On the Subject of School: So Many Choices
The days of the “neighborhood school” as your family’s only choice are a thing of the past. Parents today have so many options in terms of the school experience and environment they want for their children. From special approaches to focused subject matter, parents have the ability to explore school choices in both private and public schools. Atlanta Parent talked to local parents about how they made the call on which was the right fit.
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With the growth of STEM careers, educational programs focused on these subjects provide a more in-depth approach for students interested in science, technology, engineering and math.
Sara Crosby’s sons, Blake and Cooper, attend Fulton Science Academy, a private school in Alpharetta serving advanced and gifted students. Initially, Crosby was a kindergarten public school teacher. “Blake was picking things up much faster than typical kids his age. He was going to be a gifted student, and as a teacher, I knew that was not who I catered to.”
After attending FSA’s open house, she enrolled Blake. His first-grade teacher asked Crosby for permission to test him to see if he could advance. “Usually, as a parent, you have to be the advocate and really, really push for the school to accommodate. But they were the ones telling me, ‘He needs more, and we’re going to provide it.’”
Crosby loves the school’s diversity. “It’s really welcoming. There is somebody there to represent every nationality, every culture. It truly is a melting pot.”
Keisha Palmer originally heard about Centennial Academy through word-of-mouth. Centennial Academy is a charter school dedicated to providing a rigorous STEM curriculum.
They chose the Academy for the STEM program, classroom placement based on academic levels and the smaller classroom sizes. “We believed those factors would collectively contribute to an environment supporting personalized growth, sense of self and academic excellence. We valued the school’s comprehensive approach, particularly the continuity of education from kindergarten through eighth grade.”
Her daughters, Reed and Sydney, have attended the school since their kindergarten years and have been at the Academy for seven and four years, respectively.
“I appreciate the inclusive and supportive school culture,” Palmer says. “Diversity is celebrated, and there’s a strong sense of community. The accessibility of teachers and administrators with their open-door policy enhances communication and encourages a collaborative partnership between home and school. My children enjoy the supportive environment from their teachers and administrators, and they also love the range of extracurricular activities offered.”
Lesley Litt’s son, Stephen, attended Kennesaw Mountain High School’s magnet program, The Academy of Mathematics, Science, and Technology, for four years. Students enter the Academy as freshmen via a competitive application process.
It was originally Stephen’s middle school science teacher who suggested the program. After conversations with the magnet director and Stephen, along with an open house visit, the family decided to apply.
After enrollment, Litt knew they’d made the right choice. “He was excited to be around a bunch of students who were similar to him. He was very focused in his classes, and there were fewer collateral distractions. Other students were focused, and they liked school.”
Currently, Stephen is a double major in biochemistry and music at UNC Chapel Hill, and Litt knows he learned the skills to be successful from the Academy. “Time management is the most important thing. The program gave him a leg up on that. He is adept at managing his time, to the minute, and he does what he has to do.”
Some kids show a natural talent for the arts, whether with theater, music, photography or the fine arts. Finding a program that can support students’ creativity while providing quality academics is available at many schools across metro Atlanta.
Bre Allen’s son, fourth grader Brycen, has attended the North Metro Academy of Performing Arts since kindergarten. NMAPA is Gwinnett County Public Schools’ first themed elementary school.
When the family moved, his previous preschool was no longer in the area. “I’m a product of private school education, and the public school system intimidated me; it was so big. I was looking for a smaller school. I reached out to North Metro and took a tour. It felt like home.”
After taking Brycen, he was excited, so the school seemed like a good fit. “He really enjoys all the activities. Up until fourth grade, they allow the students to dabble in all the fine arts, and the wide variety has allowed him to learn about his own interests. He loves his friends, and he’s able to be very active.”
Jessica Reed’s son, Rickie, is an eighth grader at General Ray Davis Middle School’s Academy for Performing and Visual Arts, which explores and develops artistic talents within students.
“I heard lots of great things about the Academy, and I was impressed with the school’s test scores,” Reed says. “I remember the excitement in the community when GRDMS opened, and I heard about the Academy through word-of-mouth from other parents.”
Rickie likes the band and film programs, while Reed is impressed with the faculty and staff. “I like the fact the teachers and administrators have a genuine interest in helping the children succeed.”
As our world continues to be globally connected, some families want to increase their child’s language skills and cultural awareness through the school they attend.
Tiyash Bandyopadhyay’s son, Utshaho Bandyopadhyay Gupta, attends Atlanta International School, a private International Baccalaureate World School with full and dual-immersion language programs.
The family chose the school for three reasons: “We had the desire to raise down-to-earth, independent kids; the opportunity to study multiple languages to the extent of becoming native speakers, and the allure of an international community, where our kids could freely be themselves.”
