As we quickly approach the holiday season, my mind is feeling a bit scattered. Between Thanksgiving turkey and Christmas stockings, I’m feeling the pressure to choose the right school for my daughter. Four years ago, I had barely conquered nursing and was still battling sleepless nights. Time has gone by too quickly. My conversations with other moms at the playground have dramatically changed. My discussions about sippy cups and potty training have now turned to her preschool’s philosophy and where she will attend kindergarten. Everyone has different opinions and views, and the more I hear, the more confused I get. Most parents seem set on their decision, as they have grown up in Petaluma and are very familiar with all the schools.
My daughter will turn five next September, a few weeks after she begins kinder garten. In my home state of Arizona, she missed the cut off (September 1) to start next year by a few days. A year ago, I was weighing the pros and cons of having her start early. I was determined to find a way to make it happen. It seemed unfair to me that she would be a class behind all of her friends. But as the months kept passing, my mind started to change. I strongly felt that she was academically ready, but I began to question her social skills and maturity. My mind was filled with questions, “Do I want her to be the youngest in her class? Do I want her to be the oldest?” Thoughts of her being a follower and being easily influenced began to worry me. I imagined my daughter doing things she was not supposed to and surrounded by teenage boys that were one year older. But I wondered if she would be challenged academically if I stuck to the rules. And so that’s when my research began. I had decided on a charter school that made exceptions to the September 1 rule; but then we moved states, and I was back to square one.
The stress of our relocation took over and researching schools in our new city fell to the back burner. I felt relieved though. I thought I had more time to make such an important decision. I started thinking her confidence level was a bit more important. Everyone learns to read, add and subtract, but not everyone has an easy time making friends or initiating conversation. Yes, she knows all her colors, can count to 100, and is starting to read, but her confidence level is not there yet. The selfishness in me began to get excited to have her home another year. This meant our routine activities such as play dates, ballet, gymnastics and story time at the library would not come to an end just yet. Then, I learned that California has different rules. For now, the cut off to start kindergarten is December 1 and there is a lot of talk of how that will soon change. No wonder most moms I meet ask the big question right after they ask her age. “What school will she be going to?”
Since I did not grow up in Petaluma, it has been helpful to hear everyone’s opinions. There are public and private schools, Montessori and Waldorf as well as charter schools. Little did I know that Petaluma offered so many choices. So many school districts and parents actually have a say and can request a transfer to the school of their choice. I have been doing my research and talking to parents. Some, like me, feel strongly about a school that is academically based and has the standardized test scores to prove it. While a little voice inside of me wonders, don’t all schools focus on academics? Others disagree and worry that such a rigorous environment is too much pressure on children. My parents sent me to the neighborhood public school walking distance from our house, while my younger sister only attended a few years before she was enrolled in a private school. Maybe things were simpler back then or parents are now more involved. Since I know private school is out of our budget right now, the pressure to find a good public school is on. Thankfully, many resources are now available. Not too long ago, I discovered on-line tools such as www.greatschools.com with a ton of useful information to help my decision. I want what every parent wants. I want it all. I want her to be at a good school full of diversity and enrichment programs. I want qualified teachers who will assess where she is at and challenge her every day. I want the school to value and encourage parental involvement. I want her love of learning to grow, for her to like school, but, most importantly, I want her to be happy at the school we decide on. I have narrowed it down to a few schools but my decision will not be final until early spring when I visit each campus. Then, I will go with my mother intuition and what my gut tells me and hope the school is the perfect fit for her.