Thursday, March 6, 2008

Shopping for kindergarten and ice cream

So we’re kindergarten shopping for Brielle. The great thing is that we have so many options, and all of them are good. But the problem is, we have so many good options. I’ve heard it called “choice paralysis”—so many flavors to choose from that we stand wide-eyed at the counter, wondering what kind of ice cream would really taste best. I feel like one of my high school students who, after receiving pounds of mail from colleges around the nation, still has not applied to any one of them.

After my six years teaching at Mesa Grande Academy, I’d feel most at home having Brielle begin her scholarly career there. At a school that naturally has a family feel, the faculty are like brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles to me. Brielle would be treated with professionalism, but also like a new niece. I kind of like that idea. I have heard great things about their kindergarten, and the class size is nice and small. I trust MGA to do a good job telling Brielle the God story, and more importantly, to live out that story in the flesh. The ethnic mix (or lack thereof) at MGA reflects some of the “white flight” feel of the area, which I’m not wild about, but not because the school itself is trying to avoid diversity—it’s just a local demographics thing. Overall, if it weren’t about 20 minutes out of the way on our already long trek up the mountain, I’d love to send her to Mesa Grande.

At Redlands Adventist Academy, Brielle would literally have two aunts and an uncle there for her. My brother and his wife are middle school teachers there, and my other brother’s wife is counselor and registrar. The three of them have been surrepticiously brainwashing Brielle to “just say no” to the other options because they’d love to have her around. We would love that too. We have heard amazing things about the kindergarten program, including the way the teacher has of disciplining kids with a positive focus and the way she prepares them academically for 1st grade. I served a summer as interim youth pastor for Redlands church in 2004, and was impressed with the little faith community; I think I would trust them to disciple Brielle as a follower of Jesus. Redlands is more ethnically diverse than Mesa Grande, which I like, and Redlands is on the way to work for both Rachelle and me.

As a student at Orangewood Academy and teacher at Mesa Grande, Loma Linda Academy was our nemesis. Like the Lakers, or the Yankees, they were the giant that you loved to slay in sports. “Beat LLA!” was what we were about. We hated them because they were good, because the place was rotten with rich kids, because unlike our little 100-student high schools, they were big enough that you could date girls that didn’t already feel like sisters. And they could wear jewelry. We hated them because they were “Loma Linda.” Then I started meeting actual people from LLA and noticed they were nice chicks, decent dudes, regular people that I pretty much liked. Still, the idea of sending my daughter to Loma Linda feels like traitordom, and the mere thought of telling people about it drags my tail between my legs. But man are they slick. Last Sunday’s kindergarten recruitment open house was just about perfect, entertaining the whole family and knocking us dead. After years of overwork at smaller Adventist schools, I do appreciate how Loma Linda’s size allows them to provide more time and support to their teachers. Brielle’s buddy/cousin, Reiley is going there, and we could carpool. But still, it’s “Loma Linda.” Uggh.

A few days ago a friend of mine told me about her home-schooling and how wonderful that was. They received everything they needed for free, all the way down to art supplies and computer, got support from a mentor teacher, and had their daughter reading like a fiend. With all these other wonderful school options and Brielle’s social nature, we hadn’t really considered home school, but the more I listened the more it sounded like a perfect hybrid of the accountability and economy of public school with the spiritual nurture and individual attention that Christian schools offer.

After four years in the public school system, I’m discovering it has its own benefits beyond being free. For example, my district offers a “dual immersion” program where English-only kids learn Spanish and Spanish-only students learn English—together. With that double-dip in language, students from programs like this rock on their SAT scores. I would love my kids to be bilingual from the get-go, to marinate in a truly multicultural setting, even to be an ethnic minority for a change. The academic opportunities for advanced learners are outstanding compared to a small Christian school trying to be all things to all students.

If she attended the public elementary school we live near, right in the mountains, she would get the whole riding-the-yellow-school-bus experience, never go into the smog, and be close to home so Rachelle could easily be involved. And in a multi-grade classroom, Brielle’s bright mind could be challenged at a level beyond kindergarten whenever appropriate.

As for religious instruction, I actually see advantages to them attending a school that is not associated with church. When they’re sick of school, it wouldn’t mean they’re sick of God; when their classmates or teachers inevitably fall short of their expectations, it wouldn’t be God’s fault. Maybe I’m a little jealous or paranoid about delegating to unsupervised others the serious fun of leading my kids’ faith walk. There’s a part of me that invokes the ethic of “If you want it done right, do it yourself” when it comes to their religious education. Yet whatever I say about considering the pros of public education, I can’t escape feeling like Rachelle or Whoever thinks that I’m just making a case for being cheap. I’m really not—if anything is worth paying for, education is. I just want us to look at all the options.

Aaaaah, the options. If there were only less flavors, maybe I would be munching on a cone by now instead of dazed, nose against the glass, paralyzed by choice.

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