Even in the ninth grade, Bandyopadhyay already sees how his education will positively affect his career. “AIS encourages kids to think beyond lines, across subjects and questioningly. I am an engineer who works in product innovation, and this is increasingly a crucial skill in the workforce, whether it is in solving world problems or building innovative products.”
Utshaho enjoys his educational experience. “I love how culturally and academically diverse this school is, with many different extracurriculars ranging from STEAM to liberal arts to athletics,” he says.
Astrid Balderas’ son, Akira Loudermilk, is a kindergarten student at International Charter Academy of Georgia, where he’s been a student for nearly 5 months. ICAGeorgia is a statewide charter school offering dual-language immersion in English and Japanese.
The parents saw the flyers for the school and researched it online. The dual-language immersion program, smaller groups and the above average student performance helped them make their decision. “As immigrant parents, it has been a priority to expose our child to our cultures, and we found this school and their system to be the perfect opportunity to give him that privilege.”
“We love that kids are in an environment where they are learning a second language. Akira is half-Japanese and half-Mexican, so it’s important to us he surrounds himself with the culture this school provides. He loves playing with his friends and getting to know new ones. It’s amazing to see how kids can bypass language barriers and still communicate to form bonds in other ways.”
Some children may thrive in a smaller, more personal setting based on principles that support character growth along with academics.
Adrienne Morrison’s son, Kenton Cousins, is a sixth grader at Atlanta SMART Academy, a charter school using science, math and the arts to develop innovative solutionists. The school’s core values are compassion, creativity, competence and collaboration.
Morrison began looking for a new pathway during the pandemic. “At the open house, the teachers remembered Kenton from his week visiting during the summer, and when they recognized him, it was wonderful.”
Morrison has noticed an improvement in Kenton’s confidence, and she loves the school’s sense of community. “It’s like a family. Kenton plays football, and teachers have come to his games. The counselor has given me advice on what my daughter should be doing in 10th grade, and she never went to Atlanta SMART Academy! During the summer, teachers find things to involve my children in. It’s the caring part of it.”
Since 2018, Skyla and King Hare have attended Genesis Innovation Academy, a charter school separated by gender. Skyla is now in seventh grade, and King is in fifth.
Mary Hare heard about the school from her mother-in-law. The deciding factor was attending the open house. “There was not just a focus on grades, but also a focus on teaching young men and women how to live.”
Genesis has twelve core values: gratitude, excellence, nobility, empathy, service, ingenuity, stewardship, perseverance, optimism, work ethic, empowerment and restraint. King recently won Scholar of the Month for his work ethic. “Genesis focuses more on how to move about in life, not necessarily just on knowing math and science. There is a focus on what you need to be a great person in life.”
“My kids have wonderful, like-minded friends. They enjoy their classes, and they’re challenged,” she adds.
Both Hare and her mother-in-law are involved in the school. “We’ve seen the strides and changes that have taken place and how everyone tries to live out the Genesis way. It takes a village.”
Ben and Leslie Mauldin’s children, Ella and Hayes, attend North Cobb Christian School, a private school in Kennesaw. Faith-based schools incorporate elements of faith into the curriculum.
The parents originally heard about NCCS through their neighbors. “We always felt a private Christian education was the right fit for our children but were intimidated by costs,” Leslie says. After a discussion with the admission staff and a tour, the parents decided. “Through prayer and sacrifice, we are grateful to have both of our children at NCCS together.”
They love the family atmosphere. “NCCS is a special place,” Ben says. “Even though the school has grown throughout the years, the ability to keep the family feel and personal attention has not been lost.”
“Our children love their school immensely from the lifelong friendships they have made to the incredible teachers that pour into them daily. NCCS provides great opportunities, such as weekly chapel, Spring Term trips and electives that unveil talents,” Leslie says.
Families who might need more flexibility for medical, travel or extracurricular reasons will want to consider virtual education.
Anatavia Benson rethought education during what she calls the “corona-pocalypse,” as her family is immunocompromised. “We needed social distancing to occur at the same time as education. In the midst of this, my son was moving to middle school and starting his career at a school that wasn’t the right fit. Fulton Academy of Virtual Excellence could accommodate our needs and provide a great education.”
Her three children, Joshua, Gabriael and Kathryn, have been at FAVE since its 2021 inception.
Benson loves the sense of community. “It’s a virtual setting, but there doesn’t feel like a disconnect. Teachers know students, and students are engaged and comfortable talking with one another. Teachers treat students as if they’re intelligent human beings, which fosters trust and builds communication.”
Benson also loves the flexibility. “My kiddos have become more independent.” She knows they feel comfortable at FAVE. “It’s not unusual for one of my kiddos to say, ‘He or she is weird like me! I can talk about this with them, and they understand.’”
Jessi Williams’ family has attended Connections Academy for 13 years. While they originally joined in Indiana, they started Georgia Connections Academy in 2015. Krystale graduated in 2020, Ceanna is a senior, and Teagan is a sophomore.
