Before I settled on a preschool for my son last fall I was kind of anxious about it. Quite frankly, it was ridiculous. It’s only preschool, not college! All I was really looking for is some socialization for my 3 year old and practice for him being away from me before heading off to kindergarten in two years.
There were two schools near my home that I was considering. I figured it was logical to use the one that is closest to me. But then all our local playgroup friends started choosing the school farther away. When I asked why the answer was typically “There’s nothing really wrong with the one closer to us…” they would say, “the other school just seems better.” I never really did get a concrete answer on why.
I was baffled. Was I a lazy parent for not shopping around more? I knew kids who had gone to the preschool closest to me and had good experiences. Why were so many of my mom friends suddenly against this school?
I resisted the urge to go see the other school. I just wanted to be able to trust the school in my own hometown. Even if the community thinks a school is lacking, it’s definitely not going to get any better if everyone leaves it for greener pastures. Just what was so much better? Were the extra miles I would have to travel each school day really worth it? I kept coming back to the thought, “but it’s only preschool!”
So we started the year at the school closest to us, along with two other children from playgroup (though about six went to the farther away school). In the beginning it was great. The teachers were friendly and caring and my son was adjusting pretty well to his new schedule. He is a bit of a homebody so he never got super excited about school, but I believe that is just his personality and reluctance to leave the nest, not a fault of the school.
Around Thanksgiving we suddenly had a lot of staff turnover. There were other issues that I had with how reliably teachers communicated with parents about the administrative side of things, but these weren’t issues my son was bothered by. According to him, school was still just fine. Being proactive with my complaints, I decided to join the preschool board. They were genuinely happy to have me join. They had been trying, unsuccessfully, to get more parents on the board. It was news to them that our school’s reputation was on the decline in the community. We talked about it at my very first meeting and I arranged some tours of other well respected preschools around the region to figure out what we were doing wrong and how we might fix it.
I visited three other schools and definitely got ideas for creative classroom activities and methods by visiting their preschool classrooms. I also gleaned some tips on how other schools handle personnel and finances, but mostly I learned that the schools operate very much the same. They have the same rotations of free play, snacks, guided activities, learning letters, numbers, shapes, colors and basic math and science.
In the end it boils down to how you feel when you walk into the school and talk with a teacher.
Different kids will respond to some teachers better than others, and a school that works well for one child might not be ideal for another. I can certainly respect that.
Yet I also learned, or rather reinforced the idea, that if you want a thriving school community (be it preschool, elementary, middle or high school) we, as parents, need to be an involved part of it.
Between my two children, I will be a part of our preschool’s community for four years. That’s a lot of time to invest and I want to make the most of it. Joining the board has been a positive experience and I’m determined to leave the school an even better place after my two children are done with it.