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Moms Talk: School Decisions: Public or Private? And Advanced Programs

A new weekly feature for moms, dads and families to ask questions, get answers and give advice. This week parents weigh in on how they choose the best programs for their children

Moms Talk is part of a new Vienna Patch initiative to reach out to moms and families in Vienna.

Grab a cup of coffee and settle in as we start the conversation today with a topic many parents are discussing around this time of year: what schools and what programs to choose for their children.

It's a debate that starts as early as preschool: Should we send the kids to private or public school? Will they get what we need? Is the cost of private school a smart investment when we'll be paying for college tuition in just a few years? What if my child isn't challenged? What are the pros and cons of a more rigorous course load? What about home schooling?

Some background:

About one of every six residents in Fairfax County is a public school student, according to Fairfax County Public Schools. The school system, the 11th largest system in the country, has earned national recognition for high student achievement. Of 196 schools or centers, 48 are alternative programs or learning centers.

In the county system, children can be tested in first grade to enter the Advanced Academic Level IV (formerly known as gifted and talented) programs on a part-or full-time basis. There are additional honors options throughout elementary and middle schools. In high school, they can apply to the Thomas Jefferson High School of Science and Technology, or elect to take Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses.

Some children in Fairfax County never enter the public school system at all. Some are homeschooled. Some are put into private schools that offer full-day kindergarten.

Other students leave the system in middle and high school for private schools in Virginia, Washington, D.C., or Maryland (The Duke Ellington School of the Arts and The Potomac School are two frequent choices). Some parents of these students have said FCPS focuses too much  on the standards of learning (SOL),  which takes valuable time away from intuitive learning, or learning via non-classroom activities like robotics, music, science and art.

Other parents enroll their children elsewhere because they want a lower student to teacher ratio, or, a school that better fits with their child's special needs.

As enrollment season begins, how do you choose what is best for your child?

Chandra February 25, 2011 at 05:30 PM
Good point, Carol, about the timing! The (imperfect) definition of LD includes a discrepancy component, which may not be measureable until 3rd or 4th grade. A current focus on providing early interventions and the partnership you described should, in theory, ensure that a child's instructional needs are met prior to eligibility testing.
Crystal February 25, 2011 at 05:56 PM
Absolutely advocate for your child. What I learned early on is that every LD is different and not every teacher knows about every disability. A the start of every school year I would send an email to all my child's teachers and copied the asssigned counselor. Giving them "Cliff Notes" on what my child's disability was, links to information online and I always Thanked them for the job they were taking on. The email was my "polite squeaky wheel." and quietly said that I was watching. As I said before, we had a wonderful experience with LD services in FCPS. A very good site to visit is http://www.ldonline.org/indepth
SCJ February 25, 2011 at 06:07 PM
Thanks, everyone, I ended up having her testing on my own dime ( a LONG story) and she already has a 504. I've had to politely remind teachers of my daughter's needs and condition on an on-going basis. She's not quite bad enough to require she be pulled out of class, but bad enough that she needs special acccommodations. That's a tough place to be - the middle. Her IQ is also above average, so she can fake her way thru a lot of things for now. I was really just curious about what's going to happen as the school work gets harder and the school gets bigger!
Beth February 28, 2011 at 06:15 PM
Thanks, MAL! I agree that the Vienna Youth Sports programs are wonderful ways to ground the children, let them try out several sports and have fun. Perhaps the Vienna Patch could do an article on the youth sports' teams? There's VYI with its myriad of options, Vienna Little League, and the Reston Raiders for hockey (many kids play there). During the summer, many children swim in the local swim leagues, too.
Beth February 28, 2011 at 06:18 PM
Regarding local preschools, the Church of the Good Shepherd on Hunter Mill is starting a preschool next fall. The Director there, Penny Ransanke, is beloved by all the children and will be wonderful. Depending on where you live in Vienna, LANK (Lake Anne Nursery Kindergarten) in Reston is also excellent. My son attended there and had terrific teachers, small class sizes, and had creative music and art programs. He is in second grade now, but sees many of his old LANK friends. It's a special place.

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