Q&A: Stay in the new school or go back?

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Anonymous writes:

"Last year, we moved our kids, now 7 and 9, out of a private parochial school into our public school district's gifted and talented program. While it's true that the education is much better, our kids don't seem as happy. There have been some social challenges for my 3rd grader and my first grader, who has a high IQ but slow processing time constantly feels rushed. I am less happy as a parent as well. I don't feel nearly a part of things like I did, and I miss the family feel of our old school. My kids also frequently talk about their old school.

Our old school has a slower pace and much smaller class sizes (grades 2 and 3 will be combined next year), but does not have the resources to provide an advanced curriculum or anything beyond the basics. The new school provides a stellar education, but leads to a higher level of day to day stress.

So I find myself torn on what to do next. Stick it out another year or go back? Thoughts welcome."

As daycare issues are to parents of little kids, school issues are to parents of bigger kids. If things are great, you don't even have to think about it. But when things are wrong, it eats you up and you feel guilty and scared constantly.

I don't know what the hierarchy of decisionmaking should be here, frankly. There are benefits to both sides. But I can tell you what it was like being in this situation as a kid. In fifth grade my parents moved me from my teeny little Lutheran school (shoutout to my fourth-grade teacher who found me on FB so I'm now allowed to call him Steve) to another school that was supposed to be great for "gifted" kids. And I hated it. The new school was mean and rigid and had a lot of philosophies, whereas the old school was warm and welcoming and liked me as a person and let me go at my own pace anyway.

I cried, a lot. And I'm a tension increaser, so the crying didn't help anyone.

And after four months my parents moved me back. To this day I still think of that first when I think about how my parents trusted me and stood up for me. Moving back was great, and it felt like going home, and I could really be myself again.

So it's obvious what my advice is, but I realize that it's totally colored by my own situation. Does anyone else have experience with this, as either the kid or the parent? What did you do? What would you do?

29 thoughts on “Q&A: Stay in the new school or go back?”

  1. Do you think your kids would actually be happier moving back? Do you think they are only remembering stuff they loved and contrasting it to stuff they don’t currently like? Do you think the social challenges they are facing are more about the school or more about the age? Will they do better with a smaller group of kids as they get older? Or will they be isolated with fewer chances to make friends?

  2. I think when you have your child in the right place, it wouldn’t be as big of a question.We recently moved and had to find care for our 4 yo. The first place we had him, he was constantly talking about his old school, I was always worrying about him being there. We moved him and while he will occasionally say he doesn’t want to go or ask about his old school, it’s nothing near where it was at the first place. And I’m never questioning where he is whereas before I always was thinking about it.
    So I think, keep looking. If the kids are in the right place, you’ll be content with it, even when they have bad days there. As far as getting them advanced curriculum, have you explored other schools in your area or are your choices limited to the two? Or did you discuss advanced curriculum with the parochial? Since they integrate grades, perhaps the kids could be bumped up to a higher grade to get the challenge they need?

  3. No easy answers there. I can say from experience that if the social challenges are significant make a change unless they get better. I spent first and second grade being the kid that was relentlessly picked on by all the other kids. I can honestly say it’s affected me to this day. Two years was too long.

  4. I’m not sure what the answer is but whenever we’re faced with a decision like this, I always start by making a Pro/Con list. I’m a list-maker. I can’t help it. But, seriously, I would take two pieces of paper and draw a line down the middle of each and write down the pros and cons of each school/experience. It might be useful for the grown ups and kids to make their own lists. Sometimes, that’s enough for us to realize what our choice should be. If it still feels muddled or evenly divided, you can assign each pro and con a score (1-5) based on how important they are to your quality of life. Then do the math. I know this may sound really crazy, but it’s a strategy that has helped me make some really hard, emotional decisions and feel like I had some actual data to back them up.We’ve been through a lot of soul searching with our kids’ educational needs too. The Pro/Con system helped us make the choice to stick with our public school system rather than up rooting the kids and putting them in private school. It’s a topic we may revisit in years to come, but for now we feel good about the choice. But I know how stressful it was for us a year ago when we were wresting with this same kind of issue. Good luck to you and your family.

