Why We Chose Public Education

It’s here again.

Back to school time.

On the last day of school in June I walked to my daughters’ school for their end of year assembly.  While there, I was reminded for the hundredth time how blessed I feel to be a part of such a kind, fun and interactive community.

While it’s certainly not the right choice for all, we’ve had wonderful experiences here.

I would love to share with you some of the reasons why we chose public education for our daughters and to take time to publicly express gratitude for the many ways this choice has been a blessing in our lives.

My husband and I both attended small public schools in our communities as children and we both enjoyed our experiences there.

While these schools were far from perfect we both emerged with a good education, a broad circle of friends and exposure to many people who were different from ourselves.

During high school I spent time in both public and private Christian schools volunteering and gaining experience through cooperative education experiences.  I enjoyed each classroom I was a part of and emerged knowing that I wanted to teach.  I was given an opportunity to begin pursuing that dream in a small private school in Northern Ontario at age 18.  I took it enthusiastically!  I loved the classroom and I knew this is what I wanted to do.

I taught in this school for 3 years.

I made hundreds of mistakes and certainly would have benefited from more training and education, but somehow God’s grace enabled me to teach, nurture and learn in this environment.

It was a huge learning curve and God used this experience in my life to guide and grow me.

After teaching, I spent a few years providing childcare for community children.  We lived just down the street from our local public school and two of the children I cared for attended there.  This gave me opportunities to spend time at the school, get to know some of the staff and volunteer in the classroom.  I got a chance to work alongside some amazing educators and I learned a lot from them.  It reminded me of my own wonderful experiences in the public education system, while also reminding me of some of the major flaws of the public system.

When our daughters came home we were drawn to public education because it provided the support, services and inclusion for children with exceptionalities who need it, like ours.

We wanted our children, no matter their abilities, to be able to learn and interact with their peers and absorb as seamlessly as possible into their appropriate classes.

This model was also the closest replica to what they had been familiar with in their previous homes.

I also loved that the public school was a 3 minute walk from our home, which made it easy for me to volunteer in their classrooms as well as continue spending time in some of the other classes as well.

The first year was rocky.

 Very rocky.

 Our daughters were emotionally, academically and behaviourally challenging.  They had just been uprooted from everything they knew and loved and they needed time to adjust to this change.  I am so grateful for the teachers who supported my daughters through that difficult year.  The patience, gentleness, compassion and genuine love they showed was so beautiful.

They were there to love my kids for who they were, despite the behaviours, academic challenges and anxiety that meant weekly or sometimes daily phone calls home.

I walked and ran the few minutes back and forth from the school to our home countless times that first year and often breathed a prayer of thanks that I was so close.  Some days I was at school more than home.  I will forever be grateful that during that time there were adults in my daughters’ lives that understood education was far from the most important priority and were there to encourage and celebrate both me and my daughters.

I was also thankful for the professional educators that year that helped guide me through the maze of testing, Individualized Education Plans, therapy and behavioural supports.

That year I learned to celebrate the small successes, worry less and be patient with my children as they learn.

I learned that children learn if they can.

While it sometimes appeared that my children were being lazy, defiant or purposely disruptive it almost always stemmed from an inability to manage their circumstances emotionally, academically, or physically.

While I’ve had to be the expert and advocate for my children’s individual needs at times, I am so grateful to be a part of a system that does have supports available for my children.  I’m also thankful for professionals who have been able to guide me into a better understanding of some of my children’s exceptionalities.  Sensory rooms, alternative report cards, individualized goals and expectations, one on one supervision and assistance, part time learning programs and in-school therapy are just some of the special education tools we’ve accessed in the past three years.  All these supports are available for free to children who need them.

There are many who tell horror stories of navigating the system for their children, but our experience has had many positives.  You will have to fight for these supports and probably won’t get everything you feel you want and need, but there is much available.

I am so grateful for each of these supports as they have made it possible for my children and many other children I care about to learn and grow socially, academically, physically and emotionally inside a regular classroom surrounded by their peers.

Because we had invested such a huge part of our time and heart into the children in our community we really wanted our children to be able to attend school with the kids they played with every day on our street.

We wanted to be a part of our community, and school is such an easy way to do that.  We have gotten to know so many people because we chose public education.  Almost every time we go out we meet or see at least a few people we know.

I want my children to grow up alongside the children in their community and have exposure to people who are very different than they are.

I want them to develop empathy, respect and practical skills to know how to relate to the culture they are apart of.  Ultimately I want to give my children the confidence and ability they will need to embrace and share their faith in a culture that knows very little about genuine Christianity.

I don’t want my children living in a bubble of people who talk, look, speak and believe the same as them. I don’t believe that equips them with the practical skills to relate well with other people and reach the world with the gospel.

I realize a lot of fear goes along with this approach and I understand that fear.  I understand that exposing your children to the culture also means exposing them to danger.

I am confidant in this approach only because I believe without a doubt that parents are the biggest influencers in their children’s lives.

Teachers’ and peers’ influences pale in comparison to the impact you will have on your child’s heart.  While the public education system may at times come in direct contradiction to your own set of morals and values, these situations give you as the parent the unique opportunity to discuss relevant issues with your child.  While your child may question or even push back against your perspective at times, elementary aged kids will very rarely reject the values their parents hold.  What you are ingraining in them is stronger than you’d ever hope to believe.

