On Monday, Hubby and I tool the day off of work to visit a couple of potential schools for Pumpkin. We're faced with a decision because while our neighborhood school has a decent reputation, we don't think it offers any language instruction- not even in the after school programs. This bothers us for several reasons:
- Pumpkin likes learning languages, and early indications are that Petunia will, too (she certainly loves our language DVDs).
- Research shows that early childhood is the best time to learn a second language. There is also research indicating that learning one new language makes it easier to learn other languages later, and that it can improve performance in your native language, too. (Yes, I am too lazy to dig up the links to that research. Sorry.)
- This is one academic area in which we feel completely unqualified to offer enrichment at home. As a scientist and an engineer, both now working in computers, we can probably cover the math/science/tech area. I like history and we both like to read, so we can probably cover those areas, too. But neither of us is fluent in another language, which we both regret. So, like all good parents, we're going to try to have our children make up for our shortcomings.
Another magnet is a "Spanish enrichment" school in a neighborhood that would be convenient for our commute to and from work. Its curriculum includes 30 minutes of Spanish instruction every day, except for the "minimal day" (half day) that all San Diego public schools have every week due to budget cuts. We wondered if this level of Spanish would be worth the extra drive.
There are two other language magnets that we have considered. One offers an immersion program in French or Spanish, but is in a location that is not at all convenient for us- it is at least 20 minutes out of the way for our commute. There would be buses, but these have been cut recently, too, and we're not sure we want our kids to have long bus commutes this early in their education. The other offers a semi-immersion program in Chinese. It is in a moderately inconvenient location- Google maps says it is a 13 minute drive from our house, but we know that it is in a part of town with bad rush hour traffic. Also, it seems that the curriculum hasn't really stabilized. They started as an enrichment program and are now transitioning to immersion (except for "English language arts"- i.e., reading and grammar). So we hadn't really been considering it.
But now... well, now we're scrambling a bit to figure out what we should do. I hate to say it, but my friend who was horrified that we hadn't started looking into schools at this time last year was probably right: we should have started working on this earlier.
We loved the Spanish immersion school in our neighborhood. We got to see the Kindergarten classes, and they were amazing. The students were all speaking (and reading!) Spanish. They seemed happy, and while the school's resources aren't amazing, they aren't bad. There is a diverse group of students, both in terms of race and socioeconomic status, which we like. The magnet resource teacher who gave the tour had great answers to all of our questions. In short, we would be very, very happy if Pumpkin got to go to school there. But our chances are not great. The school had 300 applicants for 160 spots for this school year. They have divided the district into three zones, and we are in the zone that gets the fewest spots (23% of the incoming class). Now, we don't know how many applicants they usually get from our zone, so maybe it isn't so bad. But we can't count on getting in, so at the very least we need a strong plan B.
We thought the Spanish enrichment magnet was OK. However, the magnet resource teacher who gave the tour seemed to be downplaying the Spanish curriculum. This could have been because a couple of other parents on the tour responded quite negatively to her discussion of the Spanish program. They gave the impression that they thought learning a second language was a waste of time that would take valuable class time away from some other, more important subject. So maybe she was just trying to allay their fears. I need to call the magnet teacher and figure out what the goal of the Spanish program is at that school. Should a child who completes K-5 at that school be able to place in an intermediate or advanced Spanish class in middle school? Or is it more like the Spanish I had in school, which left me able to count and say a few colors, and not much else? The rest of the programs at that school seemed fine, but I was left with a vague feeling of unease about the other parents. I think most people were there looking at the school because it would get them on track to feed into one of the higher ranked high schools in the district, and not because of the programs that school offered. Several of the other parents were talking about how they wished they could get into the school in the next neighborhood over, which is ranked as one of the best in San Diego. Fair enough- but the reliance on the single number ranking has problems, and that ranking is based largely on test scores. I suspect that the other school has such high test scores because it takes very few out of area kids, and it is in a relatively wealthy part of town. Interestingly, some of the other parents were planning to check out our neighborhood school, too.
We can't go and visit our neighborhood school until January 31. I suspect that it will seem on par with the Spanish enrichment magnet, but without any language offerings. I've been looking into whether we could add an after school language program on our own, and we could, but it may not be easy. There are classes available from several places, but they typically start at 4:30- which is a little early for us. One of us would have to tweak our schedule to make that happen. I did find one program that will bring the class to you at a time of your choosing, so that might be an option if we could either find one other family who was interested in it or were willing to pay for a two person class on our own. Or, we could try to find an after school nanny who could tutor Spanish (given our proximity to Mexico, I actually suspect that this would be feasible).
We've also started thinking about our other options. Perhaps we should reconsider that Chinese magnet. We're running short on time for visits- we're both really busy at work right now, so all of these visits are difficult to schedule. However, there is a "school fair" that we could attend on January 28, which would give us some information. We could write the Chinese magnet in as our third choice, and then figure out whether or not we would take the space if it were offered to us. The only problem with this approach is that writing anything in addition to our first choice makes it a little harder for us to get our first choice. The initial lottery disregards this information, but they place everyone into schools if they can- and then take them out of consideration if a spot opens up later at the top choice school. The magnet teacher at the Spanish immersion school gave us some tips for handling that, though.
Another option would be to consider private schools as a fall back plan. The "top" private school in our area offers language classes (of course). It also costs $23,000 per year. We might get financial aid, but I'm doubtful. Remember that we will eventually have two kids in school and this school runs through high school (and I sort of doubt we'd have the fortitude to pull our kids out of the private school as they got older- but you never know). Also, the diversity at that school isn't so great (as you'd expect with a price tag like that).
There is also a French bilingual school that actually is accredited in France as well as California. It is in a location that would be moderately inconvenient, but not terrible for us. We know some people who sends their kids there, and they really like it. The kids are also bona fide polyglots, thanks to the fact that their parents have two different native languages (neither of them English), and there is French and Spanish taught at the school. I think the older child is also starting Chinese now. My husband works with the mother, so he is going to ask her for more details- like how much it costs. We could call the school and get this information, too. It is not on their website. We also don't know when we'd have to apply for that school, and when we'd have to commit to it if we wanted to go there.
So, we have some tough decisions ahead. Here are the options as I see them:
- Write all three possible magnets on our choice form, with the Spanish immersion one as our top choice. Follow up as recommended by the magnet teacher and hope for the best. We've heard that it is very likely (almost certain) that we would be offered one of the three choices.
- Write only the Spanish immersion school on our choice form, but research the French bilingual private school and consider that our back up plan.
- Write only the Spanish immersion school on our choice form, consider our neighborhood school as our back up plan, and assume that we will be able to make some sort of after school or weekend language class or tutoring work out.
- Let go of our obsession with having our kids learn a second language. Write the Spanish immersion school on our form, hope for the best, but just go with the flow at our neighborhood school if we don't get it.