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School Tales: Making Sense of Learning

Posted on 11 May 2012

By Anetta Nowosielska

As far as my childhood memories can take me, the issue of schooling was anything but complicated (this is back in the Middle Ages when Ronald Reagan was on his second presidency.) My neighborhood was home to several impressive looking academic buildings that required a uniform, phys ed gear, and hallway passes. I was part of several after school activities that ranged from chess club to fencing. I remember a nurse on staff, who tended to our aching bellies and cafeteria that offered organic meals that were organic for real (we became acquainted with the cows that supplied our frothy milk.)

The most complicated concern surrounding my schooling boiled down to which of the parental units was going to drop me off at school in the mornings. But by October of my first year, I was actually walking myself to school, located a mere two blocks from my house.

By today’s standards, my parents’ approach may seem criminal; but I’m not sure I was worse off for their ‘cavalier’ ways which gave me the confidence to fall back on my instincts. This rings truer now, when I consider that today leaving your child in the cereal aisle at IGA while ordering turkey breast may be misconstrued by onlookers as parental neglect. But I digress.

Last week my kindergartener received a report card based on his 1st grade readiness test. Much to my chagrin, my child, who naturally I’d consider a genius, didn’t fare well during the hour-and-a-half exam. After a meeting with the teacher and principal that I’d rehearsed arguments for, I came to the conclusion the private education I was funding amounted to a fair rendition of the Hallelujah Psalms, a charming interpretation of sainthood and not much of anything else. Talk about your wake up call. A conclusion was reached; it was time to find another school.

Unfortunately we live a few short blocks outside of the decent public school district. Believe me, we contemplated incomprehensible illegal activities just to geographically qualify our boy for the tuition-free, superior education of the public variety. I know of several parents who use addresses of their grandmother’s second removed cousin just to profit from this privilege. I’ve also heard of the school’s detective efforts to weed them out. And while the risk is one worth taking, the potential consequence is a tough one. By the time Sag Harbor Elementary catches on to your sneaky game and expels junior, chances are private schools are full and your only option is Plan C, the one you were running from in the first place. Classic Catch 22.

All this chaos has led Josie Feinberg to go the home schooling route.

“I moved out to Sag from the city, because I refused to participate in the circus that had kindergarteners learning Mandarin to compete in global economy. I didn’t want to operate on lists filled with extra curricular activities that guaranteed an entrance into Dalton,” she explained on the phone while chauffeuring her three daughters from one after-school program to another for much needed, age-appropriate social interaction. “Imagine my surprise when I learned that this place is not exactly void of all that.”

Josie is not the only parent taking an alternative route to raising her children. Homeschooling efforts in the Hamptons have steadily increased over the last five years, meriting a formation of a support group that constantly welcomes new members.

But I don’t have the kind of patience this endeavor requires. Home schooling is not where my road forks. I still believe there is a lot of value to recess by the locker and all the drama of prom weekend.

The Montessori school is what we finally settled for. With a nod to traditional learning and just enough cojones to leave a lot to educated interpretation, this felt familiar, kind of like when I walked home from first grade, relying on my instincts, full of confidence that I will find my way home.

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