I was asked a question last summer that has haunted me this year, both as a mom and as a teacher: “Given a choice, would you send your child to the neighborhood Title 1 school or to a private/ charter school that provides more opportunities?” Seems like an easy answer, right? Not really.
As I taught at the neighborhood Title 1 school for a decade in our little Phoenix suburb, I have been very proud to have my children attend alongside me. I know how hard it is to close the achievement/ poverty gap as a Title 1 teacher, and I know that my children have received a great education. I never questioned the quality of their education based on the socioeconomic status of the families who attend the school because I know how hard their teachers worked to close the achievement gap. I also greatly admire the dedication of Title 1 teachers. If you have never worked in a Title 1 school, you would probably not fathom the amount of extra time and commitment these teachers put into their responsibilities to make sure that the students achieve and become lifelong learners. Parent involvement and stable home environments are not the norm. Teachers at these schools definitely put more effort into the students’ attitudes of achievement to ensure their commitment to success. Title 1 teachers have thick skin but big hearts. You may not understand the heartache as a Title 1 teacher watches her innocent Kindergartners grow into hardened young men and women, dealing with life’s cruel lessons way too early. Working at the neighborhood Title 1 school, I have experienced triumph and heartache, success and failure. I think it is felt more deeply as the students become your family. Therefore, I have been proud to have my children at my school.
But next year is the wild card….. everything changes. My oldest goes to high school, and the youngest begins middle school. I have begun to ponder if maybe there is a better middle school out there for him. Should he be placed in a Cambridge Academy? What about a charter school? How about the private Christian school?? I want the very best for him. The choices are endless, even the school district I am at has several magnet schools he could attend. I am still proud to work at my Title 1 school, but I wonder if there is something better……. What IS better??? How do we define that?? Ironically he asked me that when I told him that I am thinking about other schools for him. It’s a fair question.
Is an “A” school better? Is a non-Title 1 school better? Does higher parent involvement define a better school? Is a specialized academy of rigorous instruction better? Does the latest and greatest technology create a better school? Is a religious facility better? I could go on with my list of questions.
I don’t have the answer. All I can remember are the wise words of a former professor, “It’s never better out there. Just make it better where you’re at.” So maybe I just need to keep him at a great Title 1 school and encourage him to make it the best educational experience for himself. Maybe a “better” school is just a state of mind, a higher level of commitment you bring to your own education, and children should learn that they are in the driver’s seat and make it the best experience for themselves.