Wednesday, November 24, 2010

This Year I’m Thankful for Options

One of my goals for this crazy school process was to broaden my horizons in my search. I wanted to make sure I explored all options available to my child for elementary education, hopefully allowing for a not so scary lottery in the winter/spring. You know, as my friend puts it, to “cast a wider net.” Well, I’ve toured two schools so far so I’d say that’s a pretty big FAIL on my part. But, I do have plans to tour more and one of the schools I toured was not a public school so I guess so far I’m casting a wider net, just a very small one.

Anyway, recently I toured Zion Lutheran. I had heard good things about the school from a few sources and thought I should check it out on my own. Overall I really liked the school. I put specific tour notes here, but will touch on a few points of interest below.

School Size
Zion is a small school and I wasn’t sure how I would feel about that before my tour (they limit class sizes to 25, but most classes are closer to 15 students). However, once I walked in I got an immediate sense that everyone knows everyone else and I really felt like it was a little family. There are multiple “buddy” opportunities where the younger children are paired up with the older children and it really seems like Zion takes pride in the idea of everyone knowing everyone else. Once I was done with my tour I had a complete change of heart about school size. I had gone into it with a sort of “bigger=better” mindset and left really wanting a smaller school environment for my son. Especially after I heard that the kindergarten teacher tailors the homework to the specific academic level of the child. Wow, wouldn’t that be awesome? In Zion’s case I think the school size is a huge plus in my list of pros and cons.

Religious Aspect
Zion Lutheran is (obviously) a religious school. I asked the admissions director (who was SO nice and friendly, by the way) how religion was incorporated into the curriculum and found out the following:

• About 60% of their students would not be identified as Lutheran (or religious for that matter)
• They DO teach about other religions, though it seemed to be in more of a “this is what other people do/did” as opposed to a “here are your options” way
• There is a once a week church service the children attend that is geared towards kids. The upper grade kids each have a younger buddy they sit with during the service (which is about 30-40 min long).
• The parents are not required to attend (or donate to) the church, but are asked to attend services 4 times a year for the vocal choir performances the children do at regular church services.
• There are bible references/ God references/ religious references in the curriculum and around the school, though they seemed very general and not overbearing (at least to me).
• When I asked about Zion’s stance on families that may not include the typical mother, father, 2.5 children and dog, I was told there are children at the school from every possible type of family and any biblical teaching about families is done with the sensitivity that the children there come from all different family dynamics.

After/Before School Care
Zion runs an after and before school care program that is available for every child that attends the school. The best part (in my opinion) is that the children don’t necessarily need to be signed up to attend a certain day. A parent could call and say they are going to be late and to just please send their children along to the after school care program. There is an additional fee to use the after/before care program, but it is nominal ($12 for full day, I think it was $6 for partial day). From someone who is contemplating childcare options at the moment, that sounded really, really, really nice. Kids can also receive tutoring and music lessons on-site after school for an additional fee.

I really liked Zion Lutheran and think it is a great option for our son. Unfortunately, after doing a little number crunching, the reality for our family is that any financial obligation will be a push, so I can’t say for certain yet what we will do. In Zion’s paperwork there were three different organizations listed that offer financial assistance so I will be looking closely at those and applying (probably) to all three.

So, in addition to all the other things I’m thankful for (family, friends, peppermint bark ice cream, etc), I’m adding “elementary school options” to my list this year. It’s good to have options.

10 comments:

  1. Ditto...we also toured and were very impressed by this school. One question we had, though, is will it work for families who don't live in the immediate area?

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  2. Depends on your circumstances. The 8:30 start time is pretty manageable. There's a reasonable amount of non-permit parking in the area. I wouldn't call it "piece of cake," but it's OK. I drop off, park on the street, then catch an express bus downtown. But if you live in the SE and commute down to Silicon Valley, this school would be a big out-of-your-way hassle.

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  3. A note on the religion aspect: An acquaintance has a son in fourth grade there and she mentioned he's getting a "D" because he hasn't memorized the required Bible verses. That would give me pause, but to each his own.

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  4. You can't expect a religious school not to teach religion! You can't really have it both ways.

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  5. Yeah, I would assume that if we decided on Zion part of my son's grading process would be religion based. Obviously this is a personal preference that won't work for everyone.
    Also, I live nowhere near the school and I don't see why it wouldn't work for me based on location. I work from home right now, but the great before and after school care options make it very doable even if I go back to the office next year.
    Thanks for your comments everyone!

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  6. In my opinion there's a difference between teaching religion and having kids memorize Bible verses.

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  7. Well, 4:56, private schools can teach the way they want, and obviously it's important to Zion Lutheran that their students learn Bible verses. That's a fairly traditional part of religious education -- it's unclear on the concept to squawk about it.

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  8. Of course the school can teach it, but that doesn't mean parents will be on board with it. Frankly, I was surprised that this was part of the curriculum in a school run by a mainstream Protestant denomination. Sounds more like a fundamentalist school to me--or maybe I've just gotten the Lutherans wrong all these years.

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    1. And what is "teach" without "test"?

      The "memorize verses" part is not onerous. At least when I went to Zion, more than 15 years ago. The verses were like one or two sentences, you get one week to memorize and recite it, and then you can forget it as far as your grade is concerned.

      The exception is when you're doing, like, the entire Ten Commandments, or an explanation by Martin Luther. Then the students get a bit more time to memorize it.

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  9. We went to the Pre-k play day at Zion today and I am more in love with that sweet little school than I was before. The school really gives the feeling of being a family.

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