  5. Good for you for listening to your children.This strikes a chord with me too.
    My parents sent me from my parochial school of 8 years to a ” good ” public high school. They ignored that this could be a culture shock. It doozy.
    People like to see this as me learning the real world. I suppose that is true. Color me sufficiently jaded by how mean,
    racist, and violent people are daily. I think it would have for me to continue at a school that valuedme, though
    The reason for the change was money. My parents did their best, but they should have been listening. I lost all interest in academics and switched to a survival mode. I made friends with a thug because I realized I might need physical protection. I had regular days, but over all the time was hard.
    It wouldn’t have mattered how great the teachers were. The population was distracting. I couldn’t learn well scared and lonelySo, maybe less distraction is key?
    I send my kids to parochial school now. The feeling of family nurtures them.

  6. I also want to know if there are any other options. It seems sad to think you have to choose between a nurturing environment and a challenging academic experience. I also am curious about the kids’ personalities, do they take a while to warm up and adjust to new situations? If so, this might just be part of that. If not, then that should factor into the decision. I also wonder if you missing the old school plays into it. I know that so often my kiddo takes his cues of how to react from me and if I sit and cry with him over something he misses, he’d get more and more sad. I wish you luck.School decisions are hard. My oldest kiddo is 4 today and I worry about this every day.

  7. I think it really makes a difference when you change your kid’s school. I had the opposite experience as most people commenting here. I went to a parochial school from K-5. In my school district, middle school started at grade 6. The parochial school I was in went up to grade 8. I could have stayed there until going to high school, but I was bored. My parents switched me into public school for grade 6 when four elementary schools joined into one middle school. While I didn’t really know anyone, it was also an adjustment for everyone. It took me a bit to find the right group of friends, but everyone was searching. I definitely do not regret one day of switching to public school, though.

  8. Growing up I was in the gifted classes at school. And I did great in school, and in college and was reasonably successful in my career (which I have now left to stay home with my kids.) But you know who has done better? My husband. Who was not a part of a gifted program. (We are/were both engineers.)I guess my point is that being in the most challenging class seems so important when you are in the thick of it, but what really matters in the long run? Probably having a happy and supported childhood will do more good for a kid long-term than making sure they are “challenged”

  9. I’m the original poster, so I’ll answer some questions.We explored leaving our little school for a couple of reasons. There was talk of combining all grades, for one. More importantly, my second grader went an entire year without a science or social studies lesson. I knew that one bad teacher doesn’t make a school, but her test scores dropped alarmingly that year along with her desire to learn. We had them tested for the advanced program as a plan b. When we asked for advanced materials at our old school, we were turned down.
    There are other options in the city. We could have gone public without the advanced placement, but the schools are huge. In the advanced program, they stay with the same class every year, so it’s a little like a small program in a big school. We could have gone public in a smaller nearby district, but the schools there are broken down by grade — k-2 in one school, 3-5 in another. The kids would have never been in the same building, which was stressful to me as a full time working parent.
    The advanced program has truly wonderful teachers and my kids have iep up with the new curriculum (only math and reading are a year ahead, everything else is grade level). It can’t be underscored enough how much more they are learning in creative and more modern methods. Our old school was literally the basics.
    Another concern is what comes next. The old school goes to 8th grade, but there are only 10 kids in their graduating class his year. Then they have to go to one of three large high schools. Like an above poster menioned, that’s a big change for kids.
    When I wrote the original question, it was a rough week. My oldest is slow to warm up and though generally considered a nice person had not gotten close to any girls this year. She’d “broken up” with her BFF, and old friend in another class and was really struggling. As I type this, tho, I’m watching her play in the playground with three girls from her class (I’m here for field day) and I can see that, though quiet, she is generally included in the group. My youngest has never had problems making friends, and we’ll be working on the processing issue this summer and beyond.
    A part of me wishes we never left our old school, but when my husband and I sat our kids down last week to talk about whether they wanted to stay or consider going back, they both said they wanted to stay. So maybe I worry too much. Thanks for your responses!

  10. Sometimes writing it down and putting it out there makes for better clarity. I’m glad your kids are clear about where they want to be. Sounds like you all made the right decision.And you weren’t worrying too much, you were worrying just enough.

  11. Didn’t read all the replies….I taught in a school like the one your kids came from. The smart kids will do fine anywhere. Unless you felt your kids were behind, I don’t think you should worry. Learning is social and emotional. If your kids are unhappy, you may want to move back. You can explore extracurricular activities if you don’t think they’re challenged enough.

