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Navigating the World of Your Child’s Education

Four important factors to consider

Kristi Northup on June 18, 2018

When I was growing up, it seemed like everyone I knew registered at the local public school the summer before they started kindergarten. They would attend there through sixth grade, at which time everybody transferred to the local junior high, followed by the local high school.

It’s just not always that simple anymore.

Should we put our kids in public school? Home school? Charter school? Advanced studies? Language immersion? Private Christian school? Catholic parochial? Montessori? All girls? All boys? It feels like a minefield at times, as though one wrong move could ruin your child’s future. And we haven’t even started talking about college.

Ministry families often face pressure from well-meaning congregants who have strong opinions about what they should or shouldn’t do for their children’s education. I am a firm believer that when it comes to education, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

Each ministry family faces unique challenges, and they are the only ones who can determine the right course for their children.

I live in a city where education is a very complicated endeavor. After years of being the worst performing school district in the country, the New Orleans Public School System disbanded following Hurricane Katrina, releasing all teachers and administrators from their positions.

Virtually all public schools became charter schools. This means you must apply for every school you might want your child to attend — public, charter or private.

Starting with pre-kindergarten, our children have attended Christian school, public school and charter school. Now we must determine where our 12-year-old daughter will attend high school after her Spanish immersion charter ends in eighth grade.

It’s a patchwork of applications, testing, and campus visit days, and we’re behind. Most of her friends started the process a year ago.

Reflecting on this, I’ve narrowed the process down to four criteria. These aren’t in any order of importance. Each one is equally important — or, at different moments, one may matter more than another. It’s not about finding a perfect match on all of these criteria but using these factors to help weigh the decision. 

Worldview

Does the administration and faculty embody the values that are important to our family? In addition to faith considerations, there are other questions we need to ask ourselves. For instance, what kind of discipline tactics do they use? Do they teach respect? Do they value other cultures?

Each ministry family faces unique challenges, and they are the only ones who can determine the right course for their children.

It’s nearly impossible to get a 100 percent match on this. I think a good goal is at least 50 percent. The school our kids currently attend is not Christian, so that is a difference we must navigate as a family. They don’t celebrate any holidays, which is fine with me. I’ll give up Christmas and Valentine’s Day to avoid doing Halloween and Mardi Gras at school.

Quality of the Education

How is the school rated? What curriculum does it use? How well are events organized? What extracurricular activities are available? Those things are a reflection of the overall quality.

However, it’s possible to strengthen a lower quality of education by other means if the school is otherwise a fit for your family. In his book, Restoring At-Risk Communities, Dr. John Perkins advocated for ministry families to keep their kids in the public school located in the neighborhood where they live.

Perkins recommended using the money you would spend on private school to supplement your children’s education with things like tutoring, lessons and special trips. This can create the ability to relate to all kinds of people, without sacrificing the quality of education. It’s an interesting perspective that left a big impression on me.

Student Body

What are the student success rates? Is the school known for being rough? If the school has a poor reputation, are there ways your family and church can counter that or influence it for good? How are girls and women treated?

This becomes more of an issue as kids move into middle and high school. I’m not saying these things are deal breakers, just that parents should have their eyes wide open and be aware of any challenges their children may face.

There’s a misconception that private school is safer. Just because an administration shares your worldview doesn’t mean there isn’t a hostile culture among the students.

Individual Issues

Sometimes kids have difficult adjustments from moving, a bullying situation, or a school that just isn’t a good fit. Is the child a leader? A follower? Is the child going through an especially tough season?

There are times when you may need to consider a total change. The best education options sometimes differ from child to child, and even from year to year. In the moment, it may be hard to change mid-course, but long-term, it can prove beneficial.

There are many other factors that may come into play as well. Don’t hesitate to look at your options. Maybe you pastor a church plant without a kids’ or youth ministry, and Christian school is a good fit for your family. There may be financial resources available that you’re not aware of that the school can recommend.

Whatever education decision God leads your family to, you can trust Him to help your children thrive. We’ve seen God use our kids in public charter school in ways we never imagined. And I’ve heard many parents say, “I never thought I would home-school, but it’s working for our family.”

The Lord cares about our children even more than we do. We can depend on Him to open doors that benefit our kids in ways we don’t even understand at the time.

As you think and pray about school during these summer months, keep this promise in mind: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

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