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Looking for advice on schools
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Looking for advice on schools

My son will enter Kindergarten in September of 2014.  We have a lot of options, and are currently exploring them as some of the schools have wait lists. I would love your opinion on what we are thinking.

Our public school system has adopted a no zero, no fail policy.  This means that even if a child does not bother to do an assignment, they cannot get a zero. It also means that even if they are struggling, they are pushed through to the next level.  This is supposedly to help maintain self esteem.  I personally feels it teaches poor habits for real life, and also sets them up for failure.  I believe firmly in getting a child extra help if needed, and working with them, but just not bothering to do an assignment?  I just think it sends a bad message.  Also, many of our public schools are only doing gym 1 day a week, and music and art are often no longer part of the curriculum.  All of these things cause me concern, especially given that I have a super active boy who absolutely needs lots of physical activity.  

We have looked at several options, and right now are leaning towards an alternative school called a Traditional Learning Center.  Here are the things I like:

There is a well rounded curriculum, with a focus on academics.  Parents sign a contract agreeing to work with their child on their homework, or reading skills, or whatever, minimum 1 hour per night (this can be fun learning activities). Parents also agree to volunteer with the school x amount of hours in the school year. There is daily physical exercise (done in a fun way...soccer, basketball, etc.)  They still have music and art.  There is a big focus on community involvement and the importance of being a good citizen (I love this!).  They wear uniforms, but it is not a school for the wealthy.  All socio economic backgrounds are represented. They celebrate all cultures and talk about cultural differences in a very positive way.  All sounds fabulous right?  We think so too...except.....there is homework from day 1, including kindergarten.  It's minimal, and age appropriate, but still..homework at the age of 4 (my son will start at 4 and turn 5 halfway through the school year).  A colleague of mine has a 13 year old who went here and is continuing on through the Traditional Learning Center schools (they can go right to grad in this program).  I talked to him, and he loves it.  He said there is also just no bullying.....first off, its not tolerated (this school is very strict with discipline which I like), and secondly, they are open in their discussion about peoples differences from early on, so it just doesn't really happen.  He is a great kid and would make any parent proud.  Still, I'm struggling with the homework thing.  I also struggle with the fact that they only bring parents in for parent/teacher conferences if there is a problem.  Rather, they encourage the kids to develop skills to work things out with whomever the issue may be with on their own.  Part of that makes sense to me, and part of it I find worrisome.

Anyway, I would love your opinion.  We do have other options, but so far we really like this one.  Plus, as a bonus, we like the fact that the K-4, then the 5-9 and then 10-12 schools are actually in our neighborhood.  No busing required.  Thoughts?  Thanks in advance.
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973741_tn?1342346373
Hi there.  Well, this is a really personal decision that you'll have to do what feels best for you.  My sons go to our public school but we do live in a good school district.  I'm not a huge fan of massive homework.  They attend school for most of their waking hours and while some review at home is essential, I don't want them to spend massive time doing it.  One of the reasons for that is because if you have evening activities such as piano lessons, swim team practice, cub scouts, etc.---  you will find that massive homework during the preschool years is overwhelming to fit in.  Neither of my boys have much homework---  both have nightly reading for either 15 minutes or 20 minutes, one has one math work sheet a night plus about 5 minutes on a computer math program and the other gets a 4 page math packet to be completed for the week.  They'll have extra things like a book report occasionally as well and both have a weekly spelling test.  That's it.  And I'd put them up against any student in any school in terms of where they are at academically.  

You have a home like mine that has many stimulating things going on.  Your son is like mine, been exposed to museums, the zoo, art, etc.  on a regular basis  so that they have an enthusiasm for learning.  I'm sure that will continue.  

I wouldn't worry about your son and the zero policy and pushing through to the next grade as that won't be him.  I'm sure you'd always make sure he was up to par and finishing assignments and provided help if he needed it.  

However, you speak of other things.  One thing for sure at the private school is that parents will be involved.  This is nice in that your peers will be parents like you.  Also, they sound like they provide many of the things you desire for your child in terms of extracurricular.  I am not faced with that as my kids do get art, music, technology and gym at school and it would definately concern me if they didn't.  

You sound excited about the private school and that really matters. If your gut tells you this is more of a situation you like, then it will be a good decision for you.  

