Every parent wants the best education for their child, but it can sometimes be hard to know which option is the best one. In Philadelphia, 65% of the city’s 237,000 school-age children exercise choice every day by attending a school other than their assigned neighborhood school. The Inquirer asked three parents, who all made different educational choices, to share their experiences and give advice to other parents grappling with this decision.
Name of parent: Carolyn Holloway
Mom of: Anaya, grade 7; A’yana, grade 8; Kenyatta, high school graduate
School of choice: Freire Charter Middle School in Center City
How’s it going? My daughters have all attended charter schools, and they’ve had great experiences that have changed their lives for the better. My oldest daughter is proud to have attended Freire High School, and I believe her time at Freire truly prepared her for success in her adult life. My younger daughters are in the seventh and eighth grades at Freire Middle School. Like Kenyatta, they’re benefitting from the extra support and attention they get at Freire Schools.
Biggest priority when choosing a school: My oldest daughter, now 24, sometimes struggled with tests. She would freeze up and have trouble doing her best work. She needed a school that would recognize her drive to do better and invest the extra time she needed to succeed. But the conventional public schools she had attended wanted her out of the building by 3 p.m. each day. At Freire, Kenyatta could stay after school for one-on-one lessons. She quickly developed discipline and focus because her learning style was supported.
Why I chose a charter school: I value traditional public education, and, for the past 9 years, I have volunteered my time to assist teachers at John M. Patterson Elementary School. But charter schools are also public schools. Charter schools offer parents and students the freedom to choose their educational path. They empower teachers with the ability to think creatively about how to present lesson plans. They empower students with the extra time and resources they need to succeed outside of regular school hours. They empower parents to actively engage with the educational process. And charter schools do all this while constantly persisting against political and financial obstacles to their existence.
What I tell other parents: Education is an exercise in persistence. I learned quickly that the road to college is not an easy one. My daughters have each had their struggles, but they’re willing to put in the hard work. Tour the schools you are interested in. Talk to teachers. Ask questions. School fairs and websites are great sources of information, but when I stepped inside Freire Charter School for first time, I immediately noticed that the buildings were safe and learning opportunities abundant.
Name of parent: Keiko Glover
Mom of: Maya, grade 2; Hanna, one year old
School of choice: Gen. Philip Kearny School in Northern Liberties
How’s it going? It’s been great. My daughter’s class is very small and she is doing well. Her reading and math levels are well above her grade. Teachers, staff, and students all know each other and we love it. Since I didn’t grew up in the U.S. and my husband grew up in the Philly suburbs, we didn’t know what it would be like to be at a public school in the city. We are happy that we committed ourselves to our neighborhood school.
Biggest priority when choosing a school: I went to local public schools in Japan with all other neighborhood kids, so sending our daughter to the neighborhood public school here in Philadelphia was a natural choice.
Why I chose a public school: I was only focused on sending my daughter to the neighborhood public school. I spent years working to understand the school before my daughter started kindergarten.
What I tell other parents: Trust your instincts and do what you think is right even if it’s not the popular sentiment. You don’t have to follow what other people are doing. If you want to send your child to a public school, I would encourage parents to support their neighborhood school. Be proactive and go meet the principal, teachers, and current parents at your neighborhood school to get to know the school. I’ve met many teachers at my daughter’s and other schools and they all are wonderful. The rating doesn’t reflect the school and there are so many great things happening at schools. No school is perfect and you can contribute to their future success. Invest in the neighborhood you live in.
Name of parent: Tracey M. Harris
Mom of: Tyanni Monique, 8th grade; Tyrese, 11th grade
Schools of choice: Tyanni attends St. Martin de Porres Catholic School. Tyrese attends Roman Catholic High School.
How’s it going: [It’s been] nothing but superb. My family feels we have chosen the correct schools for our children and we are looking forward to the high school selection process for my daughter and the college selection process for my son.
Biggest priority when choosing a school: [I looked at:] quality of the school and how much compassion the principal, teachers, and administrative have for the students; the school’s curriculum; and parental involvement within the school. I also looked at the safety of the school, academics, diversity, cost, graduation rate, the environment, and extracurricular activities.
Why I chose a Catholic school: The reason I chose Catholic education is because of the faith-centered environment. When my siblings and I were little, we grew up in the church. I also chose Catholic school because of the smaller class sizes. The teachers can try to address every child’s need. In my opinion, small class sizes can bring out the best as every child is unique.