Krystale was being bullied and recommended for special education classes, so Williams wanted a new option. “Connections had the resources of a regular school, and we could figure out what was going on together.” When Ceanna started to have health problems, they decided to move her as well. “It is one of the best decisions we’ve ever made for our kids.”
Williams loves the connection with the teachers. “The teachers keep us here. They are able to create this special relationship with the students.”
Along with academics, Williams witnesses her daughters learning time management, prioritization, self-advocacy and communication. “When they move on to college or jobs, they don’t have to learn these skills, as they’ve become innate.”
The girls appreciate the flexibility. “I like how helpful the teachers are when I need it the most. They always tell us we can go to them any time,” Ceanna adds.
Some families may consider an approach focused on the natural curiosity of children. Both Montessori and Waldorf styles of learning do just that and are well-established, dating back 100-plus years.
Sarah Kenning’s children, Jackson and Lauren, attended Arbor Montessori School for four years. In New York, the family had been part of Montessori education, which they wanted to continue after moving to Atlanta. Montessori is a child-focused and student-led approach guided by nurturing teachers.
Kenning was impressed by the school’s ability to accommodate. “They knew my daughter had ADHD and dyslexia, which scared some schools, but they knew they could absolutely meet her where she was. Montessori education is all about tolerance and inclusion, and Arbor really means it, not just in terms of race and gender, but also with neurodiversity.”
Kenning often hears the misconception that Montessori education is unstructured. “It’s about the child learning and exploring things for themselves in a structured environment.” For example, Jackson’s class would discuss political and societal issues. “No matter where the child was coming from, they got to research different beliefs to come up with their own thoughts. They got the child to think not just of themselves, but also globally. My children love learning and going to school because of Arbor and Montessori.”
Waldorf schools offer a learning environment focused on honoring childhood and preparing kids for a lifetime of learning, while embracing nature, sustainability and promoting rigorous academics.
Ayana Reddick began her experience with Waldorf education when son, Zeke, was 2. At a visit to The Children’s Garden, she was impressed with a teacher’s patience. “I knew I wanted to have that kind of patience, and I wanted my kids to experience it. As part of the Waldorf curriculum, they do a lot of things differently.”
After preschool, Zeke enrolled in a charter school, which wasn’t a fit. They visited Waldorf School of Atlanta and signed him up immediately. Zeke attended from the second semester of first grade to eighth grade. Reddick’s daughter, Anaya, started the school at age 4.
Reddick loves the focus on childhood. “The way this education serves every child blows me away. As parents, we want our children to achieve great success, and it can be scary to allow them the freedom to participate fully in the magic of childhood. Allowing our children to love learning and feel comfortable and safe in who they are is the best way for them to find true success.”
Parents Share Their Advice
If you’re thinking about school choice for your child, listen to these parents.
“Know your child and have a list of things you’re looking to check off,” Allen says. “Take the time to see if it’s a good fit.”
Look at more than just academics. “You want an excellent academic school, but you also want a school that will meet your child’s other needs,” Kenning says. “Look for a school that’s going to look at your child as a whole; it’s not just a place where they’re pushed to make As.”
Make sure to attend tours or open houses and reach out to the administration and other parents.
“Consider outside-the-box options, do your research and go with what you consider best,” Balderas says. “School is a very important part of a child’s upbringing, but always remember education is just a part of it. A lot of work has to come from the parents.”
“Ask every single question you could possibly ask. Be transparent about what you’re looking for and what your child needs, the challenges you might have had and what you hope your child will receive,” Benson says.
Know your child’s strengths. “It is really true that what may be magical for one family may not at all work for another,” Bandyopadhyay adds.
Likely, you will have to do your own research to discover the options available to you. “I was one of those parents who asked questions,” Morrison says. “I’m driving both my kids to two different schools to give them a better chance at education.” Her daughter, Kinsley Cousins, is a sophomore, and through Atlanta Public Schools, she can attend Carver Early College, a school not in her zone.
Reed recommends taking into consideration how effective communication is. “Districts offering school choice should make frequent assessments to validate the choice programs are running at full capacity. Parents should always be proactively informed about any changes to the way programs are being run.”
Hare recommends looking at the school’s values. “Is there a mission the school is after? How are they cultivating the next generation? Understand what it is that members of school leadership are looking for and hear what those expectations are.”
Consider practical matters, like transportation. “They have magnet buses that will pick students up throughout the county, but students have to make it to the pickup point. Mom and Dad may have to do the drop off,” Litt adds.
If you do pursue school choice, it might take time to adjust. “Give yourself some grace. When you’re changing schools of any kind, everything changes,” Williams says. “It’s going to take time to adjust and get to a point where it feels smooth.”