Word of Mouth: Don't give away your power to choose

So I was writing my last post on shhh...the "D" word, and this seeped into the blog. It obviously didn't fit and was my way of running from the last topic, but there's some really good food for thought here, so today, you get two blog entries. Enjoy!

Every year, parents cram into West U because the schools in that neighborhood have great test results, but they also choose the area because the schools feel familiar.  And every year, the district has to submit a waiver to the State to allow those schools to exceed the standard student:teacher ratio, which causes parents to pitch tents and camp out like it's Black Friday during spring registration in hopes of getting one of the coveted seats. While waiting in line, the parents' frustration is palpable, but they'll do anything to avoid a nearby school that they've been told to avoid, even though that school has amazing leadership, really meaningful personal development programs for kids, good results and (shhh) space.  They avoid that school because realtors or friends or mommy groups on FB said those were the schools to avoid, not because any of those groups of people have visited said school, met with the principal, or spoken with parents of children currently served by the school, but purely based on uninformed word of mouth. 

Here's how that hurts our kids:

Everyone in town raves about St. John's being the best school in the city. If your kid is smart, they have to go to St. John's. So what do parents do? They flock in droves to St. John's. They test prep their kids up the wahzoo, hire consultants to help put together the application (this is NOT what I do!), and their kids get in. YAY! Right? But what happens when the kid who shows up on day 15 isn't the kids who test-prepped to get in? What happens when your son is spending countless hours trying to be the kid who scored brilliantly on the ISEE that he doesn't have time to build robots or hangout with his friends? What happens to your daughter who doesn't have time to write or experiment anymore? Our kids' light dims because we've chosen a school purely based on word of mouth instead of who our children are right now and the schools that will help them be the best version of themselves. (Side note: I love St. John's and think it's magical for the right type of kid. Yea, this Kinkaidian said she loves St. John's...just don't tell my sister. Context, people! Context!)

In the same way choosing a school based on word of mouth alone can squash our kids' natural interests and abilities, avoiding a school because of word of mouth can be just as dangerous. Yes, there are some schools that are not good at educating children: the leadership is unfocused, the teachers are moderately invested or tired, parents aren't fully engaged and the students are following the adults' lead. Those are the things that make a school ineffective. But when we hear to avoid certain schools, it's rarely because someone has met with the school leader, seen teachers in action or been to a PTO meeting. We avoid those schools because we don't think our people are in that building. It's unfamiliar, and so without ever visiting, we cross it off of our list. We never step inside to see the teacher who is a beast at making math interesting, which is exactly what our son needs. We never step inside to see the teachers high-fiving and hugging kids in the hallways. We miss the opportunity for our daughter to sit with the three other boys and girls who are hovered over a table building robots. We pass on remarkable opportunities that are a perfect match for our kids because of uninformed word of mouth.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating for parents to send their kids to bad schools. I'm advocating for parents to make informed decisions on their children's behalf. There is absolutely a place for getting input from other parents, but when a parent says, "Oh, I would never send my child there," ask them why not? You could say, "Oh, really? What did you see at the school that makes you so adamant?"  Do they mention school leadership? Do they mention teacher quality? Or do they talk about what they heard from other parents or friends? If parents are going to be a resource for you in this process, vet them! Make sure they have real-life experience with the schools. And if they don't, tune out the noise, and go see for yourself.

Right now, public and private schools all across the city are offering tours. Sit down with your spouse, closest friend, parent or whoever shares the decision-making responsibility with you and figure out what kind of learning environment will be best for your child. If you need help with this part, email me, and I'll sit with you at your kitchen table and help you figure that out. Then take that list and go visit schools. And don't be afraid to venture into the unknown. You may find that the school you've been avoiding is the perfect place for your son or daughter–even if it feels a little unfamiliar to you.