  12. My son was invited to move to the Gifted & Talented class in 4th grade. He really wanted to go because his best friend was in that class, too. We stopped the process and really thought about it first.Our son was, and still is, a very sweet sensitive kid who gets intense and can lash out when he feels pressured.
    Just like any parent, I wanted every possible advantage for my kids. I also knew I had to see each of my kids for who they really were and factor that into the decision making process.
    Hubby and I knew we wanted our kids to have the experience of being kids.
    As we were thinking about moving him to this program we came up with two things we had to make sure were possible.
    #1 We had to ask ourselves if this move was something he’d be able to handle emotionally as well as academically?
    #2: We had to be sure that *he* was motivated enough to keep up the pace, put in the work and live with any possible pressure it would cause him.
    When we discussed those two points with him, he confided to us that he really didn’t want to move to that class. He said he wanted to be a kid and just have fun. He also said there would be plenty of time in life to work that hard! We were amazed he knew that about life in 4th grade!
    We also knew he was the kind of child who would rise to the occasion when he was ready. We’d had enough experience with him to know that there was nothing we could say or do to push him forward if he didn’t want to be pushed. We always honored that.
    Our family decided that he was going to stay where he was.
    I knew that when he hit college he would go for it, I could feel it in my bones. And that is exactly what he did. He majored in philosophy and graduated cum laude. The other thing I hoped for was that he and his brother would remember their childhood fondly, and they really do. They loved the freedom they had to just play baseball, run through the vineyards and ride bikes all around town. They had what we always wanted for them — a childhood.
    These are the choices the three of us made for him, and it turned out to be the perfect choices. P.S. At almost 30 he is a tech geek and loves it!
    Trust what’s in your heart. I hope that helps.

  13. It sounds like I had the opposite experience from most people. We moved in 4th grade and the social aspect of my new public school was brutal. I asked my parents to send me to a parochial school in 6th, and people were friendlier (minus 6th grade angst), but at the end of year ceremony I collected awards for every single class, except gym, and I knew I hadn’t done anything to earn them. I asked my parents to send me back to the public school. For whatever reason my return in 7th grade was much smoother.Looking back, I don’t regret going back at all. Yes, some of the kids were cretins but I can’t even remember their names. I do remember some of the incredible projects we did and the field trips, etc. I still had plenty of time to do things outside of school, but at least I wasn’t spending my time in the classroom bored out of my skull.
    I was thinking it would really depend on schools and whether I could compensate with something after school, but no science or social studies for a year would be a complete deal-breaker for me. A bad teacher is one thing, but I would be furious if the administration let that happen. I’m kind of furious on your behalf. I’m glad your kids sound like they’re settling into the new school.

  14. I read your 2nd posting and think that your kids should try it for one more year. I think the school that refused to provide advanced materials and didn’t have adequate social studies materials isn’t one I’d consider using again.My daughter is in first grade about to graduate to 2nd. We sent her to Catholic school because our public schools are not good and are getting worse (I’ve been told this by families with children in those schools who tried to convince me last year I was ridiculous to not put her in public school). My daughter struggles in school – she didn’t qualify in our county, but the county she now goes to school in (2 towns over!) she squeaked by and qualified for services with one point. I saw a difference and also her teacher relaxed her attitude because my child now has an IEP.
    Best.Decision.I.Have.Made.In.Years. We will never leave this county. Her school is excellent and received Blue Ribbon Status this year.
    Good luck with your decision, I agree with the poster that said a smart kid will always find a way – it’s the more challenged child that truly struggles.

  15. When I was in second grade my parents moved me to a new school so I could be in their gifted class. It was a great program, and I did well there. But as “gifted” as I was, there were obviously people more gifted, and I spent most of my school days feeling pretty average.My best friend was also offered a place in the gifted class. But her parents decided that she would be better off emotionally at the top of her “regular” class. By the time we met up in honors middle school and high school classes, she was just as prepared as I. We both went on to good universities, jobs, etc.
    So my point is, just because you are choosing a less demanding curriculum, don’t think that your kids can’t thrive mentally.

  16. I had the opposite experience as Moxie. I was in private schools without enough resources through 6th grade. At the first school, they sent home stuff so my dad could teach me math, I was in a reading ‘group’ of 2 kids, etc… at the next school, they wanted me to skip a grade. So I moved to the public school with a math/science magnet program and it was so much better. I did know people there already, so that helped. But in the end, going to a bigger school was so much better – there were more opportunities for sports teams and other extra curricular clubs/activities… a broader scope of people to meet and interact with, etc.

