Private Versus Public School
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Some thoughts on choice and the Solo Mom
Four years old is a marvelous age. Children are verbal, active, and filled with so many ideas. They embellish the stories you read to them; they run, they skip, and they sing and dance. They learn so quickly, and they always want to know more.
So when you start thinking about kindergarten, as with anything, of course you want only the very best for your child. That’s where, as a Solo Mom, things can get tricky.
Public versus private education is often a difficult discussion, filled with statistics, studies, and many anecdotal stories, all totally true and specific to each individual. Everyone is sure he or she has the right answer, and everyone probably does—for his or her specific situation. The fact is that each case is unique, and each child has his or her own needs. So what is right for you, as a Solo Mom?
As an overall rule, money can be a guiding factor. It’s a long 12 years, so make sure you don’t put yourself in debt. There is nothing worse than stressing about pulling your child out of a school because of finances. That being said, it’s important not to rule out private school options solely based on income.
A broad statistic on financial aid in kindergarten through 12th grade has merit scholarships at five percent and general financial aid at slightly higher. In most cases, if you have an annual income totaling less than $70,000, you are considered eligible for financial aid, and be aware that any financial support from an ex-spouse is considered in the equation. How much you can receive depends on the discretion of the school and sometimes on how much the school wants your child to attend. Be realistic about the dream of a “full ride,” and factor in the costs of books, trips, etc.
Often the board dispensing these funds is filled with other parents, so as a Solo Mom, you may want to become involved in school activities and get to know your fellow parents. It can often feel like an extra job for a Solo Mom, and there is most certainly a learning curve. Consult with other parents if you can.
With that in mind, let’s look at some of the most general considerations of private and public school.
Pros of private schools
Class size and academic rigor. Your local public school might seem neither safe nor stimulating. You worry that your children will fall between the cracks, that they will do better in smaller classrooms. Private schools are free to create a varied curriculum; public schools may not be allowed that flexibility. Your child may have a chance at finding something he or she excels in with a more attentive teacher.
Extracurriculars. If your child turns out to have an aptitude for a sport, art, robotics, theater, no matter where they go to school, you will be springing for private academic lessons, classes, teams, etc.
This will become evident especially in middle and high school, when kids’ sports require year-round after-school commitment. Sometimes a private school can be helpful in accommodating a child who needs to play on a traveling team or attend competitions in other cities. In cases such as that, especially at the high school level, private schools can also offer scholarships.
Pros of public school
More diversity and preparation for testing. There has been a recent spurt of public charter schools aiming to specialize in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) or the arts. Certain children do better with a diverse student body and with less pressure to fit into the mandate of the school, whether STEM, artistic, or academic. When it gets closer to the time of standardized tests (such as PSAT, SAT, ACT, and AP), the experience of having mastered the format may help your child do better.
Public schools, especially as your children reach middle and high school, offer many opportunities to explore music, art, and sports on an intermediate level. The larger classes and student body often can allow a kid to make new friends and not feel trapped in a fishbowl.
Extracurriculars. If your child is talented in sports or the arts to warrant traveling teams, coaches, classes, or auditions outside the normal academic offering, then the price for a private tuition may seem burdensome. Classes can be arranged at a public school to keep your child’s GPA within the school standards and to keep your child up to date on requirements, so that as college applications loom, you know that your kid can and will be able to handle the requirements of the student/athlete/thespian, etc., in the future.
The social fly in the ointment
There is one element of the public versus private school consideration that is not academic and requires a Solo Mom to know both her child and herself and perhaps be able to glimpse into the future: the social aspect.
How many books, movies, poems, stories, and songs have been written about the social life and status of the teen? As a Solo Mom, we always want to believe that the academic challenges and successes are what will define our kids’ social status. That’s because we have forgotten (blissfully!) the hormonal tumult of adolescence.
Here is where public versus private school becomes a complex, constantly evolving process in which a parent needs to be vigilant, thoughtful, a good listener, and sometimes a disciplinarian (just when you thought it was going to get easier!).
Although as Solo Moms, there is no reason to pretend to be anything different from what you are, you must be ready to embrace your singularity. As your kids get older, bullying, peer pressure, anxiety, moodiness, and cliques appear like sea monsters to engage quite a lot of your and your child’s time steering the family ship to port.
There can be, in fact, a lot of drama. How those factors affect academics will depend on your child and your child’s character. There is no one solution.
Remember that you can sample both public and private schools during the 12 years that your child is a minor. Keep telling yourself you just want your children to feel good about who they are and grow up to be good, confident people. For a Solo Mom, that is the greatest achievement of all.
Margot Kessler, a screen and television writer living in Los Angeles, is the sporadically witty Solo Mom of two lovely daughters.
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