Two years ago, during back-to-school season, I was doing what many city parents of 4-year-olds do: putting a whole bunch of schools on a spreadsheet and wondering how we would find the school that was best for our child.
In our case, we had 16 schools in the running. Though a couple of those schools were private or parochial, most were public. Here in Chicago we have quite a mix of public choices—neighborhood, magnet and charter. And, unlike many parents facing these choices, our neighborhood school was always high on our list.
Chavez Elementary, our neighborhood public school, is at the top of Chicago’s accountability system, with a 1+ rating. It has a great school leader and a strong professional culture for teachers. So why were we still looking around?
As great as Chavez is, it didn’t have the thing that we most wanted for our child: a dual-language Spanish program that would start with Spanish immersion. My husband is from Mexico City, and ensuring that our child can read, write and study in Spanish is our top priority for the early years of our child’s education.
We want our child to have the full range of opportunities that come with a deep level of knowledge of two languages. My husband works the overnight shift and goes to school during the day, so he can’t model the language as often as we want while our child is young enough to absorb a second language most easily. While I have been my child’s first teacher in English, my Spanish is not strong enough to get the job done alone. So we needed a school to support our goal.
Again, we were lucky to live in a city where multiple options for dual-language exist: good neighborhood schools like Talcott and Telpochcalli, a well-known magnet, InterAmerican, and highly regarded charters, like the Academy for Global Citizenship and Namaste.
At first, none of these great options came through for us, and we made the difficult decision to start kindergarten in a dual-language Catholic school. By last January we were off a waitlist and happily home where we hope to stay for the next eight years: Namaste Charter School. At the same time, if we ever need it, I know Chavez is there for us, just a three-block walk from our home.
What we got is what I want for all families—solid neighborhood schools we can trust to teach our children well, plus high-quality charter options that expand opportunities and keep middle-class families like mine in public schools.
Every family should have choices like we did. That takes a commitment from districts and community groups to ensure all families know what their choices are. But most of all, it takes both strong neighborhood schools and strong charter schools.