When I went to school, life was uncomplicated: I went to the elementary school, then middle school, then high school based purely on where we lived. I was basically unaware of the other schools in our district other than some minimal rivalry between us in football which I didn’t give a plugged nickel about. This all worked fine because we lived in nice suburban areas in Southern California so I went to safe, well-staffed schools in the ‘burbs and did just fine.
Modern times makes everything more nuanced, however, and one of the most interesting facets of this is with public school. In Colorado, schools have what they call Open Enrollment, a way for parents to petition the district to allow their child to attend a specific school based on its location, academic focus, size, or even sports teams. It’s a sort of interim step towards the overwhelming complexity of college choice (with over 6000 colleges and universities just in the United States!) and it’s for school at any grade level too, not just high school.
People have been debating “voucher” programs for years, but if you ask me, open enrollment is an excellent option which doesn’t support private schools with taxpayer money, but otherwise is a great way for children and families to find the best match.
My youngest, K-, is in 8th grade so next year she can continue at the small private school she’s been attending for many years, but she’s eager for some new horizons and a richer world of peers and potential friends. So we have jumped into the world of open enrollment in the greater Boulder area and have attended tours and open house events at two schools that meet our criteria of being a good school with excellent opportunities and a geographic location that works for both my home in NE Boulder and her mother’s house about 15mi NW of Boulder.
It’s been an eye-opening experience and has really underscored the benefits and limitations of the small school she attends now. For reference, her school’s high school has a total student population across 9-12 of under 100. One of the high schools we visited has a total high school student population of around 250, and the other is expecting an incoming freshman class alone of almost 400 students next year. Kind of like the three bears, yes? Small, medium and really big.
For comparison sake, I went to a high school in SoCal with about 2000 total students in attendance, but don’t really recall it feeling that big. Then again, I didn’t much like high school and was out and off campus as soon as possible every afternoon. Linda, K-‘s mom, went to an elite private school in Kansas City where the class size was considerably smaller, around 700 students ranging from kindergarten to 12th grade. As a guess, maybe 40-45 students per grade level or 120 in the high school.
Because my kids have all gone to private or alternative high schools, I haven’t spent much time at all in a public school to see how it all works nowadays. So I was impressed. Quite impressed, actually, with the facilities of even the smaller of the schools we toured. The photos I’m sharing here are a mix of the two high schools and both are really nice, with accessible architecture, smart design and lots of features that show just how far school design has evolved.
And some of the little things impressed me too. Like text books. Actual, really well designed text books that offered a wide range of information and exercises on specific subjects like psychology (as shown above). Not only that, but schools are all dealing with the plague of smartphones in student pockets and both the public schools we explored have a one student: one iPad policy too, so if my girl does head to one of these schools, she’ll be given an Apple iPad for homework, research and related.
Ultimately, however, the only questoin that matters with school choice is which school is going to be the best choice for my child?
That’s something we’ve been debating and I have reminded my 13yo more than once that she “has a seat at the table” but that the final decision of which high school she attends will be something that she, her mother and I agree upon, not just her choice. Then again, many kids decide on a high school based on where their friends are heading and K- is clearly not at all concerned about making new friends, eschewing where her BFF is heading next year.
I won’t announce our final choice out of privacy but I’ll just end by saying that the choices are impressive. We hear a lot about the challenges of public school, but get too little information about the benefits and many positives. Now, how about you? Did your family utilize open enrollment and if so, how did that go and how did you make the final decision?