Neighborhood School or Charter?

I really did a google search of that question. I was surprised at the results that were returned. Lots of talk about the educational differences between the two, how they are funded, how enrollment differs, but that was it. I couldn’t find articles talking about the difference it makes being within walking distance, or how the two different schools address the creation of community.

Last minute switch

So there we were on Friday night wondering the halls of our local neighborhood school during their “preview” night. The halls were filled with excited children and friendly teachers. With so many new faces, no one recognizing that we don’t fit in. Well, I shouldn’t say no one. The minute we walked into the school I was recognized by an old co-worker asking if we were enrolled. I didn’t know how to answer! I honestly did not! We had gone in unassuming. Unsure of our next move. But more than anything unclear of how we would even begin to broach the subject with our daughter. As we talked, Roxie started to pick up on what was happening, grabbing my ear and telling me she liked her school and didn’t want to change. “I know sweetie” was my only reply.

I was so impressed by the school. We visited the library first. It was filled with reading nooks and stacks of books. Out the library’s many windows you could see the school’s community garden. The humming of the 3D printer buzzing away busily showcasing their cool tech tools. We continued down the halls to find the 1st grade classroom. We were welcomed by the teacher, no questions asked. She showed us around and interacted with Roxie. It was nice to see all the classroom had to offer (Not a ding for her charter school, but Roxie spent her kindergarten year in a mobile unit, so being within the walls of the school was an improvement!). The classrooms were right next door to the music room, filled with “baby guitars” (ukuleles’). The library and music room definitely caught my eye as her charter school had neither of these luxuries. I was excited to see her eyes light up looking over all the instruments.

How did we get here?

This is not a new conversation for Jimmy and I. It has come up before. In fact, the question of school is without a doubt the HARDEST question to date that I have had to answer as a parent. Roxie has moved schools nearly every year since we moved to Boise. Each move gut-wrenching as I continued to try and make the “right” choice. I wanted her to be in a “good” school, whatever that means. I know more than anything teacher matters most, but that is only one part of the puzzle. With each shift I have found another missing puzzle piece. So what were we hoping to accomplish with this shift? How did we get here?

Top 5 reasons for choosing a Neighborhood School vs a Charter:

1) Built in Community

Instead of needing to artificially create community through “morning coffees” or special events, you just naturally have more opportunities to connect with parents and students because they are right in your backyard most times! The first day of school we were walking over by the canal and Roxie recognized a classmate on the other side of the canal and said hello. CONNECTION. Just like that. I didn’t have to schedule a playdate. Or attend an event. We just bumped into them, right in our neighborhood.

2) Walkability

I want to walk her to school. I want her to walk herself to school when she gets older. In fact, I spent the entire year she was in kindergarten looking for real estate in Garden City just to get us closer to that goal. I started looking into electric-assisted bikes thinking that might be another option. I’ve put a lot of thought into commuting car-lite with kids. So it’s not surprising that shifting to the neighborhood school continued to surface as a possible solution to the commuting puzzle. I learned that commuting matters for kids when Roxie and I used to commute across town (40 minutes one way). This was grueling. It’s too long for a kid to be in the car every day, day in day out. Instead of spending that time playing or hanging out, she got the shitty version of me. The version that was stressed out from driving and tired from sitting. While Garden City was closer to home (only a 10 minute commute by car), it was not close enough for her to get there by herself. It also wasn’t close enough for regular bike commuting, especially when you factor in the school start time of 8:15am. Not only is our neighborhood school a 10 minute walk, but it also starts at 8:45am, which means less stress to rush out the door in the morning.

3) Freedom/Independence

Walkability as it relates to my family’s commute is one thing. Walkability as it relates to my daughter’s freedom/independence is quite another. It’s early yet to send her off on her own, but the route between our school and our home is safe. Tree-lined streets with separated sidewalks, accompanied by painted crosswalks and curb cuts. In all reality this was likely the “straw that broke the camel’s back” and convinced us to show up that Friday night. I had just started reading “Playborhood” and faced with the statistics of helicopter parenting and scheduled play dates I was feeling the strong desire towards encouraging free play and independence.

4) Connecting with my Neighborhood

As I mentioned above, I had spent the last year thinking about how I could get closer to Roxie’s school in Garden City to allow us to walk. Turns out this thinking really did a number on my feelings about our current house. It was like I had one foot out the door. When we made the decision to shift Roxie to the neighborhood school, it was like my green light to dig in and grow roots. I started looking at my neighborhood in a new way. What are the things I love? What can I do to make things better? Committing to stay put has allowed me to open my eyes to the good around me, and invest in growing deeper connections.

5) Services (Lunch, Music, Library, GATE)

This one almost didn’t make the list because it was definitely not the REASON for the shift. It is more like the unexpected perk! I did not expect these extra services, so when I found out about things like FREE LUNCH for all students, or the possibility of weekly visits to a music specialist and library full of books it was like *extra brownie points* for our neighborhood school. And although I don’t know that Roxie will be recommended for GATE as she continues to grow, the fact that this is available on-site should she want/need it in the future is also a perk.

What’s right for your child?

As I mentioned above, choosing the right school for your child is an incredibly personal choice. I was having a conversation about this with some fellow parents and we all remembered this not really being even a discussion point when we were growing up. You didn’t “choose” where you went to school. You didn’t have a choice. There was one option and it was the neighborhood school. In the age of School Choice, it’s important to talk about and reflect on these often overlooked elements. School is about more than teaching methods, academic rigor and test scores. School is an important place for your child and can be a great source of community for your family.

Good luck fellow parents!