In the past couple of months, I’ve been doing research on different school options – girls high schools, boys high schools, and even elementary schools. This isn’t because I’m unhappy with the local choices as much as that I’m looking for schools that best reflect my personal values. (I’m hoping to find time to write some posts in the next month on the American/Israeli charedi differences and share my thoughts on that with you.)
This Tuesday I called the principal of an elementary school that I’m interested in, and she told me that this Thursday is the last opportunity for interested students to apply for entry for the coming year and be interviewed. I was glad that I made the call in time and that I didn’t have another appointment for the same day!
I was planning to take the baby with me along with ds6 for his interview, but about ten minutes before I left realized that since I pump and prepare a bottle of my milk for when I’m out with him (we’re in a transitory situation regarding nursing), I could really leave the baby at home and he’d probably be a lot more rested! On the spur of the moment, I asked ds4 if he wanted to come along, so he rushed to get dressed and then out the three of us went to catch our bus. From there we went to the central bus station, then onto another bus to another city where the school is located.
I was so happy that I took ds4 along – his eyes were literally shining with excitement as he was looking out the window at all the sights, and he and his brother were so cute sitting and chatting excitedly together on the bus. I was glad to have a chance to spend with both of them, since recently I haven’t been giving them as much time and attention as I’d like, and this was a great opportunity to be with them without distraction or interruption by anyone or anything else.
We got to the yeshiva, and I was surprised by the big and beautiful campus. We couldn’t figure how to get in at first, but once we did we found the office and went in. Since we were early, ds6 was taken for his interview pretty quickly, which lasted for almost an hour. This didn’t go so well, since he felt intimidated by the new situation and it being in Hebrew, and spoke very hesitantly and quietly – though usually he’s very outgoing and confident. Though his spoken Hebrew is good and adequate to speak comfortably with his peers, he told me afterward that he didn’t know certain words in Hebrew – eg triangle, rectangle – and therefore couldn’t answer some questions even though he knew the answers. It’s ironic that his kindergarten teacher joked with her assistant that he shouldn’t bother with first grade, he should just go directly into second because he’s so advanced and constantly was telling me how amazing he was, while the interviewer wasn’t sure if he had an understanding of some basic concepts that even my four year old knows easily! Emotional context and comfort makes a huge difference in a child’s performance.
In the meantime, I let ds4 take some of the refreshments that had been put out (this kind of thing is a bit of a thrill for a young child who doesn’t get loads of treats at home!), while I scoped out the kids and parents who were arriving. I was trying to get a sense of who the parent and student body of the school were; I already knew that the focus of the administration was in line with what we like.
I was favorably impressed by the school staff; the parent body seems to be a good match for us, the school values and direction seem to be a good match for us, the local boys who would be in his class are great kids from families who know and like very much, and though we had pretty much decided to transfer ds6 to this school before the interview, I had an increasingly conflicted feeling.
The conflict isn’t because of the school, which I think is a great choice, but because of the distance. Transportation is provided to and from the school, so there isn’t a logistical issue, but for a young child to spend another two hours a day away from home in order to travel to school is something that I’m not comfortable with. It means that he’d have to be waiting for his bus at 7 am and come home at 3 pm (with the additional stress to have him at the bus stop on time – it wouldn’t be outside of our house). It means he would miss eating breakfast and lunch with the rest of us. It means not walking to school with ds10 and dd11 and missing the relationship building opportunity with them. (This past year ds13 picked him up from school for the last couple of months of the year, and it was really nice for ds6 to have time with his older brother, especially since ds13 usually gave him fruit to eat on the way home. ) It means fifteen hours a week (transportation time plus the school day is 30 minutes longer than the local school) that he’d be spending with his peers in an unstructured situation instead of at home where parents and older siblings are keeping an eye on social interactions.
I know that most parents wouldn’t agree with me that any of these points justify not sending him to a better school, with secular and Torah studies on a higher level and a religiously stronger peer group. But to me, all of the advantages don’t add up to fifteen extra hours away from home every single week – would he really gain so much socially, academically or spiritually to offset the gains of being at home? I’m not at all confident that would be the case.
So at this point, dh and I have decided to leave ds6 enrolled at the local school (just a seven minute walk from our home!), because we feel that having more time with our family is a higher value than being in a school that is technically the best fit. We’re still discussing the possibility of a transfer to this school in the upper elementary grades, but for now, it’s one more decision made and out of the way!