there’s this private school. It’s on 14 acres with nature trials, covered play structures, two art studios, a music center, and outdoor classrooms. It’s also a language school – the elementary school is French immersion and, starting in the seventh grade, each student selects a second language – German, Spanish, or Mandarin- to study. LD and I met with director and one of the teachers, both of whom presented themselves as highly skilled professionals, and were impressive in how they articulated the school's purpose and mission. Language is a huge component of the curriculum, obviously, but even more important than language is the emphasis on art, culture, curiosity, and global responsibility. Most of the teachers had participated in language immersion programs in their youth and spoke of what it was like, not to speak, but think in another language.  Many of the students were not American born and English was not always the language spoken on the playground. The class sizes are half what the public schools average and the grounds are more beautiful than most college campuses. Art, music, yoga, chess, photography were offered as part of the after-hours care program.  The school closed for one week every seventh, to allow students and teachers a chance to recharge.
And it’s ungodly expensive. The total cost of one year,  including tuition for two kids, extra fees, the added expense of the before/ after hours program, and care during those recurrent weeks off would be more than I paid for one year of medical school.
I could understand paying that price if the public schools were terrible or if she had a specific need that could only be met in a particular setting, but it’s a hard to say that the tuition could be justified on the merits of the school alone. 
I’d like my children to have an immersion experience, and I’m actually not that picky about which language it is, because – and now we are getting to the real issue – it’s something I wish I had had at their age and I can't teach them myself.  My Spanish is embarrassing, so much that I don’t share with people that I studied in Spain for a semester of college and I am overly hesitant to use what skill I have retained while traveling. 
If language can be a door or a window, in my life I've felt it as a door - a heavy obstruction between myself and experiences I'd wish to have had. For my children I'd like it to be a window, a second source of light in which which they could maneuver their thoughts and expression, a way to make the world feel smaller while it actually expands.

LD does not share my view on the subject. He prefers she get into the Spanish track at the neighborhood school, and if that doesn't happen, to have her stay there for the regular program.  As I mentioned before, he didn't get a good impression of the French charter school and thinks that our (over active?) Munch wouldn't do well with once a day recess. And that's a fair point. But we feel differently about the private school, specifically the relative value for its expense. 

It's a debate to be continued. 


  1. I think I walk past the schools in question daily. Wonderful neighborhoods. :)

    I was talking to my classmate the other day about how I was very fortunate to grow up in a college town with only one high school-because all of us had family affiliated with our Gigantic Research Institution, in whatever capacity. Education was prioritized and a lot of faculty from the uni came and taught at our high school. It was like getting the private education you describe in a public school setting. Until I went to med school, I had no idea how uniquely lucky I was. My classmate grew up in a town where there were definitely 'good' and 'bad' high schools, and he had a very different experience than I did.

    Sorry I have nothing to contribute on the subject of Munch and Wow's kindergarten-although, with parents as involved as you and your husband are (based on a few fragments from your blog), they'll thrive :) Hopefully you all are settling down nicely!

    1. And that is exactly what we would have had if we'd stay where I did fellowship. It had one of hte best public school systems around, which included a spanish immersion elementary school...

    2. I worked with an attending here who didn't put her son (little older than Munch, I think) in a German immersion program (they don't live near a school that offers on), but instead he's taking after school German and Chinese classes. I don't think they were through any school, but through some type of Alliance Francaise-equivalent thing in town.

      But would that be a feasible option for you and your family? Not necessarily school-based language immersion, but language opportunities after school for the kids?

  2. I would talk to teachers and parents at each of the school. Can Munch visit too and weigh in (without either of you parental units influencing her)? They all sounds like fantastic options, so I really don't think you can go wrong.

    We're considering private school (3 years down the line) because we live in an area with an failing neighborhood school. And yes, it's really expensive. However it turns out when you really tally up things on the balance sheet (additional financial risk of having a more expensive house in a better school district, additional commuting time, additional transportation expense, higher property taxes, etc.) at least where we live -- for one child -- the difference is not as large as one might think, especially if you consider the private school as an investment in your kid (esp when compared to the failing local public school). Not sure how the numbers work out in your case, but it seems like a worthwhile exercise.