While dealing with bullies, violence or sexualized behaviours are no walk in the park I am so grateful to have the opportunity to explore these issues with my children in a biblical way while I am still the primary influence in their life.  Helping them navigate through these issues is a privilege many parents miss because they wait too long to approach it out of fear.  I’d rather do it gradually, bit by bit and age appropriately through my children’s natural experiences than try one day in their teens to give them the whole boatload at once.

Gender confusion, racism, addictions and brokenness are all a part of the world our children are growing up in.  Wishing them away will not change that.

It’s important we give our children a biblical framework to navigate these challenging issues.  In our experience, having our children in public education has helped us to stay motivated to keep ahead of the culture in giving our children these messages.  We want to be the first to shape their perceptions and ideas, which means we need to be addressing them earlier than we’d sometimes feel comfortable with.

I am also constantly amazed at the way my children have been able to develop a compassionate, kind and respectful view of even the most difficult children around them.

They understand that a child’s outward actions are often caused by something going on inside.

It’s been one of the most beautiful parts of parenting for me to walk them through these encounters with grace and seeing them embrace this same grace toward their peers.  To see them modeling the kind of love Jesus had–a love that looks past the unkempt, unlovely parts of us to the broken places of our hearts–there is no greater joy for me.  They constantly come home asking us to pray for one friend or another who is experiencing anything from bullying to the loss of a parent through death or divorce.  Sometimes it’s just an observation of a friend who doesn’t seem very happy, is having behavioral problems or comes to school without a lunch every day.  Those prayers mean the world to me, and they teach my heart not to fear.

While many people feel the public education system is failing our children academically, I have come to appreciate the broader perspective they teach from.  It is less important that children learn to write neatly in cursive, for example, in an age of limitless technology.   It is very important, however, that children learn how to develop critical thinking skills, analyze information, and develop a thorough understanding of the math and sciences.  There are more and more opportunities for our children to enter career fields requiring strong math and science skills.  While literacy always has and always will be important, I can appreciate the strong inclusion of interpretation and comprehension of a text alongside the actual reading or writing of it.

I am still fond of many of the old-school ways of teaching children including memorization, repetition and organization particularly with children with learning disabilities, but I am also observing benefits to a more inquiry-based, natural approach.

The truth is public schools have volumes of challenge academically, socially and behaviourally that private schools will never have because they are easily accessible to everyone.  Social issues such as poverty, family dysfunction and children’s mental health impact the public system more severely than private organizations and these issues drastically change a child’s ability to learn and interact in a structured environment.

Statistics often do not mirror the extreme challenges educators are being faced with daily in the public system and the creative, compassionate and intelligent ways they are handling those challenges.

I took many of the learning approaches I learned in our public school into my homeschool with our younger daughter.  It was invaluable for me to gain a larger repertoire of teaching styles to be able to teach her in a way that she could truly thrive.

The first year our daughters were in school they both had the opportunity to bond with a teacher in a way that made it possible for them to thrive.  The difference a caring teacher can make on a child’s ability to learn is so huge.  I am so grateful for the many teachers that have invested in my daughters’ lives.

Some of them are now people I call friends.

There are so many wonderful men and women who are choosing to become educators to our children.  I have seen so much passion, energy and thought put into my daughters’ education.

To the Christian community I would also like to make a note that there are hundreds of Christian men and women in our public school system that are working hard to make a difference in these children’s lives every day.  Some of these men and women have been a huge blessing to our family during the last 3 years and it’s been an honour to support them in prayer and encouragement.

I have been humbled to be able to see just how many of the teachers involved in my children’s lives are brothers and sisters in Christ.

 For my daughters it’s been a special privilege to be able to connect with some of those men and women spiritually despite being in an environment that does not teach or encourage our faith.  Some friends and I formed a prayer group one year specifically to pray over our school, the teachers and the students.

I was humbled and amazed during that year to observe in awe and gratitude how many ways God blessed our education experience and the teachers he placed around our children.

Last but not least I love the large, colourful and diverse world public education brings to my children.  Art, music, drama, Native language and culture, a variety of athletics, French and plenty of time in nature are just some of the experiences my children enjoy at their school.

They have a beautiful wooded area on either side of the school property that they get to spend time in exploring, learning and sometimes just being kids.  They’ve come home with stories of building bridges across little streams, observing tadpoles, and finding different types of bark and moss.  I love that their teachers have carved out time for them to enjoy nature as they learn and that they recognize that sometimes an afternoon playing outside in the woods is just as beneficial as sitting inside studying.

I also love that technology is a part of their education program as well as plenty of opportunities for kinesthetic learners to experience hands on learning.  There are math and literacy programs that my children can access both at home and school so they can continue to make progress wherever they are and have a more individualized approach.

While every education experience has its challenges and benefits, I am so thankful for the freedom we experience here in Canada to be able to pursue education for our children in however God leads us, whether that be public school, home school, private school or a combination.

I am thankful to have the freedom to be involved in my children’s education and to have access to so many resources in our community to help them thrive.

While I don’t know what the future will bring, we will commit to just one year at a time, following where He leads us.

Cheers to September!

May it be filled with new beginnings and abundant grace.

AF

 

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