We have gone back and forth with the Catholic school in our area (our own church) or public.  Both have pros and cons.  In the end, my sons seem happy and are doing well in their school so I guess it is okay but I do relate to the difficult decisions you have to make about education.  

I probably wasn't helpful but wanted to share my thoughts with you.  I am a little iffy on the hour of homework a night for kindergartners.  But the school you are thinking about sounds pretty cool.  
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I wrote 'preschool years' but meant elementary years in reference to homework.  My son is now in 3rd grade and has had bit tests.  We've had to 'study' for those tests.  I take real pride in teaching him how to study for something and then watching him achieve a good grade.  But, I would not like him to have to spend tons of time in the evening in the third grade doing that.  Just my thoughts on it.  :>)
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You know, you really hit the nail on the head.  For me, one of the things I like the most about this is that the other students will have hands on involved parents.  I see so many parents who don't seem interested in much with their kids beyond having them, and wonder why they act out the way they do.  I know you know what I mean.  
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It's actually not a private school per say.  It falls within the public school system, but is an alternative school (the Catholic School System is set up much the same way here). So it is all covered by our normal taxes, with the only extra cost being the uniforms.  That is actually quite minimal.  I like that as it means that just like any public school he will be with mostly normal middle class kids like him, with low income and wealthier as well.  

You make a good point that I would never allow him to believe it's not ok to finish assignments.  I just hate the entire concept.  I think our school system is making a huge error in this policy and it bothers me.  Still unsure what we will ultimately decide, but I can tell you that your insight and thoughts are always very much appreciated.  Thanks my friend!!
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Avatar_m_tn
  My only concern is the age of your son.  It sounds like he is starting at age 4 and turning 5 after December.  If so in most states he would not be allowed to start Kindergarten and for a very good reason.  Do the math.  If this is true, he will be the youngest kid in his class by far.  Other kids will be driving a year before he does.  He will be at a disadvantage in sports, etc.  
  If I am correct on his birthday - this is by far the most important decision you have to make!
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I agree with Sandman about your son's age - imho,  that's too young for kindergarten.  But maybe that's the standard there?  I began school in New York state,  at the age of 4,  and then when we moved to Texas when I was in middle school I was at least one,  and in some cases two full years younger than my classmates.  

If you plan to stay there in Alberta with those age standards,  that should be fine - but if you plan to move to an area where the standards are a little older,  your son will be at great disadvantage socially,  IMHO.

I like the alternative school.  Anytime you can get a school where the parents care and put a little "skin in the game",  you'll get MUCH better education.  I honestly believe you could have a school with mediocre teachers and outdated buildings and if you have some kind of screening mechanism where you have parents who really care and are invested in the education of their kids,  it would be a great school.

Good luck with it!
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Here in Canada, it depends on when their birthday is.  My son is Janaury, so he can either start in 2014 or 2015.   If he starts 2014, he will be 4 & 8 months when he starts in September, and turn 5 that January.  Here, they have to turn 5 during the school year, so before June in order to start at 4.

