Choosing the best middle school for our kids

Our hometown has many terrific middle schools. Private, public, magnet and charters each have their own particular sets of strengths and weaknesses. Parents, who know their kids better than anyone, must find the place where their children will thrive.

That was our job.

After an exhaustive search, Marc and I narrowed that list down to three excellent choices: our own beloved private school, a traditional school, and an outstanding IB magnet program.

Luckily for me, and everyone involved, the tours went well. I met with educators and administrators, as well as current students and their families. In every setting, the educators’ professionalism and love for teaching, as well as impressive students who actually liked their school, made my decision even harder to make.

I peered inside classrooms that weren’t crowded and observed teachers who had the time and inclination to help everyone. I walked hallways filled with a blend of ethnic identities. Marc and I met active and concerned parents. These factors were all important, but again, it made me wonder how to choose among the best?

Friends and family members had their own opinions.

“Put your kids in private school their whole lives and you’ll wind up with spoiled brats who only relate to other spoiled brats. Don’t you want them to be able to throw a football?”

“Stay away from that school. It’s like naptime for three years.”

“Public schools are dangerous, with fights every week and most of the kids are on drugs.”

We took Jacob and Zachary to visit both the traditional and magnet schools in order to get their important feedback. The ultimate decision was, most certainly, ours to make, but Marc and I wanted to hear what our kids thought, too. At first, Jake and Zach preferred their private school, where they knew everyone and felt comfortable.

“We like all the teachers, Mom,” they reminded me. “Even the tough ones.”

Then they discovered an amazing bit of news. At the traditional school, they’d get PE every day and the magnet’s cafeteria served pizza for lunch.

Suddenly, public schools didn’t seem so bad.

While Jake and Zach slept peacefully each night, dreaming about carbs and daily basketball games, I tossed and turned, with more important issues on my mind. I wished we could see into the future for a hint that we weren’t making a huge mistake.

During the day, Marc and I plunged ahead and focused on the next step. We ranked our choices accordingly:

  1. Magnet – Ultimately, the rigorous academic environment, uniforms, early hours, diverse and brilliant student population, as well as access to technology, made it our first choice.
  2. Traditional School – It boasted individualized instruction, competitive sports, advanced students, involved parents, technology in every classroom and a dedicated group of educators.
  3. Private school – If our foray into public school was a mistake, I won’t pretend I was not comforted by this oasis of excellence waiting for us. We could always go home.

I completed two applications for the magnet program, and sent paperwork downtown to be entered into a lottery. Our county’s Magnet Office had a computer that chose the lucky students at random.

I also began looking for homes in the neighborhood near the traditional school. Marc and I decided we’d rent a house for a year in that neighborhood, just to see how this experiment turned out.

All the while, we avoided the typical, Jewish guilt at their private school, sad looks from administrators who didn’t want to see us go, but knew we had to do what was best for our boys.

After waiting for what seemed like forever, we finally received our notification in the mail.

Jacob and Zachary had been accepted at a completely different magnet program.

I stared at the notice for a few minutes.

“We didn’t apply to this one,” I kept saying.

Our county was opening more IB programs and automatically redirected our children to the closest school. Later that night, Marc and I laughed at the absurdity of it all. We’d spent months researching and planning, narrowing our choices based on carefully considered criteria, yet ultimately our children were placed somewhere entirely different, chosen by a computer downtown.

“What have we gotten ourselves into?” I asked.

Ultimately we moved to another area of town, transferred them to the magnet school of choice, all while praying to get through those three important years without drugs or drama.

Our journey into middle school was about to begin.