We are focusing our house hunt in an awesome neighborhood that unfortunately also happens to feed into a lower-performing school district. As a result, we’ve been forced to dip a toe into the dark underbelly of private school admissions in our city. Let me preface this discussion by saying that if you would have told me a year ago that we would ever consider participating in this kind of madness, I would have fallen on the floor laughing. And yet.
Our last city had private schools, sure. If you wanted your kid to attend one, you paid the tuition and enrolled – no big deal. The private school system in our current city, however, bears zero (and I mean ZERO) resemblance to the one in our last city. It’s actually more like what I’ve heard described by people who live in New York (albeit on a much smaller scale). People putting their kids on waiting lists at birth. Mandatory charitable giving. Admissions interviews. Parent essays. Entrance exams for preschool. That kind of thing.
Christopher is about to turn two, which apparently means we are already way behind the curve if we want to get him in somewhere good for preschool. And getting into somewhere good for preschool is critical, because it will in turn allow him to attend a good primary school and later one of the premier high schools, which will determine where he goes to college, which will determine his graduate school and ultimately, his career. Here we are, just sitting on our hands while we should be making decisions that will CHANGE THE COURSE OF OUR SON’S ENTIRE LIFE. Crazy, right? Of course it is. And yet.
Last month, we started looking into private preschools for next year, finding out what the admissions process (which, by the way, takes like a year) would entail for each school. In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that S is (and always has been) way more invested in the idea of sending Christopher to one of these preschools than I am. In fact, my contribution to the process so far has been: (1) bitching to anyone who will listen about what a racket it is that you sort of have to send your kid to preschool at one of these schools in order to hold your spot for kindergarten and beyond; (2) using the phrase “overpriced fingerpainting” in ways that S finds highly embarrassing.
Of all of the schools, there was only one – a Montessori school that goes through eighth grade – that stood out to me as something I could (maybe, possibly) see working for us. [There is another private school that’s very diverse and has a ton of two mom families but it is kind of out there for us academically – pretty much unschooling in a school building]. The Montessori program has no LGBT families, but is consistently listed as one of the top five Montessori programs in the country and has some other aspects (child-directed curriculum, focus on social responsibility, commitment to community outreach and corresponding scholarship program) that appeal to me . . . sort of. Maybe. Last week, I grudgingly sent their admissions director an email requesting more information and a tour, which happened this Tuesday.
I didn’t want to love it. I didn’t want to even like it. I wanted to scoff at the fact that the campus used to be a country club (pool, tennis courts and all). I wanted to sneer at the toddler cots with their tempurpedic mattresses imported from Italy and laugh at the ridiculous elitism of four year olds taking a French cooking class (in freaking French, for god’s sake). But I just couldn’t. The school was AMAZING. During our tour, we saw third graders reading Tolstoy and using bunsen burners and looking thrilled to be learning. The preschoolers were collaborative and kind to each other and highly engaged in their work. The toddlers were snacking on vegetables that they grew themselves in a cute little garden outside their classroom. The building was filled with joy and light and laughter. After seeing these kids and how happy they seemed at school, S got so overwhelmed that she teared up. Later, she asked me, “Is it so wrong that I want this for Christopher?” And in my heart of hearts, I knew she was right – I really wanted this for him too.
When the school offered us a spot starting in January, we were elated. It wasn’t even a question – yes, of course, we’ll take it, of course. Now that the dust has settled, though, I’m left with a jumble of thoughts that I’m still trying to sort out. Like how I feel about the fact that Christopher was admitted ahead of a zillion other kids on the waiting list because the school does not have any two mom or two dad families (Modern Family much?). Or how I feel about the fact that enrolling him in this particular preschool could mean that we’ll paying for private school for a verrrrry long time, since the transfer rate is pretty much zero and the school feeds into private high schools. I also have some a lot of trepidation about the unbelievably high expectations the school has for parents in terms of their involvement in the educational process (can we really commit to no TV or media? To implementing the Montessori methods at home? Will S ever be able to go back to work with all of this shit they expect us to do?). And the cost, oh the cost. One year of elementary school tuition is only slightly less than what I paid for my entire undergraduate degree at a public university.
Ultimately, I guess I’m mostly excited. This is going to be a big change for all of us, but I think it could be a really positive one. Not in a “Next Stop: Harvard” kind of way but in a “won’t he have fun growing those vegetables” kind of way. Now if I could only get S to stop gloating . . .