By the time he starts, he will have had 2 years of pre school as he started that early as well.  This was based on several recommendations, and honestly, he has done well under the more structured program.  We are starting him at 4, and if things are not going well will not hesitate to pull him out and restart him the following September.  We are also going to do the 1/2 day program as opposed to the full day - we can change that if he is doing well - we are just taking things as they come.  Also, this September he will start year 2 of pre school, and we will watch how things go.  All of your comments are good ones (as usual) and I truly appreciate the input.  You guys are the best!!
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Avatar_m_tn
    Smart kids with smart parents will always do well in preschool and early grades.  The problem lies later on when all of there friends are from their grade level and perhaps now they are a B student instead of an A student.  Or everybody is much bigger, etc.
   I have seen many more problems with kids starting early and few with them being the oldest.  Granted in Canada it may not be as huge an age difference.  But in the states, most schools say you must be 5 somewhere between Sept and Nov. - and for good reason.  You can easily google starting ages and find out exactly what it is for our schools.
  I see no problem with him doing the 1/2 day program.  The following year I would put him in a full day program at the same grade level - that way some things will be new to him.
  But this all is coming from a perspective of someone in the American school system.  Talk to the principals or teachers of your schools and see what they think.  But I would certainly talk to the people of the middle school.  That is where problems will began to crop up.  Best wishes.
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In my experiences with my oldest son now being in second grade, I've had him in three different types of school systems to date. He went through pre-school in a private school, and then moved to Kindergarten in a prestigious private school (on financial aid). I took him out of that school for 1st grade because the tuition rates went up and they only provided the same coverage for financial aid, so the difference we had to cover became too expensive for us. For 1st grade, he got accepted into a magnet school, which is a public school with a specific focal point in their academics: he was in a magnet school for the arts.
For 2nd grade, I thought he'd get a more challenging curriculum and advantage with a much smaller class size and less of peer pressure and bullying problems by transferring him back to a private school, which is a Christian school and also the daycare and preschool he attended for four years prior to kinder; they'd advanced their business to include grade school through the 2nd grade last year and are shooting to have a 3rd grade established next year. So...I had him at that school from August to December 2012. In that time frame, we moved to a different part of our city and are now in a district with a great public school system and great test score stats (not the case with our last district, which is why I had him in a magnet school instead). Last week, I had him placed in our local public school system, because I hadn't been too impressed with the Christian private school for the money I was paying and expectations I had.
With that history, I can tell you that with the experiences I've had with both magnet and public schools versus private schools at this point (with the public schools having no "no zero, no fail" policies that I'm aware of), I've actually been more pleased with the public school experiences so far. The exception with the kinder private school, which was well worth the money and it has the prestigious and high academic reputation that it does for many good reasons, the private schools in the area have been, in my opinion, mediocre in academics and...well, I have a specific issue with one particular private school my younger sister attends in this city as well, and I know you know that story.
What I've found the most appealing about the public school experiences so far have been the level of parent-teacher communication and...the daily committment to homework, believe it or not. Even the private school for his kinder year had daily homework, but it's definitely age-appropriate and the time required of it is generally very minimal--anywhere from 10 to *maybe* 20 minutes. Plus, what my son has learned from daily homework is the ability of his focus depends on how long it takes, and how responsibly he can manage his own focus to complete his work. Some nights are harder than others, but that is not due to the homework, it is due to his ability to dedicate his focus and complete a task.
With his last private school (the one-semester term last year), I was really off-put by the huge lack of parent-teacher communication. He had one homework assignment every night, and that was to read two pages out of a reader. No notes, emails, verbal communication...nothing...between his teacher to me about what struggles he was having in class, especially with reading and phonics due to his vision and vestibular (inner ear) sensory issues that made those a real struggle for him. In those 5 months, I got one parent-teacher conference that was mid-term, and that was it, and all she did to state that he needed extra help was send home a phonics textbook with me to cover with him at home, but I had no idea how to use that book (it was written as a teacher's edition so I really was at a loss how to use it), nore was I given any idea of what lesson he was currently covering and how fast each lesson moved to the next, or when he tested over a lesson. He just got his weekly packets sent home with grades on the top that usually was a C or below. I'd never felt at more of a loss in how to help him. I felt so in the dark with his curriculum and academic ability issues, and when I asked for more homework to get sent home with him so I could find his areas of struggle, the assistant teacher told me they don't do homework because they complete everything in class and get it graded then; that way they don't have the burden of homework at such a young age. Well...that is just not something that personally works for my child. He needs a lot of structure and guidance one-on-one, especially with me because I understand how to work with him best with his sensory issues.
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When he was in the magnet school, I had so much daily communication with his teacher and him having homework that he made the A honor roll for the entire year with practically no struggles through class time. Yet in the private school, he was barely able to maintain a C average for 5 months.
The biggest problem I had with him at the magnet school was the class size and some bullying issues. He was in a class of 21, him included, and there were about five kids that either picked on him relentlessly (name calling and physical shoves, pushes, smacks, etc; one kid even broke my son's glasses by knocking them off his desk before they returned from PE and stepped on them). The only way these kids wouldn't pick on him (which they did to ALL the boys in the class, not just my son; they were like a little posse of bullies that didn't do anything "bad" enough to really get in much trouble) would be if my son joined in with them. So behaviorally, that school was a little bit of a challenge to get him through the 1st grade year, and that is really my biggest complaint about that experience.
He's been in this new public school for a week so far, but it's a totally different environment. Let me just say, we moved into this district because of the schools; no other district in our city was an option, actually. The environment, as well as the location, of this school versus the magnet school is...well to be honestly blunt...not in the ghetto. The magnet school was a great school academically since it operated like a private school and could pick and choose their students, BUT, the location and standards for accepting students by law was...diverse, for lack of any better word. If a kid had grades good enough to get in the school and a talent for the arts to show in a portfolio, then by law, the school as a government institution, HAD to discriminate between choosing ethnicities and backgrounds in order to show an equal pie chart of ethnicity and race to the government school system. Well, that meant if they needed one ethniciy over another to equal out that pie chart, a more qualified student by academic grade level may not be chosen over a less qualified student, simply due to that student only just "making the grade" and being a specific ethnicity. It was affirmative action or whatever it's called, which is fine--like I said, the school itself WAS a great school with high test score stats and he did have an excellent teacher, BUT...kids from environments of wherever were integrated and the influence was diverse in a way that wasn't necessarily an advantage. Again, this was just my personal experience.
The public school system he's in now operates on much the same curriculum with the same standards of communication and parental involvement, but we're in an area of the city that has the more affluent portion of the population and, undeniably, the school district in this area has the highest test score stats across the board that have been maintained through many years, on par only with the two magnet schools in the city. The other city's districts are just not that great, which is why public school was absolutely NOT an option while we were living in our old house; it was either private or magnet school. And with private school--you get what you pay for...not based on academics as much as holding an academic record for many years, as I found out with such a newly established elementary private school that operated nowhere near as efficiently or effectively as the private school I had him in for kinder.
Anyway, sorry this is so long. I figured I could give a pretty broad perspective to you, though. ;-) I agree very much with the others though, that YOUR level of involvement and structure that you provide your son through his school years determines his rate of academic success, no matter where he goes. RR said it best: " I honestly believe you could have a school with mediocre teachers and outdated buildings and if you have some kind of screening mechanism where you have parents who really care and are invested in the education of their kids,  it would be a great school."
You find the place that works best for your child and your level of involvement, and he'll do just fine wherever he goes.
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377493_tn?1356505749
Thanks so much for all the input.  I can promise that we will look at the issue around starting him at the age of 4.  What your comments have prompted me to do is to check with the school as to how many kids begin kindergarten then vs. 5.  That information will give us a good starting point, and I promise we will seriously consider it.

