What a roller coaster ride these last few months have been for
Chicago parents. First, we explored the school options out there
for our little ones (private, neighborhood, tuition-based, magnet,
open enrollment, classical, gifted. You know the rest, need we
really continue?). Then we applied -- and toured, interviewed and
play-dated -- and finally, we awaited the answer: which schools
"want" our children? The whole process is enough to bring out the
tiger (Tiger Mom, that is) in even the mellowest of parents.
It seems every parent we run into
lately has the same tight smile and anxious eyes, asking that
loaded question, "Did you hear anything?" Or, for the lucky few who
got an acceptance letter, there's the honorable attempt to hide the
feeling of tremendous accomplishment they feel while consoling the
less fortunate parents saying, "Don't worry. I'm sure it will all
No matter how much you tell yourself
it doesn't matter, when anything but an acceptance letter arrives,
your first desperate thought is: What now?
Looking around, parents are
employing a wide variety of strategies to get their children the
best education possible. The first is "Knock 'Em Dead", which
involves preparing children under five for the city's gifted and
honors programs. Visit the city's preschools, and you'll be
surprised by how many four-year-olds are reading. Yes, reading. Is
this what's best for our kids? Look at Finland -- their children
don't learn to read until seven, but they later run circles around
us academically. There is a fear that we're pushing our kids too
much, too early but, considering our options, do we have any other
Another popular strategy likely to
be employed by parents is what we call: "Get Out of the City." But
for many moms and dads who love the culture and diversity here,
Chicago is home. For others, a house in the 'burbs is just not
financially feasible. Either way, losing families to the suburbs
due to schooling issues creates a drain on the energy, creativity
and resources -- financial and otherwise -- that parents with young
children have to offer. Is a city without families a place where
you'd want to live?
So parents decide to stay, and
that's when the strategy we like to call "Panic" sets in. You
contact every person in your Smartphone, every Facebook friend and
Twitter follower to see if someone happens to know someone of
influence at some school. Next, your brain fast forwards 14 years,
and the cold fear sets in that your child won't get into a good
college, won't get the right job (now you're mind races ahead about
18 years), and will probably be living at home, with you,
How about a new strategy called
"Stay and Thrive"? In this scenario, Mayor Emanuel sets education
at the top of his administration's agenda and we, as parents,
figure out how to be meaningfully and positively involved in
securing our children's futures. In the time you can say 'great SAT
scores', we can tick off the names of dozens of parents with
degrees in education, psychology, technology, health, public
policy, etc. who would contribute their time to make the Chicago
school system the best in the country. Use us, Mayor Emanuel, and
keep us here so we can build the next generation of Chicago.
And for those of you fretting about
where your child will be for kindergarten, take heart. As Families
in the Loop's Education Expert Mandee Polonsky says, "Children are
already set up for a great foundation when they have parents who
clearly care deeply about their education." Although it may not
feel like it now, we're not the first ones to be going through
this. Just think: compared to pre-school, those college apps will
be a breeze!
To get more specific information on
your family's education options, check out Mandee's advice at familiesintheloop.com.
Wendy Widom is CEO of Familes in the Loop (FITL), Chicago's hippest hub for parents and kids.
See more of Wendy 's stories here.
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