Next fall, the boys should start Kindergarten at the K-5 school down the street with 1400 other students. This is more people than the town where I attended elementary school. The boys’ local school also doesn’t have a true dual language program, so we asked for a transfer to another, smaller dual language public school. Yet, there are only 40 spots available for over 100 students. Worried the boys might not get in, we searched alternatives. I’m a huge proponent for public schools, but we did look into a charter school across town.
Last month, I went to tour the charter school that has about 200 students K-5. The school runs almost an hour longer than public schools here, but they offer violin for every student two times a week. Art twice a week, too. And, they have lacrosse, Aikido, and fencing—besides recess. They have enrichment classes after school that include cooking, art, dancing, drama, or guitar.
Most of the public elementary schools here have either P.E. or art. Classroom teachers usually incorporate art into their lessons, rather than a true art class at least once a week. P.E. happens when it can. (I’ve known middle school students who’ve never had art as an elective & only one quarter of P.E. in three years.) Unless you’re in band, you won’t play an instrument or have chorus—ever—at least in middle school, though the public elementary school we visited did not have a regular music program.either. That means no regular schedule for music, dance, or art for students.
I just don’t understand why everyone can’t have what the charter school offers. Why can’t there be only 200 students per building? Why can’t every kid get art AND P.E. AND music? Why do we insist on spending our money on a test that my colleagues and I could sit down and guess-ta-mate within a few percentage points accuracy for each of our students, yet fail to inspire kids through the arts and physical education?
As I stood on the second floor of this charter school looking out to the mesa towards my school, I couldn’t help compare the two sites. Here, this school stood with massive windows presenting the outside world like a gift. Students could sketch the mountains from their seats in every room. There are few if any windows in our building because the district worried about vandalism and the price to repair windows. Even though we have an incredible view outside, in the majority of classrooms at my school, students look at a white, cinder block wall.
There were downsides at the charter school, too, like a missing cafeteria and no real play area (they’re working on it). But overall, I was amazed at how much students received compared to my building. When we stunt students’ growth by limiting their experiences, it’s not really a surprise they’re not as proficient as we expect. Below is a picture from my barrack window. Compared to the picture of the mountains from above, where would you feel more inspired?