Saturday, March 12, 2011

Teach Your Children

My daughter is about to graduate from college and accept one of two offers to pursue her master's degree. She has always been a conscientious, hard-working student. I stopped asking pretty early on if she had done her homework, because she always did. But this isn't so much a blog about Georgia the ace student, as it is about the educational choices I (and her dad) made for her.
Both of the kids were educated in private institutions (until college, a fact I find interesting). As the oldest, Georgia went to private kindergarten, with a graduating class of seven. Once Will was old enough to enter preschool and Georgia first grade, we switched them to St. Matthew's, a quality Catholic school that is, sadly, no longer.
The decision of a non-Catholic family to send their children to a parochial school was not made lightly, or without a lot of financial sacrifice (non-Catholics pay a higher tuition rate). We knew the kids would be OK at the neighborhood city elementary school (but we weren't keen on the mile-long walk expected of first-graders), yet what hung us up was the middle school situation. Frankly, at the time, it wasn't all that great.
Finances were such that we could afford Catholic school, so we enrolled the kids, telling them they didn't have to take the Catholic canon to heart, but to embrace the spirituality of what was being said.
But back to kindergarten. It was suggested to me that Georgia should skip first grade. I barely considered it--the answer was no. I didn't want to pull her from her peer group; skipping a grade would mean she'd always be the youngest.
Then in first grade, they wanted to enroll her in a gifted program. (Do they even have gifted programs anymore?) I don't like the idea of labeling a kid, good or bad, smart or slow, and especially not my kid! This is a child who, even by age 6, I could tell put way too much pressure on herself. What would thrusting her into a competitive gifted program do to that self-motivation? I was afraid it would turn her into a neurotic wreck.
If she is truly gifted, I thought, let it manifest itself in high school, when grades really matter. Now, I don't know if Georgia is gifted or not, but I do know that the decision to let her studiousness emerge on her terms was one of the best I made for her. Within a week of being accepted at SUNY Oswego, we received a letter, outlining her $4,000 a year scholarship. Then came the letter inviting her into the honors program (which she still is part of). Last week we found out she won the Outstanding Senior in Zoology award, worth several hundred dollars. And she is weighing two offers, from SUNY ESF, and SUNY Buffalo, all with stipends, fellowships and enough other money attached so the master's will be earned, at no cost.
Guess the investment made in Catholic school literally paid off.

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