Picking the right preschool or elementary school

Choosing the right educational facility is one of the most important decisions a parent can make.

Some background: Marc and I paid for our children to attend a private, Jewish preschool, which meant two and a half years of Wal-Mart brand cheese and basic cable.

I even attempted to earn extra money by selling Avon. Yep. Right hand to God. Lasted two weeks.

We chose their elementary school among our town’s best public options because I worked as a teacher in the district.

We moved out of town for one year, where Jacob and Zachary attended their neighborhood school for second grade and almost got pummeled by Christian bullies who thought it was 1490 instead of 2008.

Then we high-tailed it back to our hometown and enrolled them in a private Jewish day school for the rest of their elementary education.

Scholarships, y’all.

Daycare or preschool, private or public…this is what we were looking for, in general:

Certification. Any school should be able to show proof that they meet the necessary health and safety requirements in your county, city, or state. For more peace of mind, look for advanced certifications like Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence, plus decent test scores and data on student population so you can match up the best school with your kids.

Ask for proof that the playground and kitchen area have been inspected and deemed safe.

For private schools, ask for similar data and check with accrediting organizations like National Association for the Education of Young Children, National Accreditation Commission (NAC), a division of the National Association of Child Care Professionals (NACCP), etc.

Accommodations for little people. How high are the sinks? Sounds silly, but kids should be able to reach the sinks, water fountains, and toilets. It’s their school, after all.

Bright and colorful displays, along with large picture/word labels next to common areas (to aid with word recognition and spelling) are a must, too.

A decent discipline policy. What do teachers do when a kid misbehaves? It’s nice when the school reinforces the same values taught at home.

Different cultures. Our Jewish schools included children from different religions, colors, and ethnic backgrounds. Why is that important?

Sometimes, a school without diversity means minority kids are seen as different and targeted for those differences. It happened to my children when we moved out west.

Relax, people told us at the time, it will make your boys stronger.

Fuck you. They’re my kids and plenty strong. Besides, I wasn’t interested in raising them as a grand social experiment.

For public schools, we called our district and asked about their choice programs. We weren’t afraid to meet with school leaders and other decision-makers personally. We toured each school and looked around ourselves.

Again, we wanted a blend of different cultures and belief systems so that one demographic wasn’t singled out for ridicule, especially two smart and secular Jewish kids, who couldn’t understand why anyone would want them to spend eternity in a lake of fire.

Curriculum and homework. For our kids’ elementary education, we had plenty of choices. Magnet programs offered a specialized curriculum, traditional schools allowed for a well-rounded education, private schools added in foreign language and cultural studies. Do you want art, music, and physical education? Are there special needs to be considered? Is it important your kids get into Harvard at 15? Find a program that works for your children.

Active parents. Some kind of parent-teacher organization should involve plenty of concerned adults who care about the school. If you attend the first meeting and only three people show, two of whom got mixed up and thought it was Alcoholics Anonymous, that’s a red flag.

An environment in which our children will thrive. Parents know their kids better than anyone. Each child requires something different in the classroom and therefore, it’s important for parents to do their homework and find a school where their kids can do their best.

Some boys and girls can attend a large public elementary school, self-direct, focus, bond with other well-behaved kids, and excel.

To those parents I say, “Wanna trade?”

Other kids need a private facility with smaller classrooms, plenty of positive role models, and low incidents of bullying. If finances are limited, look into state-funded and privately-funded scholarships.

Aftercare. When my kids started preschool, I went back to teaching. Staying at home just wasn’t for me. So I needed an aftercare program that did not include parking them in front of the television. I found one.

A really great question to ask any school administrator: What are your expectations for your students? Make sure their answer matches your own.

One size rarely fits all. Thankfully, in many areas, we are moving away from the idea that an education should be based on where we live instead of how we learn. This is good news, but it means that parents have a lot of work to do in finding the right environment.

We all benefit when kids are in schools that work for them.