Four Frequently Asked Questions (and Answers) Every Parent Should Know Should I choose a public or a private school? And what about homeschooling?
There are many factors to consider when deciding how to educate your child. Though homeschooling is quite popular in our region, most people are trying to decide between public and private school, a decision complicated by the diverse educational philosophies represented here in the Hudson Valley. We have everything from Catholic schools to traditional college prep to a military academy to several Waldorf schools that don’t allow computers — and even discourage their use at home.
Education expert Shannon Devereaux Sanford, author of the Parent’s Guide to Hudson Valley Schools, says the best place to start is with cost — pure and simple. Private school is expensive, and while scholarships and financial aid are often available, it is an expense many families just cannot afford. Next, examine your motivations. Is private school what is really best for your child, or something that you, the parent, want? If you find it’s the former, begin looking for a school whose philosophy is complementary to your lifestyle and beliefs.
Sanford warns that it’s not a good idea to settle for a school that doesn’t meet all your criteria. “It has to be a near-perfect fit. Don’t say, ‘Well, this one thing is really great and I can deal with all the other things that aren’t so great.’ You won’t be able to.” In general, there are many benefits to a private education. Largely unfettered by things like standardized testing, private school curriculums tend to be more diverse and challenging; it’s easier to find a place where your child can pursue his unique interests and talents. And you are able to hand-pick a community of like-minded parents and peers for your children.
Public school has its benefits as well, varying within each district, which will determine everything from class size to the accessibility of arts education and athletic extracurriculars. “If you have public schools with small class sizes, save your money [and skip private school],” Sanford urges, explaining that with small classes, kids will get more individualized attention which is key whether they struggle academically or excel. The other time public school should be a first choice is if your child has special needs — as public schools tend to be better funded and can offer more robust services.
» Private school privilege: Want to know more about the special program’s at the Valley’s private schools? We’ve got the goods, including stats and tuition, for 30 local institutions.
Having a high-achieving child who was marginalized in public school led Brenda Storz to homeschooling — the oft-forgotten third option. After an exceptional preschool and kindergarten experience in a progressive “parents classroom,” Storz was disheartened when the public school refused to accommodate her first grader’s advanced reading level. That is when she discovered homeschooling. Two years later, Storz moved to the Warwick area and after a year of research and networking, she founded Hudson Valley Homeschoolers, a uniquely diverse and inclusive community which challenges the popular misconception that homeschoolers are isolated or behind the times.
“When you have a true community, all the things that people see as pitfalls of homeschooling fall away,” says Storz. “If we can do it together we can help keep the adventure joyful. It helps nurture a lifelong love of learning for kids and parents.” While there are a dearth of studies about how homeschooled kids fare in college, a recent study in the Journal of College Admission found that homeschooled students had higher ACT scores and grade-point averages once they got to college.
There are approximately 80 families in Hudson Valley Homeschoolers, representing all educational philosophies and faiths. The group supports families with children in the full K-12 range, and cohesively plans out a full calendar of regularly scheduled events for the school year including weekly elective classes followed by afternoons socializing at a park, field trips twice a month, monthly family events, teen-oriented events, community service projects, and seasonal family retreats.
The most obvious pro of homeschooling is that no child is left with a one-size-fits-all education. “When we provide a curriculum that meets the individual needs, interests, talents, and learning disposition of the child, it encourages deep and meaningful learning,” says Storz, who now homeschools all three of her children, ages 12, eight, and four.
Storz does admit that homeschooling is not the perfect choice for everyone. It often requires one stay-at-home parent, and is incredibly time consuming, especially when tailoring curriculums for children of different ages and/or learning dispositions. It can also be more expensive than private school, though there are families who make it work with very limited resources. “Homeschooling is not the easy choice,” she says. “But it’s an amazing journey.”