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Becoming an Educated Education Consumer

by on August 12, 2014 6:00 AM

Seems like July 4th and the Arts Festival were only yesterday, and yet here we are – getting ready for back-to-school already!

For the vast majority of parents that means sending their kids off to one of the State College Area School District's fine buildings – including a high school that will soon begin much-needed renovations.

But in our consumer driven society, we, the consumers, demand choices – even in education – and the options for schooling your children are growing all the time. As parents whose daughter and son have at various times homeschooled, attended charter school, and attended public school, my wife and I utilized our fair share of choices, and highly recommend considering them if you haven't already.

Our introduction to structured "schooling" was during our time in Bucks County, PA, when our daughter was four years old and practically begged us to let her go to preschool. She had grown up listening to Mom and Dad pontificate at home on a wide variety of subjects and wanted to learn (and maybe pontificate herself!). Mom and Dad, being proud products of the public school system, sold the virtues of schooling as just the place where an information-desiring daughter could get her brain fix. And our daughter believed us.

So, off we went on a preschool hunt! We did our due diligence, researched several possibilities, found a fine preschool, and prepared our excited-as-can-be daughter for her first day.

Yet, at the end of day number one she returned home not-so-excited. After a week or so of this we talked with her. She explained very matter-of-factly, "You drop me off, we put away our coats, then we sit in a circle and Miss "B" reads us a story, then we have play time, then we line up to use the bathroom, then we take a nap, then we line up to get juice, then we go outside, and then you pick me up. When do we get to learn?"

This was one of those child-raising rationalization moments that parents face from time-to-time. We tried explaining, "Well, you ARE learning. Learning to follow directions. Learning to play with others. Learning to listen attentively." But being an extremely quick learner, our sweet daughter would have none of it.

She desired experiential learning -- to study a topic of her liking and spend as much time with it as she wanted. Since it was clear this type of learning wasn't available at this particular preschool, our daughter's interest in attending completely disappeared, and that was the quick end to this adventure.

As the year went by and the next summer rolled around, kindergarten was the topic of much discussion around the house. The only slight bump in the road to a shining public school career was that our little daughter – having experienced preschool in the manner she did -- was now an educated consumer. A visit to the kindergarten classroom and an interview of the teacher was in order before she would consent to attending.

However, after the visit and interview it appeared to her that this kindergarten would not offer her the learning experience she sought, and our young educated consumer vetoed it. That was the fork in the road that defined the rest of our children's schooling.

My wife and I, as I said, proud public school alumni, thought kids had to go to kindergarten. That it was the law and would be illegal not to go. Yet our wonderful daughter was dead set against going. Uh-oh. This could be a problem.

How shocked we were when a little research uncovered that our fears were unfounded. Our daughter did not have to go to kindergarten. Or first grade. Or any grade at all for that matter. She could stay at home and become a "home scholar" as it were.

Complete some forms, create an educational plan, provide the learning experiences, test when required, have a yearly evaluation, prepare an end-of-year portfolio and submit it, and you were schooling! What a wonderful concept! How had we missed this?

And so it began, our exploits in alternative education. Occasionally through the years our daughter would visit the local public schools to see if she had any interest in attending. Finally in tenth grade she took one course at the high school, a few more in eleventh grade, and went full-time in twelfth grade. Now a sophomore at Penn State she wouldn't have done it any other way.

In the meantime her brother was born. Following in his big sister's footsteps he too was a home scholar through fifth grade. By that time we were here in Happy Valley and he found a wonderful charter school – Centre Learning Community Charter School – that spoke to him and gave him the opportunity to be the kid he needed to be. After a year there he decided he wanted to play middle school sports with some of his buddies and be in the same school with them, so off to Mount Nittany Middle School he went and he has had a fantastic time.

The point is that there are a number of educational choices available for children during the K-to-12 years-- and every day those choices expand. Public schools, sectarian schools, homeschooling, charter schools (bricks-and-mortar or online), private schools, and the list goes on. Depending on your child's needs and your personal situation, some choices may work well while others may not.

The important thing is that you know you have a choice. Unless you are homeschooling, your children will be spending much of their day in the care of whatever educational option you choose. So do your homework, be an educated consumer, and choose wisely.

Because as first lady Jacqueline Kennedy famously stated, "If you bungle raising your children, I don't think whatever else you do well matters very much."

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John Hook is the president of The Hook Group, a local management consulting firm, and active in several nonprofit organizations. Previously John spent 25 years in executive, management and marketing positions with regional and national firms. John lives in Ferguson Township with his wife Jackie and their two children.
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