by Joe Nathan – Guest Columnist
How can public school options help youngsters? Pam Jutila, a mother in Ramsey, has been writing to me since April. She described how her three youngsters have gained from options.
Her first note commented on a column about a student who had trouble in a large high school and was doing far better in a smaller, arts-focused public school.
Pam wrote: “Our son is our youngest. With his two older sisters, we can certainly attest to your statement in the article that ‘no single school is perfect for everyone.’ Our oldest daughter dormed at the Perpich Arts School for dance her junior and senior year of high school. While difficult for me (as mom) to have her gone, I know that it was much more fulfilling for her than had she gone the ‘normal’ high school route; she graduated from the U of M Morris in 2009.
“Our second daughter did fine at the district high school. Her friends were a grade above her, so when they graduated, our daughter elected to do PSEO (Post Secondary Enrollment Options) her senior year. This proved to be an excellent stepping stone for her in terms of responsibilities and adjusting to college away from home, and she’s on track to graduate from U of M Morris in 2014, a year earlier as a result.”
While delighted with her daughters’ progress, last April Pam was deeply concerned about her youngest child, Dan.
“Last season was a painful season to walk through. … Our two girls have ‘gotten through the system’ successfully, but our son was struggling big time.”
She continued: “What worked for many other kids just wasn’t working for our son, and we knew we had to make a change. The summer was filled with due diligence of looking at various options, and we decided to try an online school that we heard really good feedback from parents.
“Our son started with Connections Academy (charter public school) the end of August, and I marvel at the difference. Dan’s confidence is back, and he is ‘owning’ his education. It’s not a cakewalk; the kid is putting in a lot of hours and I think he still has opportunity to use his time more effectively. But he knows what’s expected; the grades are posted within a day or so; he’s talking to his teachers all the time. He has the syllabus for the entire course (similar to college) so he can be more planful on what is coming up; thus, he’s scheduling his time better. He has a part-time job and still sees his friends. Most importantly, if there are issues, I know they are Dan’s issues (vs. the school), so we can be confident on what needs to be worked through … and that sometimes is the biggest deal.”
Pam also wrote that she didn’t know about the PSEO career/tech course that Dan could take for free. He’s very interested in computers, so the family is checking the 10th grade Post Secondary Enrollment Options.
Public school options won’t solve every problem. But as Pam’s experience shows, they can help.
Joe Nathan, formerly a public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome, email@example.com.