The school question

Over the past couple of years, as parents of older kids discussed preschool, my eyes would glaze over.
We have time, and we won’t be living in the United States then anyway, I thought to myself.

I desperately hoped we wouldn’t still be here to have to make the preschool decision.

I blinked and here we still are. Preschool came upon us so fast. When I finally peeled the scales off my eyes, in front of me stood mothers with children the age of my son, asking where we would be sending our child to school.

It’s not for a lack of options before us. As with most parenting decisions, the whole school question forces us to (re)evaluate, to define our values. Indeed, which of the following options is most likely to care for our child like we do at home?

Do we send our three and a half year old to a private international preschool that would dramatically boost his language and social skills, yet set us back a mere $14k per year? (It’s not college, folks.) Do we send him to one of the hundreds of acceptable public or private but monolingual preschools and hope for the best, admitting that it is “just preschool“ after all? Do we send him to a bilingual school (likely English-Spanish) and address French at a later stage? Or, do I keep my three and a half year old at home another year in a rich linguistic environment and hope I can entertain him enough to keep him out of trouble? Or… or. Or, should I actually be considering the “H” word?

Much like staying at home with my children, I never ever thought I would even consider homeschooling. I have a career on hold! Aspirations and dreams! And yet, when realizing how school is about to tie us down and undeniably cramp our travel style and nomadic longings, let alone give Ayo’s French a serious beating, the “H” word grows in appeal.

There is no illusion in my mind imagining that I would be amongst the best and most devoted mother-teachers. I wouldn’t be, because I already struggle with how many of my own hobbies get stifled in this all-consuming job called motherhood. I struggle not to resent that part of the job as it is. But, in all humility, I do think I could be a pretty decent out-of-the-box sort of educator. Perhaps I could even foster a thrilling, tailored, multicultural style of education in a linguistically rich environment. But would I enjoy it? Would this be the best solution for my children?

Tuesday night, I scheduled a call with a friend and amazing mama of four. Shortly after moving to the United States from Africa, she chose to homeschool two of her children, with in addition their two year old who regularly causes terror underneath the homeschool table. Still, the results don’t lie. Her older son is far more secure in himself than before. Her younger son, learning with his sibling, is learning much more than his peers. Together, their desire to learn is insatiable and they ask questions that even challenge her as an adult. There are no limits to how much and what she can teach them. It’s really beautiful.

In juxtaposition and out of the blue, we heard about a sad elementary school a mere ten minute walk away from us that was failing. Two years ago, though, it was brought back to life by a dynamic and global-minded entrepreneur who submitted a so-called “innovation plan” to the local board of education. The principal was given the rare opportunity to fire incompetent teachers and hand-pick passionate and motivated staff from across the country. Although we never considered American public schooling as an option (watch Waiting for Superman and you too will understand why), we toured this one and simply couldn’t believe our cynical eyes. Today, it is a school that strives for global competency and awareness in every subject and at every grade level. Even preschoolers go through a little passport control station and get their fake passports stamped to learn about travel. One week they might be Skyping a sister school in Kenya, eating a Kenyan dish at snack time (Crunchy bananas, anyone?), drawing the lovely Nyahururu waterfalls in art class, learning Kenyan drums during music class and so on. The next week, they will “move” to another country and learn about diversity, world news and other global issues.

Preschool classes are bilingual English-Spanish and classrooms are comprised of 6 special needs children for 16 students, with 3 teachers and aides. Once a week, grades are all mixed up to encourage older students to care for the younger ones and the littles to learn from the older ones. To make things even more unbelievable, in order to fit into a network of schools with a focus on Asian studies, all students from Kindergarten onwards must take Mandarin (immersion) classes several times a week. Teachers are encouraged to travel and share their insights with their students. Did I mention that there are 70 Caucasians for 350 elementary students? And math grants for struggling and over-achieving students. And, and, and.

If I had to design a school, it would look very much like this. And yet, absenteeism (read: us taking days off to travel so that he can learn way more than in school!) is definitely shunned. Processed food is also on our minds – they have to feed students a meal there because for many children, this will be their only meal of the day. Spirituality is completely absent. And, the French language piece is of course non-existent. If I am honest, it is quite painful to think about what might lie around the corner on that front. That is, if we maintained the course of our children’s schooling career being in North America. Obviously, if we were given the chance to move the following year, the strong English-Spanish influence would in fact be to our benefit in the long-term.

There are many questions still spinning around in my head and our final decision hasn’t been made yet. I suspect it will come down to either holding our three year old back for one year so we can catch our breath and decide what to do next year, or accept the potential spot (lottery system – boo!) in this public school  close to us.

In either case, as a family, we still hold out hope that we will move cross-culturally in the near future. Of course, the prospect of a future move is not a healthy mindset to base decisions out of today…

7 thoughts on “The school question

  1. I can just see Bubba with his hair sticking up on the right side, lion backpack on, walking into his classroom. He will have been talking about school for weeks but will only give that shy smile of his. Whether this coming year or another, he is going to love school!

    1. Thing is, in many ways, this kid is a great conventional school candidate. It is just so hard to see our perfect world unravel a bit. Still, no school is perfect, but this one came pretty close to other values of ours. The only thing other than free international schooling that would have been better would be public immersion schools. Looks like those only start in Kinder.

  2. We have a 3,5 year old girl and this issue is on our mind as well, though the choice of languages is what is bothering us more and we’re not considering homeschooling. #MKB

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Catarina! I think at this stage, I am considering all different routes because our choice of languages isn’t even a realistic option until two years from now in our city. That is, unless we wanted to fork out the equivalent of college tuition for our young. 🙂 I loved what Annabelle just wrote in her blog that language in itself is not a curriculum. This is a great reminder, although we all want it as the curriculum’s ever-present supporting agent! 🙂 You can read her article here, if you haven’t seen it yet:

  3. Tough choice. I feel for you. While I would never contemplate homeschooling as I strongly believe in school for social purposes, I can understand your thought process. There are so many things wrong with school these days (absenteism for travel being one of them). We are facing a similar deadline soon and are also considering our options.

    1. Oh yes, I share your concerns about homeschooling not providing enough socialization. I do think it can be done by attending regular classes or playgroups, but the question comes back to whether or not I really would enjoy the complexity of what it would require.

      As for taking too many days off (our district limits it to 10 days max. in a school year, to avoid parents just keeping their children at home): while I understand the intention, it is JUST preschool, you know what I mean? I can guarantee that a preschooler taken to the other side of the globe will have more empirical learning opportunities than if he/she stayed at school.

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