Lounging at the pool this summer, I was privy to a conversation between several sets of parents regarding the all-important question: where will they send their kids to middle school. In my district, the all-too-common situation is that families will love and adore and support their local, neighborhood public schools up until their children reach middle school age. Around 4th grade there is this terrifying scramble as families fight to place their children into magnet schools, enter lotteries for high-performing charter schools, or balance the financial costs of sending their child to a private school for the next 6 years.
I have heard over and over that “XYZ Public Middle School is a great fit for lots of children… just not mine.” Even teachers of XYZ PS often don’t send their children to their own school. And I, a still-childless adult, am left biting my tongue. Who I am to tell other families where to send their children to school? I have no frame of reference for this decision that undoubtedly does impact their kids’ lives in a huge way. When I found myself in the middle of the conversation at the pool, I remained quiet. I didn’t know these people well, and felt it wasn’t my place to speak. Because it wasn’t. But ever since then, I have felt as though I wish I had said something, although I’ve not quite figured out what that will be yet.
And I get it. I do. Their kids are going from their elementary schools with the small class sizes and the kids from across the street and the adorable animal mascot to a place that, by design, is just not the same. Larger classes, more freedoms, a whole new group of kids that they don’t know and didn’t grow up with, that likely live in neighborhoods very different from their own. Teachers that are even more overworked and underappreciated. Why send your kid to a place like that, when you know there are other options out there?
But the thing is, if all of those middle class, well-supported, on- or above-grade level kids actually went to their local middle school, it would become an entirely different building. As it is now, our public school district loses a huge amount of enrollment between 4th and 5th grades, when the students transition to middle school. If those students and families stayed, there would be a better balance of funding to support smaller class sizes, and there would be a PTO in middle school that was actually just as supportive and involved as the elementary school, leading to better-treated teachers and a happier, more engaged school community. You may not get to keep the cutesy mascot, but that’s alright.
The point is, your kids will likely do fine in their zoned public school. Just by nature of you even asking the question of whether they’ll be okay there, I can tell you that they’ve already won the battle. A caring, involved parent is worth his weight in diamonds. Yes, your kid has other options, but some kids don’t. And your being involved in your kid’s public middle school will make it all the more better for every kid who attends there, regardless of whether or not their families are able to consider magnet schools, private schools, or charters.
I realize that I’ve likely touched a nerve with some people. I am not trying to shame anyone who exercises choice when it comes to their kid’s schooling. It’s a personal, family decision that weighs heavily on the future of your children, and your family should consider it accordingly. I just can’t help but think that if this public school experiment was truly supported by all families, for all families, that the whole system wouldn’t be better off.
What do you think?