  17. One grade schools have limitations. I also forget that the diocese we are in has mostly good schools. There are few bad eggs.To counter my other comment, my husband was in a school with only a lower grades class and an upper grades class. Terrible educationwise.
    Glad to read that your kids are adjusting. If they can comfortable, then by all means keep them where they’ll learn.
    I think your awareness is the key. I am certain my parents had no idea what my experiences were in school. That’s the missing link.

  18. How can they even be an accredited school without science or social studies classes?!I’m glad your kids are adjusting well and that this week is looking better than last.

  19. The science and social studies thing still blows my mind to this day. (original poster here again). I brought the subject of state standards to the board and got nowhere (though I did get the attention of other parents who continue the battle there today). The school had it’s own curriculum, written by a former principal. Our experience before last year was that the teachers we had had a good grasp on and taught the standards even if they weren’t explicitly required. Still.The advanced program was intense for us this year because both kids had to jump a grade in math and reading. But they are caught up now. And the program philosophy is that the kids work hard in school, so they should be allowed to choose how their after school time is spent. Homework is limited to about 10-20 minutes a night with a few larger projects scattered throughout the year.
    So I guess what I’m saying is that for now we are going to stick it out. I think that we will feel more at home next year knowing the schools rhythms and traditions. I really appreciate everyone’s feedback. Thank you.

  20. I’m not a parent. Disclaimer complete.But I’m glad you’re listening to your kids. I wonder, do you have the time or resources to supplement at home? So they can be in the parochial school for basics and socialization but also have an opportunity to be challenged with tutors or an after-school program?
    I have friends whose gifted son basically went to a great Quaker school but then also had pretty much a full-time teacher in addition to that. But it cost them an arm and a leg. They eventually moved to the suburbs to have access to that kind of education in the public school. But their son was overstimulated (and stressed) by city living. So the move wasn’t solely education related.
    We moved 7 times during my school years, so I never really got a chance to figure out what would make me happy. But I did beg to go to a public jr. high because the discipline of Catholic school and the lack of options intellectually were making me a behavioral problem. Getting to more challenging classes in 7th grade eliminated my behavior issues. It wasn’t like I was going to be well socialized anywhere with all the disruption I underwent. But it was one of the few times where I got a choice and it made a difference.
    That kind of empowerment may make a big difference to your children.

  21. Oops. Sorry, I hadn’t made it to your last post when I posted. I’m glad things are looking up for you and your kids!

  22. @Bee, I wonder if you’d mind sharing what has worked for your bright but slow processing speed kiddo in ps?

  23. I’m late to the discussion, apologies. My perspective is that of an associate dean and admissions officer in a prestigious university program for high ability students. And my advice has to do with high school choice, not earlier, ao its more for other readers and commenters than the OP. The single best predictor for success in college — better than standardized tests, GPA, anything else — is the availability of advanced programs in the student’s previous school. I’m a proponent of consolidating small school districts that can’t offer those programs for that reason. Of course the decision is individual and my statistics are aggregate, but consider that the more our child can get a college-like pace and expectation in secondary school, the better prepared they will be

  24. I have taught in public and private school (high school science), and I am so glad you moved your children. Private schools can be wonderful-I would love for my children to attend the one I worked at, participate in the community, etc. However, the private school you described sounds like a school designed to keep kids “safe” as opposed to educated. (safe as you define it: a particular religion, higher behavioral standards, physical safety, whatever)The best private schools do both. Transitioning from a community (private) to an institution (public-although admittedly some public schools are very good at community building, depends on the principal)is a difficult adjustment in and of itself. Switching from brightest and best to one of many bright people can be a difficult emotional adjustment as well. Add to that the difficulty of identifying potential friends, trying them out, adding/subtracting friends, it’s a highly stressful environment! For awhile.While I also agree that intense academics aren’t necessary for future success, in my experience, the kids that were mediocre then rose to the top in college tended to be white and middle-to-upper-class, with other examples of success in their families to emulate. Kids without those examples, expectations, and, frankly, financial resources tended to need advanced academia more. IMO only.
    Also significant is the child’s desire for advanced academics. When the child generates the desire/curiosity, moving the school situation to the best fit possible often makes the social struggle worthwhile (in the end) to the child. This sounds like the situation with your children. It’s just a disaster when the parents are the ones pushing (inappropriately, sometimes a little pushing is helpful).
    If the social struggle seems worthwhile to your kids, and they aren’t being bullied or becoming depressed/unmotivated, press on!

  25. While it is a good decision to go back to the old place, maybe she needs to try out the new school first. This will build the kids’ characters in a whole new way. Just make sure that she is there to assist the kids when the situation arises.

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