Audrey, your information on what you went through with Trevor is super helpful.  Honestly, I don't have an issue with Ryder attending Public School, I just have an issue with our Provinces board (right now anyway..).  They recently refused to pass an initiative dealing with bullying of gay and lesbian students.  That was a huge big deal to me.  And I just cannot get past the no zero, no fail policy.  I feel like children are not being sent the right message.  RR, I agree that involved parents are the key, but still...to basically tell children that doing the work assigned is not a big deal, and that there are no consequences for not doing so, well, I feel like that almost undermines me as a parent.  That is not what we want our son to learn.  So truthfully, that is why we started looking at other options.  I also do want him to be exposed to music and art as I feel that is part of a well rounded education.  We will do those things outside of school as well, but still...it would be nice to have it be part of the curriculum.  

Anyway, I turn to this forum as I do respect all of your opinions, and have gotten great advice here in the past.  We want to do what is best for our son and his future, and as usual, you all gave me great information for us to think about.  Thank you!!
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around here, charter schools are on the rise. it sounds similar to what you describe as far as being publicly funded alternatives. Here is what I have heard so far:
~the charter schools are good options for a child who is typically developing and well behaved.
~charter schools (near my district) do not offer the same services for children who have special needs. They are often unwilling to make modifications and accommodations for children who may need differentiation.
~teachers in these schools are often (although not always) as qualified as in public schools. people who cannot jobs in public schools end up taking jobs in the charter schools.
~ there is a lot of problems with administration in some of these schools (corruption, misuse of funding, etc).

This is based on what I have heard from parents and teachers who have interacted with the charter schools. I'm not making blanket statements that all are bad. Just wanted to present a different perspective and questions to ask. Parents whose children are typically developing do seem to be happy with the programs.

I wouldn't be too concerned about the no zero policy. There are so many other things to worry about. I would be drawn to a school that supposedly has no bullying. However, I am currently fighting daily to get my kindergartner to do 15-20 minutes of homework. Sometimes it's torture. And she is a perfect student, highly intelligent and well behaved. There are so many other things I would rather be doing with my 5 year old in the evening, including some extracurriculars. I would also be very concerned with the young age, especially if he is an active boy as you describe.

