School Choice, From the Trenches

This is one of my favorite quotes. One I return to over and over when I start beating myself up about not being a good enough mother. I do find motherhood challenging. (Lots of other wonderful things too, but challenging is always in the first sentence!) One of the things I've found the most arduous, in a way I never even thought of while worrying about all the things I might not be good at as a mom, is school.

School, with all of its strong memories and baggage from my own childhood, is fraught. Fraught with relationships with teachers and other children, with different learning styles, with the fact that children spend such an incredible amount of time there.

Which school is the best one? This is one of those problems I am blessed to have, as I realize completely that the majority of parents have no options in this realm, and have to go with whatever their neighborhood school is, good or not. But, given that I do have a choice, I feel a ton of pressure to make the best choice that I can.

When Chloe was ready to start preschool, beyond the mommy-and-me (or in her case, Grandma and me!) classes, I made the rounds of the local options. Frankly, I was a bit horrified. Loud, messy, overwhelming, and chaotic were the words that flooded my brain. I found nowhere I could imagine leaving my three year old. Then, thanks to serendipity, I found Montessori Country Academy in Elk Grove. 

My mom had met a little girl and her dad at Borders one day, and we subsequently became friends with their family. That super extroverted dad ran into the owners of MCA at a coffee shop, learned a ton, and then told us about it. I didn't know anything about Montessori at that point, but was willing to take a look.

It was love at first tour. Children quietly doing "jobs" with all kinds of beautiful materials, sitting on rugs on the floor, in light filled classrooms. I was in heaven and signed Chloe up immediately. She stayed at that school through kindergarden and did wonderfully.

When it was time for first grade, we had always planned on switching to public school. Which we did. For three weeks. Chloe complained of being bored and I just told her that things needed to settle in. Luckily, my mom, who volunteered once a week in class, suggested that I should go and observe as she thought Chloe might not be in the right place. Within the first fifteen minutes of sitting in that classroom, folding construction paper for some project the teacher assigned me, I knew that we needed a change. Now.

The engaged, interested child I knew was gone, replaced by a zoned out girl with a zombie face. It made me sick to my stomach. Some of the children seemed just fine, the ones that were exactly on grade level. Others, like Chloe, who already knew the lessons, were completely bored, and the ones who couldn't follow were squirming miserably. Coupled with the fact that the teacher kept telling them all not to fidget and to keep their eyes on her at all times (or they'd get their names on the bad-kid list), it wasn't the best environment for teaching six year olds. And this school is considered a great Elk Grove school, with a highly regarded teacher. The whole thing just made me ill. I know that plenty of children do thrive in traditional schools, but Chloe just wasn't one of them. 

I started looking around for alternatives and ended up at Bergamo Montessori. Somewhere I hadn't considered because of the drive and the uniforms (I'm not a fan) suddenly seemed like a possibility. And as soon as I walked in for my school tour with Sylvia, I immediately exhaled. It felt like coming home. Here, once again, were children engaged in their learning. Working on long butcher paper timelines of the history of the earth at a table. Sitting on the floor doing projects with those beautiful wooden materials that fill Montessori classrooms. Talking quietly, moving around, working independently. It is child led and child centered learning, the complete opposite of teaching everyone the same thing, or teaching to the test. Such a difference. 

Bergamo has been wonderful, and Chloe is now in the fifth grade. And, once again, I'm looking at a choice of where she should go to school.

This time it's whether to keep her at Bergamo for sixth grade and junior high, or to have her move to a performing arts based, though still traditional, school. To keep her in the school I know, in the Montessori method I so believe in, or to have her spread her wings and try a larger, more expansive environment with more opportunities to focus on the arts that she so gravitates toward?

There are applications to fill out, a school tour day to delve into, and auditions to attend. There are the not-so-great odds to overcome just to get into the school. There are pros and cons to weigh...drive time, homework, traditional vs Montessori. And then, finally, there is the decision. Which way to go?

And all I can do is trust that my girl, and my gut, will lead the way. That I will breathe easily or not. And that whatever way we decide, Chloe will end up exactly where she needs to be. Because I do believe that things happen the way they are supposed to, if only I listen.

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