Is the Local School the Right School?

school-lessons-icon-png-47I was listening to a talk show a few weeks ago where the host shared a personal story that struck me. When his kids were school aged, they lived in an area with a great school district. But, none of his three children did well in the assigned public schools.

Even though the schools were high ranking, they didn’t use a teaching method that his children responded to. Each of his children learned in different ways, and he wound up choosing different education methods for all three children, carefully matching the style of teaching with each of his children’s manner of learning.

His eldest child went to an all boys private boarding school, his middle went to a charter school, and his youngest was home schooled. Each of them flourished once they were in the right environment for them. “Wow”, I thought “talk about extremes.

Ship one kid off to boarding school but keep one at home with you.” Ever since then, I have been mulling over how to figure out what kind of teaching style your child responds to best, and how to find the school that utilizes that particular style. It seems like a daunting task.

Today, there are more choices than ever as to educational styles offered in the classrooms. Since this is a national publication, we can’t get into rating individual schools, but we can discuss the pros and cons of each of the types of educational systems out there. Let’s start with the most obvious choice: the assigned local school, and if you’re interested, read also our article on chartered schools.

A big pro of the local school is convenience. For most, it is a short walk or car drive, making pick up and drop off easy. It is simple for parents to go to the school for extra-curricular activities like back to school night, field trips, parties, special performances, PTA meeting, and awards ceremonies. Let’s face it, the farther away parents live from the school, the harder it is for them to be physically involved.

The longer the commute for a child, the less time parents have with them before and after school. Another aspect to consider is extra-curricular activities. Will your child have to miss out on fun activities, like sports and clubs, because of transportation issues if you send him out of the local zone?

A second reason to choose the local school is that your child will make friends within the neighborhood. That means it is easy for your child to get together with their peers for class projects and that they have friends nearby to play with on weekends and over breaks.

More importantly, being at the local school likely means a community you, as a parent, can rely on. For example, there is probably a trusted parent nearby that can pick up your child and baby sit if you have some unavoidable delay. There are probably other parents to carpool with for extra-curricular activities.

Says Jenny Foley, a San Diego parent “I wish I could send my two boys to the local school, but our school has poor standardized test scores, so I send them to a school 6 miles away. Even though it isn’t far, I still feel like I am not fully integrated in the school’s community. I shop at different stores and have different neighborhood concerns than they do, so sometimes I feel like the odd person out in group conversations. Play dates with the kids are more effort for me than the rest of the parents, too.”

The local school understands the needs of a particular community and tailors the curriculum and teaching style to meet those specific needs. For example, in parts one and two of the interview with Mr. Franklin, he explained that his community is primarily immigrants of a low socio-economic status. Since many students are “academically challenged”, extra programs have been instituted to help slower students get up to speed, particularly with English language skills.

In part 2 of the article with Mr. Winters, he mentioned that since his community is so close to Mexico, many parents want their children to be bi-lingual, so his school instituted a dual language program to meet that local need.

As many benefits as there may be to the local school, sometimes parents decide that the local school isn’t right for them. The reasons vary wildly. As in Jenny’s case above, sometimes the school doesn’t meet your educational criteria. But more often than not, the local school is perfectly fine, there just happens to be better choices available, too. So what are the other choices? Stay tuned for more articles exploring the alternatives. And it becomes even harder choosing the right college.