Raising Richmond: The Great School Debate

Public? Private? Homeschool? Where do you stand on The Great School Debate? Here we share our thoughts, and opinions, and a few worries (ok, lots of worries). We hope you’ll share yours, too.

Editor’s note: Today’s feature is the newest installment of our parenting column written by two sets of Richmonders: Jorge and Patience Salgado (veteran parents of four gorgeous children), and Ross and Valerie Catrow (parenting rookies who have only been doing this “raising a child thing” for a little while). Check back fortnightly to watch them discuss/agree/disagree/throw down over all kinds of parenting issues, Richmond-related and beyond.

Today’s question: Public? Private? Charter schools? Homeschooling? Where do you stand on The Great School Debate?

The Salgados

Oh, how I miss the bliss of preschool. The days where play and art are the primary form of learning. Being a former preschool teacher myself, I was completely unfazed by sending my kids off to the care of others, mostly because the doors were so wide open. It didn’t feel like leaving that much at all — it felt like a visit with your favorite auntie.

Elementary school, well, that was a different animal all together.

All of the sudden I felt like we were releasing our boy into the great big world… and maybe even a jungle. Someone I just met two days ago would now spend eight hours a day with my kid, seriously limiting my own time with him. We were officially inviting a stranger into the influencing-our-child mix in a major way, and that scared the bejeezus out of me.

It is hard not to become obsessed with the decision of where, when, and how. The six months before kindergarten became known as The Great School Debate at our house, and boy, were there lots of questions flying around.

Do we send him to our local city district school that isn’t that great now but is up and coming? It isn’t that diverse, so will that be a problem for our kid who will be the minority?

Do we try to lottery him into one of the three “good schools” in the city? Does that mean we aren’t investing on our primary community if we choose that route?

Do we attempt to send him to a private school we can’t really afford? Will we be wading into a more elitist world then? Is the learning environment too intense?

Do we homeschool? Are homeschool kids just a little weird? Is it a good weird?

(Charter wasn’t even a twinkle in some one’s eye at the time.)

Call me a helicopter, fanatic, liberal, crazy parent, but these are the honest to God thoughts that I grappled with. I was fully aware these are first world problems, but at the time they all felt so much bigger than they were. Truth be told, I couldn’t quite find what I was hoping for in any of my options, but I am pretty picky and dream big. I went on tours, researched on the Internet, and sat on the edge of sandboxes at the park to talk to other parents in the same boat. I called older mothers when it all felt too overwhelming to talk me off the silly ledge. In the end, we decided to try to lottery in to the good schools; if we didn’t get in, it would be our sign to go to our neighborhood school. We didn’t get in and off we went, until a week later we got a call there was a spot for our son at one of the schools, but we would need to decide soon. Very soon.

We felt conflicted. This was a curve ball in our universe-revealing plan. I went to pick up food from Oburrito (oh, how I miss that place) and asked the guy making my burrito what he would do. Should we stay and invest or go to something more solid? He smiled and said he thought we should do right by our kid first, so we did. Turns out later, his own kid went to the same school. The school has been fine — nothing earth-shattering, but good. What I missed in the whole debate was one very part of the equation: our kids have us, and we have them. We really cared and would help our kids through anything, come what may. Children are much stronger than we give them credit for and with our support will find a way to be in the world that is good for all. We can and should be putting our trust in each other… or at least this is what I tell myself.

Did someone say middle school?

The Catrows

With most parenting decisions, my husband and I don’t waffle. We knew right away where we stood on breastfeeding, co-sleeping, vaccines, and what have you. But the topic of schooling has led to some sleepless nights, at least on my part. And we’ve got three to four years before it’s even a real issue!

We take education very seriously — not in a snobby way, but, you know, knowledge is power, etc. While we feel so very fortunate that we have educational options to choose from, those choices can be somewhat paralyzing/suffocating/”oh my hell, what do we dooooo?” for me. Just ask anyone who had to be in my vicinity as I was trying to nail down a day care situation for our son. It wasn’t pretty.

Put simply, to say I feel conflicted about schooling would be an understatement. In fact, it kind of turns me into a fretting, crazy person.

My husband and I are products of public school (albeit suburban ones) who went on to graduate with honors from respectable universities. I taught in the public school system for four years and loved the diversity of it. We think one of the most important factors to the success of neighborhood public schools is having parents who have intentionally enrolled their kids and are committed to being involved with what goes on in the building.


While our city neighborhood feeds into a solid elementary school (where we do plan on sending our son), middle school and high school in our area are great, big, terrifying unknowns, as they are for many parents who have chosen to live within the city limits.

Part of me thinks, “We’ve made the choice to invest in Richmond by living in the city; if we’re going to walk the walk, we better be ready to really walk it.” So we should just keep the kid enrolled in our neighborhood schools, be supportive of what they’re doing, and commit to making it work for our family.

Here’s another but…

At the same time, I don’t want to potentially short-change our kid just to prove a point, to say “Look how awesome and socially-aware we are, all living in the city and what not.” We have no plans on moving, so if we’re not comfortable with the middle and high schools in our area, we owe it to him to explore the other option of private school, right? But to be honest, while the idea of a likely smaller school is appealing, the private route causes hand-wringing as well. Aside from the expense (which is actually comparable to what we pay for day care… my checkbook groans whenever I open it), private school is totally uncharted territory for us. Will it be diverse enough? Will he fit in? What if their academic approach isn’t a good fit and we have to start the search all over again? And is the prospect of paying for school absolutely ridiculous when there is a free one right over there?

When it comes down to it, I just want to do what’s best for my kid and what makes the most sense for our family… but I currently have no idea what that looks like. So, I’m turning to you. Please share your thoughts, your experiences, and your opinions. My husband would really appreciate it — one can only take so much of a hand-wringing madwoman.

Ok, your turn

What schooling route did you choose and why? Did you even have a choice? How has it all turned out for you and your little ones?

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Patience Salgado

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