WSG MS: An Excerpt

Westside Guide to Middle School 

by Tanya Anton

[An excerpt — Latest Edition for 2014!]

Overview: Yikes, Middle School!

Does the thought send shivers down your spine, or a sudden urgent impulse to begin scanning the MLS listings across town? Does it make you yearn for a kinder, gentler, simpler time, like say, when you were positioning and politicking, literally climbing over each other to get into that desirable preschool? Do you recall the happy days of yore when you were engulfed in the Kindergarten search angst, yet now in hindsight, you think, that was nothing!

Middle school, we’re talking Middle school here. Big kids, kids ripe with budding hormones and willfulness and insubordinate behavior, kids with all kinds of other influences running through beige lifeless buildings corralled by tired tenured teachers who are beaten down by a district both absent yet omnipotent…

Middle school? Not MY child!

Reaching for a drink you suddenly wish you had stayed in Ohio, or followed the exodus up to Portland, or for heaven sake, why can’t that brilliant mobile app concept or screenplay of yours sell already so you can finally afford to pay for private school. Or move into one of the Holy Grails of school districts. You know the one, down the way, or over yonder, where the streets are lined with gold….

A sudden choir of angelic voices rings out one long sustained chord. No, wait, actually it’s the Rolling Hills choir. (A choir so good, so heavenly, they toured Venezuela last year, or was it China, you wonder…) only to be shattered and brought back to the stark one-two punch reality of your combined zip code and bank balance.

Sorry. I feel your pain. I do. I’m right there with you.

How we got to this place, districtly-speaking, is a long and twisted tale beyond the scope of this Guidebook. How we fix things up, well, I can say I have plenty of ideas, but that’s a whole other uphill book to write. For now, let’s just take one step at a time and concentrate on what we do know and can figure out together: what our options are.

So without further ado, go pour yourself a stiff one, (I always say there’s something about public schools and cocktails that just seem to go hand-in-hand!), get out your number two pencils and repeat after me:

“It’s going to be okay…it’s going to okay…it’s going to be okay!”

*        *         *

Let’s Start At The Beginning: Some General Info

Q. Why would I consider a public Middle School?
This is an excellent question. However, in this downward economy, the first thing that comes to mind is the price tag. For some of us, facing an annual $28-35K per child – per year tuition bill, (plus additional student fees and costs and books and equipment and uniforms and school trips, not to mention annual giving fees), is simply not an option, especially if you’re trying to build up that nest egg for college.

Let’s do some simple math. $28-35K per year for private school, plus an additional $3-5K in annual student fees, over the 7 years it takes to complete 6th through 12th grade….swells to anywhere between $200,000 – $280,000! That’s without factoring in any tuition hikes or additional costs, which are sure to increase annually. And that’s just for one child! To complete middle and high school. Before facing college. Over a quarter-of-a-million dollars. One child.

Just for comparison, the 2013-14 tuition at Harvard University (should your little JFK or IM Pei be lucky enough to get in) is $42K/yr for Bostonians. The total out-of-state package–tuition, plus room, board, and student services fee–is $56.5K/yr. If you follow a modest 3% annual increase over 4 years of undergrad studies beginning this year, you will have spent $236,375 before you’ve even bought a textbook or lava lamp or mini-fridge, not to mention several yearly round-trip airline tickets or Go Crimson! football jerseys, which makes that number swell to about $275K. Now, just imagine what that number will become 10 years from now when your current 2nd grader is actually facing college tuition! Gulp.

But even if you can afford it, as the swell of post 9/11 babies and their siblings grow up through the grades of elementary school and begin to face fewer middle school options, the chances of getting into that coveted private spot grow ever more competitive.

[Ex: Last year according to their website, the highly desirable Crossroads School* interviewed almost 900 application-fee-paying families, and admitted only 55 students to their K-5 and 95 students to grades 6-12. Many of those were sibling and “Legacy” (alumni-related) placements]. For many K-12 private schools, you’re at the mercy of “attrition” as most of their elementary school students will feed automatically into their middle school program, holding onto their coveted seats. What to do if you’re not flush or well-connected?

Public schools ARE an option. There are some very good ones out there if you know about them, if you know how to apply, collect your points, and wager your best odds in the lotteries. There are excellent Magnet and Charter options with new ones opening every year, and there are also Permit and Open Enrollment opportunities, offering students more choice. Additionally, as our Westside Elementary schools continue to blossom and revitalize with the return of the surrounding community’s support, these neighborhood kids and families will have to go somewhere. Perhaps back to their local public middle schools.

Teams of savvy, dedicated parents are already aligning to rejuvenate and transform our local middle schools. They’re continuing the upward progression of the preschool and elementary school model of community-mindedness and active participation, (not to mention exercising their political muscle), and are choosing to refocus on their neighborhood middle schools. We welcome and encourage this much-needed activism.

As with my previous guidebooks, my goal in sharing what I’ve learned is to clarify the process so you can make an informed choice. I will explain the basics and then send you on your merry way to do the work of assessing your child’s needs, determining your family’s needs, doing your research, touring campuses, and choosing a school that works for your family.

There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to choosing a school. Especially as students get older and develop different specialized needs. It is critically important that you become knowledgeable about your options, because YOU know your child best and YOU will be the best advocate for your child, no matter where you end up or what anyone else thinks.

So, with all that in mind, let’s take a peek into the labyrinth that is public schools…
[End excerpt]

© 2014 by Tanya Anton


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