    Oh! One more thing: You're not middle class.

    1. Yes, for one child its actually not a bad deal, considering all the factors you raised, but for 2+, private school starts to make a little less sense usually.
      It seems that RH bought her house based on public school options, and there was an extra expense already that case, private school makes even less financial sense (if you are going to go with private school, buy a cheaper house in the crappy school district). But of course, its so hard to think purely financially when its something that would benefit the children!!

    2. Tis true. I do know of an awful lot of people who moved to an expensive 'burb and ended up paying for private school anyway. Things can happen, and schools can be a bad fit. I would love to be in RHs position with so many good (free!) options to choose from. I am interested to hear what they decide.

      I am also interested to hear what YOU end up deciding for your LOs, Ana. My understanding on the research is that outcomes between good public schools and private school are pretty equivalent.

      I can totally empathize with the anxiety though. I mean, how can a person NOT obsess over their kid's education?

    3. I LOVED the teachers at the private school - I've visited a few times and developed a great impression of the staff. I hear that some of the teacher at the neighborhood elementary are great.. and some aren't.

      In regads to OMDGs other point - I originally wrote "working class" , as in both parents work because we have a mortgage, ed debt, etc, but erased it immediately, because, obviously that isn't what working class means. Middle class is also not technically correct, and I prob should have aritculated that better, but i meant to indicate the difference between us and most of the families at the private school.

      Ana - I think that's the issue... we have a pretty great, although not perfect, local school system. it does seem like a waste not to use it, but then I immediately go back to the fact that I want a very specific thing that it (might not) be able to provide.

    4. I really wasn't trying to be snarky with my middle class comment. I think part of the reason that we use the term is because "rich" or "upper class" doesn't feel right and have such negative connotations. I wonder if there is a better descriptor for "very well off, but both parents working their a$$es off, and yes still having to budget money, but quite grateful for everything they have."

    5. I didn't take it as snarky. Maybe I should have described as HENRYs :) although I'm not sure that is much of an improvement

    6. We are at a bit of an impasse on this decision. I would love to stay in the city, try our luck at the charter school lottery, and have private school as our back up. I think it would cost the same as the 'burbs, with the higher property values, taxes, cost of car-ownership (we still don't have one and have no plans to get one as long as we are in the city), parking at work, and then the time cost of commuting! But my husband is getting dreamy-eyed about big back yards and lots of space...

  3. You could check with the teachers, counselors, administration at the high school to get their impressions of the students who come to them from the respective programs you are considering. Is the language immersion so important to you that less science, math, history and Engilsh instruction time may be be the norm? Will attending the private school affect your children's ease of developing friendships within your neighborhood?

    1. that's a great idea. i just emailed a friend from high school who is a high school teacher in the area. i do think that if Munch goes to private school we wont be as anchored in this community.. not sure how much it matters to me but it sure would be nice for her friends to be close by.

  4. Ugh. I feel your pain. We still have one more year of preschool before the decision and it still feels heavy. A friend of Jake's game some sound advice when saying that it seems most people like where they end up. You make friends, she makes friends, you face challenges wherever you end up, but once you make the best decision for your family it should all work out! Good luck!

  5. We're doing private, but if the public schools had been willing to talk with us about early entrance (which DC1 needed for everybody's sanity), we would have tried that out first, particularly the Spanish immersion program. Private school here is also less than 10K, which makes it a much easier annual expense for us.

    Re: community:
    Personally I like DC1's friends from school (who come over for playdates etc.) far better than the neighborhood boys he's had playdates with. None of his school friends call anybody a "poopyhead" or worse because that behavior is not condoned or excused with "boys will be boys". (The neighborhood girls we meet at the playground have all been nice, but so have the girls at his school.)


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