Kindergarten GPS

Helping Your Child Navigate Their Way to the Right School

By Courtney Daly-Pavone March 15, 2018

We are fortunate to have so many educational options in San Diego, from school choice to charter schools, private and religious schools.  If this abundance of choices keeps you up at night, you're not alone.  As it turns out, all of those opportunities make it harder to decide, and if that isn't enough to spur neurosis, the odds of getting into that small, bilingual charter school with taekwondo might be about the same as getting into Harvard.  Spoiler alert, the lotteries are lotteries. You hope for the best with a dose of realism. To help you navigate through the maze of elementary schools I spoke to Nicole  Assisi CEO & Founder of Thrive Public Schools in San Diego.  Dr. Assisi advises, "In any school, parents should look for adults who love kids and are happy to be engaged in learning with them every day.  As a mom, I tell folks to not just look for what you can read online but to go to a campus, meet the folks who will spend time with your child, and trust your gut! Students will forget whether their building was painted or the tables were new, but they will always remember their experiences and friends that shape their school experience."

A lot depends on the teacher and the dynamic of the class.  Even the best school may not have the ideal group of students in a classroom.  This makes schools completely subjective, everyone's experience is different.  I remember being forewarned about my child's Kindergarten teacher, but he had a wonderful experience in that teacher's class.   We never encountered any of the problems that the other parent had complained about.

Beth Licha Director of Enrollment at Soille San Diego Hebrew Day School says "It's very important for parents to consider the core values of the school, to make sure they reflect the family values.  Children receive much more than just an academic education for the many hours for which they are in school each day.  Children are also taught personal and worldviews that will remain with them for life."

With so many schools offering enrichment courses in art, science, music even coding, choosing an elementary school may seem like choosing a college.  If you take that approach, you have to think of your child's interests.  I know two mothers who enrolled their sons at Barnard Elementary School because their children showed an interest in Asian culture at an early age. Thrive Public Schools CEO & Founder Nicole Assisi says colleges and elementary schools have one question in common that parents should ask, "Is there something in the environment or curriculum that will excite your child and spark their learning? These soft considerations can be more important than test scores and data."

No Two Charter Schools are the Same

There are charter schools like Old Town Academy that offer everything from robotics to music instruction in guitar, violin, and piano.  The Museum School has enrichment classes in drama, sewing, cooking, and world music.  There are language immersion schools like Albert Einstein Academy which teaches students German.  The Cooperative Charter school which has a half-day Kindergarten schedule with options in the morning or afternoon to accommodate their large roster of students.  Thrive Charter Schools offer art classes twice weekly, and individualized lesson plans.  According to its Director, the school also unites children in San Diego from forty-five different zip codes, "Supporting them with individualized lesson plans, project-based learning, and a commitment to social-emotional growth. We make school bigger than their backyard so that they can see the world as it is and prepare for the world as it will be."

Your values, a child's interests, class size, the distance of the school from your home all come into play when choosing a Kindergarten, but you also have to ask yourself if your child is emotionally ready for the big leap from Preschool to Kinder.  Some children qualify for Transitional Kindergarten if their birthday falls between September 2nd and December 2nd.  TK is usually a half-day program where children learn sight words, handwriting, and basic math.  It gives children more time to mature, but it isn't offered at every public school so some parents choose to keep their children in preschool an extra year.  

Beth Licha offers this tip for assessing your child to see if they are ready for Kinder. She says students should "Know all the letters and sounds of the alphabet, know their numbers in sequential order to approximately 100, have the ability to hold a pencil properly to make purposeful marks, can follow straight and curved lines while cutting with scissors and can easily follow three-step instructions." 

Kindergarten is the next chapter of your child's educational experience.  It is a special time for learning, making friends, and taking that first step on their own.  By making an informed decision you are making that transition easier and more beneficial for your little one.