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Friday, August 13, 2010

Why pay for private education?

Momza asked a question in response to my last post about why people would choose to pay for private education. I started to reply to her in the comments, but it was getting long. Plus I thought if Momza asked it, chances are other people are thinking it. So I decided to just give it it's own post.

Our decision to send our kids to Catholic school is based on several things.

1. Tradition. My dh and I are both products of private education (me Catholic schools and him just private and expensive).

2. School size. The public elementary school my kids would go to is a good one. But it's also very large. Not sure of the current numbers, but I know when Annie was in the 3rd grade in a school with 3 classes of 20 kids each, the public school 3rd grade had 210 kids split among 7 classrooms. It just seems too big for a little person. The high school has over 4,100 students. Having attended small schools my whole life (there were 212 kids in my high school graduating class), that is just overwhelming to me.

3. Family atmosphere. I've explained it this way: I want my kids to attend a school where they know most everyone and most everyone knows them. If they are messing around in the hallway, I want any teacher or staff person to be able to call them out on it by name. Similarly, if they are doing something good, I'd like someone to be able to say "Thanks Charlie! That was great," even if it isn't a teacher Charlie has had. In addition, the people we see at church on Sunday are many of the same people we see in the pick-up line at the end of every school day. I like the consistency of that.

4. Faith experiences. I probably would have put this one first if I didn't worry about rubbing people the wrong way. (Some evangelist I would make, huh?). My children attend Mass on a weekly basis with the entire student body. Once a month, they go to Mass with their own classroom. The school prays together (via the announcements) in the morning and at the end of the day. There is prayer before lunch.

I think the value of sending the kids to a religiously-based school was really driven home to me several years ago when a student died of leukemia. The school prayed for her daily as she was fighting her battle. And when she died, the school was able to respond by gathering the entire student body together for prayer. As a parent struggling to understand the unfairness of a child's death, I was comforted by the opportunity to gather with the students, faculty and staff to grieve and support one another. This is an extreme example and possibly less important than the daily and weekly faith opportunities. But it's something for which I'm grateful.

All of that is not to say that sending my kids to private school absolves us of our responsibilities as parents. Although my kids go to Mass and have daily religion class, the formation of their faith and their moral character is still up to us. I also don't want to give the impression that I consider private education categorically superior. We have several friends whose children attend public schools who are smart, well-behaved, great kids.

There can be certain disadvantages to private education. No buses to transport kids to and from school. Smaller class sizes can sometimes mean that if a kid is labeled one way (nerdy or a trouble maker), it's hard to break away from that. Some private schools may not offer the racial and economic diversity that is a reality in today's world -- though my children's school does. Public schools may offer a wider range of special needs services and extracurricular activities. Those are all things to consider.

And we are not opposed to considering public education. We've talked about several times since Annie started kindergarten, most seriously this spring. But at this point, Annie only has one year left before high school and I wouldn't move her now. Sending her to the big, public high school from a school where there are only 60 kids in her class seems like not a good idea. But she has asked if she could look at a smaller, public charter school and we will.

Charlie would love to go to public school -- because they don't wear uniforms and he's convinced they don't have as much homework. We're going to see how this year goes and consider sending him to the public middle school. Though quite honestly, I plan to send him to Catholic high school because I want him to be able to play competitive sports and the public school is so large that only the most elite players make the teams.

Finally, our Catholic school has been so supportive of Robbie and his various issues. We've worked closely with them for the past two years to make sure he's getting best education and the best support. I can't imagine starting that all over with a new school.

So Momza, that's why we choose to pay for private education. And I hope my Currency Crunch post didn't make it sound like I was whining about the expense. Because we are members of the parish, our tuition is about $3,000/child. I think it's an investment worth sacrificing for.


Momza said...

Wow. A whole post to answer my question(s)...and this is why we're friends, Amy! lol
Thank you for taking the time to answer so thoroughly.
We send our high schoolers to Seminary every school day --it's either before school (called early morning Seminary) or during school (called released-time seminary)--so I get your feelings about increasing faith on a daily basis.
As for the rest of your reasons, they make sense totally.
I'm just thinking that I couldn't afford to be a Catholic--lol--having seven children in school would cost 21,000.00 a year.
That's a new car. Or a family vacation. Or a diamond tiara--I've always wanted one, you know.
I also read the frugal lady's post too (I forgot her name)she seems to have some good ideas on getting a little help to paying for it.
Oh! One more question: Can non-Catholics attend your school?

