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Why I Have One Child in Public and the Other in Private School

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My daughter’s brain is worth approximately $310,000 dollars.

At least that’s the amount of money that has been spent so far on her private school education. That does not include the uniforms, textbooks, school trips, donations, and the food she buys at school for lunch and snacks. By the time she graduates, her brain will be worth almost a half a million dollars, which is a hell of a lot of money.

My son’s brain, in comparison, is worth… um… zero, at least monetarily, since his father and I decided to send him to public school. So why do I have one kid in private and one in public school?

My daughter was very shy when she was young. Her father and I heard of a little-known private school, located in an office building in Toronto. The classes were small and were balanced equally in numbers of boys and girls. Teachers walked around with cell phones, and students called them by their first names. Both my daughter and I adored the school. It felt like a small community and we all looked out for each other’s children. Plus, she was our first child and we wanted her to have a great education in an environment that felt like a small home. Neither her father or I went to private school.

As she was starting grade two, her father and I discussed moving her to a different private school, closer to where my daughter and I live, in what is known as an ‘Entrance Year’ in the private school world. (Entrance years are when they accept new students, in J.K., Grade 3, Grade 7, and Grade 9).

There was a lot of angst, at least for me. Especially when I was told by an acquaintance, ‘Well, I’m on the board. Maybe I can help your daughter get in.’ WTF? This ‘friend’ thought I should be grateful but I was insulted. Why did she think that my daughter couldn’t get in on her own? And, really, was that how private schools operated?

When it came to getting my daughter into the neighbourhood private school, not only did her father and I have to be interviewed, my daughter had to go in by herself with someone in the admissions office (my then 7-year-old apparently sang ‘Happy Birthday’ in Mandarin.)

In truth, it wasn’t easy, and there’s a myth that if you have money, your kid will automatically get into the private school of your choice. Conversely, to get my son into public school, I literally filled out a form, proving that I lived in the area, two days before the start of the school year.

Money talk—it’s all so uncomfortable. But, truthfully, money is the reason I’m not sending my son to private school. Not yet anyway. My son, unlike my daughter, has had a crew of friends in the neighbourhood since he was born, thanks to regular play dates set up by a crew of parents and nannies. So when it came time for us parents to decide where our children would go to J.K. and S.K., it was an interesting conversation. Like me, many of my parent friends also had decided to send their children to public school, even if their older offspring were in private school. Why? Because it’s friggin’ expensive! Yes, we’d like our children to go to private school, one day, maybe—but we don’t want to pay that sum anymore. At least not in the early years, when we’re paying $30,000 a year for our kids to play with sand and learn not to hit each other during reading time.

I will say this about private schools. Never once when I have walked into my daughter’s school have the kids been rude. There’s no class in etiquette, but for some reason, all the girls, at least the ones I’ve asked for directions, have not only helped me, but have actually walked with me to where I needed to go. These girls know to open doors for others. They shake hands when they meet adults, as if they are mini politicians. They answer your questions like mini-adults, too, clearly and politely. I also like that it’s cool at her school to be on teams, to be academically inclined, to contribute not only to their school but the community and others who are not as blessed. It’s drilled into them to be good students . . . and good people. But I often wonder if they know how blessed they are.

One of my friends says she’s putting away the amount it would cost to send her kid to a private school into a savings account. So when her son graduates, he’ll have a nice little (BIG) nest egg, so he can put a down payment on a house, travel the world, pay for his University, or whatever. Now, I’m trying to do the same. My son’s father and I do talk about sending our son to a private school, when he’s older. We’re not snobs. We’re not filthy rich. Like all parents, we just want our kids to be happy and get the best education possible. So far, my son is perfectly happy in public school. And maybe he’d hate private school.

So what are the other differences between public and private? Well, while my daughter’s school features a salad bar that even I’m jealous of that, I have to pack lunch and snacks for my son. I love my son’s public school teachers, just as much as my daughter’s teachers. They are on top of things and will answer e-mails almost instantly, just as my daughter’s teachers will. And guess what? There is a community feeling to his class. I like the idea of him not growing up inside a bubble—which despite her currently well-rounded nature, I worry my daughter is.

I do not like, however, the class sizes in public schools and having a split class (who does?) Unlike private schools, where no news is good news, I do wonder, especially as my son gets older, if he may fall through the cracks (who doesn’t?)

There is no difference between sending a young child to private versus public school, I’ve learned.  Do I believe that sending your child to a private school gives them a leg up in life? In some ways, absolutely. When my daughter missed an entire month at her school to pursue ski racing, the school not only understood but encouraged it. One of her friends is so talented a singer, she’s permitted to miss many days so she can record in Nashville and Los Angeles. It’s doubtful that my son’s public school would allow so much time off school like that. Unlike public schools, where the kids generally go on to higher education in Canada, my daughter’s private school encourages students to aim for colleges overseas or in America.

But are there differences in other ways? Probably not all that much when they are so young, aside from the money. For many parents, bragging rights to a good private school is more than sufficient.

Will I be sending my son to private school? Probably. But that doesn’t mean I think my children will fare better than children who don’t go to private school. All kids are crap shoots, no matter what school they go to, and the truth is, I really don’t know.

But it’s (almost) a million dollar question, isn’t it?

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