ClassroomListening to other parents before my daughter started kindergarten — and struggling with the decision of where to enroll her — I heard over and over again that once your kid started in private school, it was all but impossible to transition them to public. The curriculums were too different, the standards were too inconsistent, the atmospheres were too varied. I wondered if the chasm was really that big, particularly because some moms are private school elitists. You know, snobs.

When it comes to our kids’ education, hear some of us tell it, no other institution could possibly be as great as St. So-and-So Academy or This, That, and The Other Prep. There are those of us who have a tendency to turn up our noses at public school when, in actuality, some of those classrooms are just as good as the ones we’re shelling out thousands and thousands (and in my case, thousands) of dollars for our children to attend.

I’m not sure what to believe anymore. Heck, I’m a product of public school. I just absolutely cannot believe I’m shopping for high schools for my little girl. My baby. My pooter pie. I know I sound like every other nostalgic mama but I remember kindergarten so vividly that I can hear her little voice telling the girl next to her that she liked her lunch box, which ultimately led to her first friend in school. I remember how her hair was braided that morning and how I was the one who ended up in the principal’s office being consoled as I cried into a box of Kleenex. I’m a crier. We’ve learned that over the years.

Seems like time has been on fast forward. Now this is her last year in middle school and we’re getting brochures to rifle through our options for the oodles of high schools in the D.C. area. All-girls or co-ed. Big, sprawling campus or small, intimate building. Predominantly African-American or multicultural. And of course, Catholic, private, or public.

She started in a private Christian school in a teeny, tiny, three-story building in a bad neighborhood in West Baltimore. She got one heck of an education there, but it was just so darn expensive. Most of the parents there were in their mid-30s, married, and established. I was in my early 20s, single, and barely out of college, which is a nice way of saying I was turning being broke into a fine art.

To get some relief from the $6,500 tuition — which I’m still paying back in monthly loan payments, might I add — I moved her to a public charter school in Washington, D.C. It was new, the principal was young and ideological like I was, and I was confident that the switch would be a smooth one. She reassured me of it, as a matter of fact.

That ended up being the worst decision I could’ve made for my child’s education. Two years there was more than enough (one to test and one to confirm). I ran back to what I thought was the certainty of a private institution, this time taking the Catholic school route. But I haven’t been all that impressed with the curriculum and the standards in this school, either. 

Now that we’re preparing to make the big jump into her last four years of secondary school (oh clutch the pearls!), I’m once again at a crossroads, trying to decide whether to try another public school or continue weathering these massive tuition payments — which will actually be even bigger because the two private high schools we’ve narrowed it down to are a cool $9,500 a year, not including uniforms and books.

With prices like that, you may not only see my posts here on The Stir, you may also spot me on the stroll or dangling from somebody’s seedy strip club pole, provided there’s a demand for portly, out-of-shape dancers who can barely get midway up the apparatus.

But I’m not one of those moms ruling out public schools just because they’re public. I just need the education to be quality — especially, especially if I’m paying for it. I need her to be challenged. I need her to be learning things in 9th grade that I wasn’t learning until the 11th. But I also want the school to have extracurriculars that will round out her experience. Dance would be nice. So would theater. I don’t care if it’s public or private, and I don’t believe that the transition can’t be smooth. I just want whatever we decide to work for her.

Is there really that big of a difference between public and private school? 

Image via Michael 1952/Flickr