Thinking About Private School

I went to public school until I started college, and even then, I attended one of the 4 publicly-supported statutory colleges at Cornell University (9 of their colleges are private). My husband attended a religious private high school and matriculated to one of the private colleges at Cornell. My intention was always to send our kids to public school, but their preschool experiences have me considering private school for them starting in 6th grade.

Our 5 year old twins have attended 4 different schools and the difference in quality amongst schools has been eye-opening for me. It's not just the curriculum and teachers, but the self-selection amongst students as well. I'm skeptical of the idea that higher cost is correlated with higher quality generally speaking, but based on my experience, this credo has held true with regards to my kids' education.

At all except one of the schools, we experienced issues with one or more of the following: ineffective classroom management techniques from teachers, physically aggressive student behaviour that went unchecked, administrators who placed the financial interests of the school above the needs of the children, and curriculums lacking in substance. The one school that had it all together entailed a tuition that was 2.5x higher than its equivalent. And it was 100% worth it.

Right or wrong, I equate our positive experience at the pricier preschool with the private school experience. The school fostered my children's natural interest in art, music, writing, math, and reading beyond my expectations. My kids took part in a school play, put together a newspaper, and practiced Spanish. They had a blast and loved every minute of it.

On the other side, our experience at the local preschool was a bare bones curriculum, behavioral problems, and barely engaged teachers. To hear the kids tell it, the teachers never once read to them and they were given letter and number worksheets to fill out with minimal to no guidance. One of their classmates would pelt the other kids with wooden blocks and sand on a regular basis.

It's important for my kids to learn how to live in the real world and I want them to have ample opportunities to do so, which is why I don't view their experience at the local preschool as necessarily a negative. But I see how much they've been exposed to this past year at the "private" preschool and how much they have benefitted. And it makes me think that our time at the other preschool was a wasted opportunity for them in some ways.

The fact is, teachers can't focus on teaching as well if they're dealing with behavioral problems. And kids can't focus on learning as much if they're distracted by disruptive peers. In addition, although our school district is well-regarded, it simply doesn't have the resources to offer the range of extracurricular and advanced study options as a private school or larger, better-funded public school.

I'm targeting private school for my kids' middle school years because of the increased potential for peer distractions at that age (e.g. bullying, mean girls), as well as the brain's unique receptivity to new experiences and information. The things you learn and encounter in middle school, good and bad, stay with you through the years. If we had unlimited resources, I would enroll them in private school now. The financial aspect of the decision is also the reason I'm not 100% decided on private school, but if we do it, I view middle school as the time they can reap the greatest benefits from both a social and educational perspective.


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