The Right Fit for Education

by Sherry V. Crawley

We make choices every day, almost every minute, that shape our children in big and small ways. Watch TV or go outside? Yell or breathe? And while many decisions must be made in the moment, the really big ones, like selecting the right educational setting for each child, requires reflection and research. Meet four Atlanta-area families who selected different educational environments for their children. Despite the different options they chose, they share some beliefs:  They all emphasize the importance of considering your family’s values when debating school choice. They all were adamant about honoring the special qualities of each child and the obligation to search for the right fit for each little person. Atlanta Parent hopes their stories inspire you to pursue the best environment for your children.

Public School

Molly Leathers DeCarvalho, John DeCarvalho and their son Jonathan DeCarvalho, a first-grader at Gwinnett County Public School’s Simpson Elementary, Norcross
Molly said her family feel they have a role in making public schools better. Balancing that belief with the needs of her son requires her to be an active part of his educational experience.
Why did you choose this education option for your son? “I believe public school allows him to get more of a real perception of what the world is like. And Simpson is like so many great public schools out there – the teachers care about the kids and it is a welcoming environment.”
What are the challenges of being in public school? “We are trying to teach Jonathan to be a leader, not a follower. That can be tough in public school. They don’t accommodate ‘outside the box.’ I want the best for him and that takes a lot in the public school arena. You have to raise your hand when you need to.”
The majority of kids in Georgia are in public schools. What makes you so committed? “I’m going to fight for my kids the whole way. I know I have five years to make the middle school better before we get there. As parents, we need to collectively invest our time, our talents and our power to improve public schools for the future of our country.”
What guidance would you offer other parents who are entering public school? “I have to be his advocate. Otherwise your child can get left behind. There’s no one there to scoop him up and push him forward.”

Online

April Ogletree and Eric Gray and their son Xavier Van Alstyne, a fifth-grader, in Georgia Connections Academy, McDonough
The transition from public school to their first year of home school has been a little rough, Xavier’s mom April says. But the absence of distractions and bullying makes the Georgia Connections Academy, a public charter virtual school, right for her son.
Why did you choose an online school? “Xavier was having health issues so we started thinking about homeschooling,” April says. “I researched virtual schools and read experiences of other parents and decided that this would be an awesome option for him.”
So how does it work? April said Xavier has school in an area of their home set aside for learning from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day. “You can always email a teacher, and she will live video chat with him. He works at his own pace in each subject area. They do have assignments due by certain times, but they aren’t rushed.” She added that there are group field trips and lots of opportunities to interact with other children.
What should other parents know when considering this option? “A child has to be more of an independent learner for this to work,” she says. And as for mom, “I don’t have a lot of ‘me time’ anymore now that he is home.”

Private School

Gayatri Sethi and Charles Earl and their daughter Virika Earl, a first-grader at The Waldorf School of Atlanta and her brother, Azad Earl, who is homeschooled, Decatur
Gayatri and her husband carefully considered each of their children’s personalities before deciding to send Virika to Waldorf, a private school that focuses on hands-on learning. Like many other schools, this private school has a high expectation of parental involvement.
How did you approach choosing a school for your children? “I had some very clear goals for both of my children – that they be lifelong lovers of learning and confident in the world and serve the larger community in some form.”
Why was this private school the right choice for your daughter? “The Waldorf philosophy believes that childhood is sacred. There is a great deal of thoughtfulness and intentionality behind how children are taught, treated and nurtured.” She also said that the respect for diversity drew her family to Waldorf.
What challenges might families face at a private school? Considering your family’s culture is important to school choice, according to Gayatri. For example, “If a family’s culture is dependent on media, they will struggle at this school. There is an expectation that you do not overexpose your children to popular culture. You won’t find iPads in our classrooms but you will find knitting needles!”
What advice would you give other parents as they consider their options? “Be clear on what your educational values and goals are for your family. What kind of person do we want to raise? And then look to the outside to see what the options are.”

Public Charter School

Dana Lee, husband David Lee, and their son David, a sixth-grader, Eva, a second-grader and Dominic, a first-grader, at Wesley International Academy, an Atlanta Public School charter, Glenwood Park
Dana says her family was seeking a rigorous educational environment that would challenge her children to see the world from many perspectives. Charter schools empower parents to create learning choices that are right for their community, she says.
Why did you choose a charter school for your children? “I wanted them to be in an environment that honors all aspects of diversity. Wesley is really a very unique culture that you don’t find often in the city of Atlanta. Being in this neighborhood is a plus, too – the school is close to us so we can invest in it and stand behind it.” Wesley is an International Baccalaureate school with single-gender classrooms, and students receive daily Mandarin Chinese instruction.
What should a parent know when considering a charter school? “It takes work. We have to fight for resources, and that means having priorities and making choices. But the parents are heavily invested in the school so we find support in each other.” Her husband served on the founding PTA board, and most charter schools come with an expectation of parental financial support.
What advice would you give parents considering the same option? “You have to visit the school and see if the culture fits your values. Think about if you are going to be able to put in the time and effort it takes. Have patience and realize that with the financial challenges of a charter school, creativity is required.”