Have you inquired about class ratios? Teacher qualifications? Percentage of children that move on to higher education? If it's the same or better than public then it's definitely worth considering.
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Avatar_m_tn
     Completely agree on the no zero policy. Hopefully that means a school will not allow a child to fail.  That is a huge difference then ignoring the kid and passing him on.   And actually, most schools have found that holding a child back because they have not been doing the work seldom is successful because they are not addressing the real problem of whats going on with the child.
   However, the fact they refused to pass an initiative dealing with bullying of gay and lesbian students does bother me.  I hope that was because they felt that it could be better written and are working on it to make it more successful.
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377493_tn?1356505749
My big issue with the no zero policy is that even if a child does not bother to do an assignment (so not a matter of struggling through it, they just didn't try to do it) they cannot be given a zero.  To me that says no consequences for actions.  As for not holding them back - that's a bit of a different issue for me.  I too believe that parents and the school have to work together to help a child that is struggling get the help and intervention they need.  But for me that is a completely different thing than just not bothering to do it.  We actually had a teacher fired for giving a child a zero on an assignment that he was completely capable of doing, but just didn't.  

The bullying thing was a big deal for me too.  Their defense was that they already have an anti bullying policy, so one specifically aimed at gay/lesbian students wasn't necessary.  I disagree - I think the problem needs to be addressed directly and specifically.  

My other big concern is the lack of gym class.  For young children, especially a young boy like mine, he needs daily physical excercise.  Now, he gets plenty at home, but keep in mind that in the winter, it is dark here between 4 and 4:30.  After dark it gets even colder.  So in order to be able to have even short periods of play outdoors, it has to be in the daytime.  Even indoors in the gym is good. He can run in the house, but it's not the same as a good physical play in a large gym.  There are just so many things....I feel like we are heading down a negative path in our public school system.  Our pediatrician specializes in behavioral issues and she says that we are letting our kids down - she is very pro our choice and actually suggested either alternative or charter.  It's too bad, and I am so disappointed.  I understand budget cuts, but still...

TBH..so good to see you here!!  I feel like I haven't talked to you in forever!  The teacher qualifications are identical to public school.  I too had heard stories like that and did check into it.  The teacher standards are not higher, but they are not lower either.  They are still hired by the regular school board, this is just an alternative school within the school system, not a charter school.  But great point!
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BTW, wanted to mention we are seriously reconsidering starting him at age 4.  I have requested the school to give me a percentage of kids who start at 4 vs. 5.  If it's low, we will wait.  Your comments about it causing issues when he is older make sense.  Thanks!
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Avatar_m_tn
a child should have a well balanced life and be happy, or should go to ivy league.

it disturbs me that you worry so much about a preschool, but i would say trust your instincts or just go with the highest rated school.

or you could go the more traditional route and set your child on a course to end up working in a field that the parents work in.
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I wanted to update this.  I took all of your comments to heart and did some extra research of my own.  I am fortunate enough to work with a few child therapists and a child pyschologist, and although it's not appropriate for me to access them officially, I did have a lunchroom chat with them about this whole issue of starting at 4 instead of waiting.  They all wholeheartedly agreed with you in terms of waiting.  We did some reading as well, and same thing.  So not that I didn't believe you all...lol, but always best to ensure you are confident you are doing the right thing.  So, we are going to wait the extra year.  He will do an extra year of pre school, which certainly has no downside.  One of the reasons we were going to start him at 4 is because our next door neighbor and his best friend is born the same month, and her parents are starting her at 4.  We thought is would be nice for them to start together. It looks like that will not be the case..they are still intent at starting her at 4, we are now committed to waiting that extra year.

As for the school.  We attended an information session and are 100% convinced that this is the right choice.  We really do love the other committed parents and are just pleased with everything we see there.  So, that is our choice in terms of schools.

Gitsum, not sure if you read my post.  We were not discussing pre school.  We were discussing elementary school. And yes, it is an important choice to us.  We have no desire to push our son in any direction he doesn't want to go and Ivy League isn't our concern.  I don't care if he decides to be a Dr. or a Plumber.  All are noble professions.  Our decision is around teaching work ethic and the accountability this school demands.  Skills that will serve him well in life in general.  And we do want him with other kids from homes with hands on parents like us.  It's about teaching him what we believe are good life skills regardless of his future career choice.  We will be happy with and support whatever career path he chooses.  Sorry you misunderstood.
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