01 February 2011

The Education Dilemma

The time has come to yet again be looking into preschool for Cha Cha. It is a tough process because of all the usual restriction such as price, availability, location and so on, but also because I am not sure how I feel about the whole concept of preschool anyway. While she is ready, and we will probably do something come the fall despite my reservations, it is just such an angst riddled decision.

She is currently in the lottery for a spot as a model student in a program run by the local school district. In a nut-shell they run free pre-school for any kids in the district who require early-intervention services and then fill the classes with a proportion of "model" students. The good news about this program is that it would be free; the bad news is that it is a 20 minute drive away meaning, at a minimum, an hour a day in the car to make it all happen. While she is likely to get a spot (current enrollment is low), we won't know for sure until June. I also have some reservations about the whole placing her in the role of "model" or "leader" at such a young age thing, but that is a whole other set of issues that are not really relevant to the logical decision making process.

Assuming we don't get in there or we chose not to do the program, then we get into local schools and well, it is real quagmire. First off, pre-school here is insanely expensive. I'm talking anywhere from $70 to $200 per week for many. I know that this is nothing compared to private pre-schools that run in the four figure range per month and the general cost of childcare in this country, but goddess have mercy that is a lot of money so the kid can color in a group three days a week. I am so glad that we are at least here and not still in VA. In our area it was the kind of pre-school mania that you only see in fictional chick-lit about Manhattan mommies. Insane I tell you, just insane. Now, back to the point at hand. While paying for it technically isn't an issue for us, we can swing this if desired, I am not sure it is desired. It seems like a lot of money, money that could be put in 529s and savings accounts, especially when I am home full-time. Sure pre-school offers many things that being at home with mom doesn't but, at that price I can buy a lot of swim lessons, dance classes, tumbling classes, kinder-music, museum memberships and story times at the library.

I think it all boils down to us having to decide just what we want her to get out of the experience. I am not sure she will be learning anything in terms of academics that she couldn't learn at home with me, but there is something to be said for the introduction to the school environment as prep for kindergarten. I think she would also enjoy the social aspect in that while we have lots of little friends we see a few times a week for various activities, the structure of a constant group of kids, many who will enter public school with her, will be beneficial. I am also anxious to get her into more structured activities because I think it will provide some stability when things get tough around here. The next few years will be pretty crazy with Chris on insane hours and unpredictable schedules (and that is just when they are in port, who the hell knows when, where and for how long he will deploy on as a little 12 hours notice) so something concrete that we keep doing, all the time, no matter what might be really helpful to her. I also can't overlook the fact that this choice impacts Bitz as well. Cha Cha going to school would allow a chance for Bitz to have the same early education experiences with which Cha Cha was provided. It may be very helpful to all of us if Cha Cha had something special for her that also allowed Bitz to have some quality time as the star of the show. Sure I can work it so that Bitz does all her classes and what have you with Cha Cha in tow, but it gets much easier if everyone has their own thing. Lastly, 3.75 years of parenting and providing for her every need 24/7…maybe we all need a change. Preschool is not just a way to "get rid" of a kid for a few hours, but it might be time for us all to have a change of pace. I guess I need to suck it up and realize that while I don't think pre-school is the" be all, end all" of childhood education, it will be filling an important role for us and therefore, this is the right choice for our family as of now.

Right now I have found one choice that seems viable. It is very close to the house, runs great programs for her age group, is highly recommended by many other mommies and is in a price range that doesn't make me gasp. (Actually it is the only one I would describe as reasonable thus far. When a gal pal told me the cost I nearly died with joy because it is amazing as compared to what other schools are commanding.) It is actually the perfect school, but everyone else seems to think so too. Needless to say calling tomorrow for info and applications is on my to-do list. It is nice to know that the other program is an option, but I think we do need to do pre-school and that this will be our number one pick.

Yet again, I am that obnoxious woman, stressing about school applications for a kid who still eats her boogers. Oh well, this is my American life…better start padding her resume for the application process. Hahahah, never mind that is just the Norfolk Yummie Mummie in me breaking out. Thankfully here in the northeast we stand by the traditional measures of education such as having a pulse, looking good in a plaid school uniform and the ability of one's parents to write checks. Joking…but only kind of.


Alicen said...

Yeah that "lastly" point you made was pretty much the exact reason for us putting Nathan in school despite the cost! Add in that he was also complaining and sad because he had "no friends", it was quite pitiful actually, and the fact he refused to do any sort of learning at home and our decision was pretty easy.

I feel that preschool can be very good for some children but I don't think it will get them into Harvard any faster! I mean really, you don't have to know much to be ready for kindergarten.

The preschool phenomenon around here is pretty crazy too! There are 2 schools that apparently are the be all and parents drive 30 mins- 1 hour and come over the bridge to take their kids there instead of somewhere close to home. No lie, they all but camp out when it's registration time...which is in Feb! Apparently the one Nathan goes to is highly regarded as well as found out the day when some random person asked where he went and then responded with a "Oh wow, that is a great school". I had no idea, I know we love it but the only reason we chose that one is because that is the only one Brian would pay for.

I think in areas like Norfolk and here it all come down to the fact that these Mommies use it as a status symbol instead of a place for their child to go to help be prepared for kindergarten. It's preschool people, PRESCHOOL!!

Sarah said...

Since I live in VA, you know first hand what preschool around here is. You have your choice of a private preschool (which equates to the status symbol that Moms can throw out in conversation in the hopes they can trump the other Moms school) or the church run preschools. The rest are your chain "preschool" that are really just day care. The prices are astronomical and with two kids going to school at the same time, it just isn't cost effective yet. Nor do I think it will be until they can go to public school full time (I also have differing views on that).

This whole topic has been a large frustration to me for awhile and I often get discouraged. I decided that preschool would be great for my kids for very similiar reasons that you and Alicen listed. I just wish it didn't cost an arm and a leg and about fifty other body parts.

Alexis said...

That is the crazy bit. I am not even sure I care if we do preschool, but I can see how it matters for Cha Cha. She is also somewhat resistant to learning at home, which I get, so maybe this is just what kids needs to do. The real issue here is mine, and mine alone. Mah Baby!

Alexis said...

I can see how with the twins it would be wildly expensive to send them. It is tough because I think there are a lot of merits to preschool, but really, will any of this matter in 3 years? No, It will not. Now I get why people are crazy about the idea of mandatory pre-k...what a time/money saver that would be for parents.