Joanna said...

I attended that now-4,100-student high school, and I appreciated the big-school aspects of being able to pursue whatever it is I was interested in- with so many students, there were lots of niche activities and classes that didn't exist at smaller schools. That said, there were also lots of niches kids fell into that got them in trouble or lost in the crowd.

My brother-in-law & his siblings attended you kids' school, so I have plenty of respect for it, too. They're all such good kids.

Eternal Lizdom said...

I attended private school for high school. I'm hopefully more of an exception than the rule with my story.

The short version is that I'd done public school up until high school. Because of all the chaos in my childhood, even though I was smart as a whip, my brain was totally not focused on education- I was focused on survival. So by the time I was approaching high school, I had a very wonderful math teacher who called a meeting with my parents and basically told them that I was smart, that I had huge amounts of potential, that I was going to fall in with a crowd that would hold me back, and that staying in this good but large school district was going to cripple me.

She was right (hooray for foresight on her part and gratitude via hindsight on my part).

So we started searching private schools. I ended up going to a school that was private but with no religious basis. The education was excellent and I found my brain and I found a craving to learn and I ended up in a small, secure, and safe place to face the past that needed to be dealt with.

I'm all for private education. I think it's a decision every family has to make. For the majority of kids, a private education isn't necessary. And there will always be kids who come out of it totally messed up- but who's to say they wouldn't have come out even more lost and screwed up in a large public setting?

We bought our house in a great school district. Our kids will attend private kindergarten because they are attending preschool there and because it will give them, in my belief, a very firm educational and social skills foundation. This winter, I will begin looking at our options for 1st grade. Most likely, we start in the public setting. But if something surfaces this year with Teagan, it's good to know that private may be an option.

Amy said...

@Momza - I just looked at our fee schedule. For a family who are members of the parish, the cost for 5 children is just under $12k per year (thanks to the multi-child discount). So you'd have that going for you. Plus, depending on your family's income, I would guess with 7 children you might qualify for financial aid of some sort.

Yes, non-Catholics can and do attend our school. The tuition is significantly higher for non-parishioner families, however. Instead of $9,000 for my 3, we'd be paying $20,000 if we weren't members of the parish.

Anonymous said...

What a great conversation! As being a parent who will soon be facing the difficult decision - public v. private, it is great o hear everyone's insights and personal experiences with each.

Momza said...

I learned somethings today, so that makes it a really good day! Many thanks to you, Amy!

kimybeee said...

all perfectly wonderful reasons for your choices. and never feel that you have to defend your choices to anyone - our uniqueness and opinions are what makes us intersting individuals.

my kids - public school. i have been very involved since day one in kindergarten to present day. i got a letter in the mail today about coaching a competitive team for the kid's ffa chapter. they are a junior and a fresman this year. my kids are rednecks and while they enjoyed lots of athletics as younger people, as they got older their priorities changed and we just encourage them to do what they love.

my graduating class - 44 people and it was the second largest class ever in the history of the school. grades 7-12 had just around 250 people and it was a public country school!

Annie said...

i would hate to go to a public school at all. thanks mom for sending me to SMS :)

Missy Wheeler said...

I really enjoyed this post. I was sent to a Catholic high school during my sophomore year against my wishes by my mother(my parents were in the beginnings of a nasty 4 year divorce and this was her way of getting back at my dad) and it was the best thing for me. I really think it depends on a lot of things, private school is not for everyone, but for me it ended up being a great experience and saved me from going down a dark path. Plus I got a great education and freshman year of college seemed easy, like review.

PS. We were not Catholic.

Anonymous said...

I can' t but agree.I always wanted to write in my site something like that but I guess you' r faster.

kathi said...

Amy, I am a product of the fine Chicago Public School system and hubs also grew up in public schools in Anderson. We never dreamed we'd send our kids to a private school, let alone a Catholic one, as we are NOT Catholic. But, circumstances changed our feelings and we send our #2 kid to Cathedral for the Int'l Baccalaureate programme...then ended up sending #3 kid there as well. Everything you said is true...and we especially love the family atmosphere and the quality of people there (I can make many comparisons to the lack of manners at LCHS vs. great manners at CHS)...and their religion classes ("history", I think!) were among their favorite. We've been unemployed 6 times in nearly as many years, but pushed to keep them there...our final payment to CHS will be a happy day, but we are so glad we did it. I can honestly say my boys are growing into much better MEN, thanks to their education there.