My Choice: Diverse Classes or Diverse Classmates

Do I enroll my daughter in a private school where she'd be the only minority?

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During my daughter’s last year in preschool, the school’s administration decided to start a private kindergarten. If the first year of the new school was successful, they planned to add another private grade each year as long as it was feasible, possibly up to eighth grade.

I wouldn’t have sought out a private school ordinarily. I believe in public education and the impact it has on a community, the economy, and democracy as a whole. But this seemed like such a good fit. My daughter would begin school knowing her teacher and many of her classmates. The class size would be small– only 12 students– and there would be opportunities for unique learning experiences. The down side though, is that she would be the only minority in her class.

My daughter is half-African American and half-Hispanic. Adopted at birth, she lives with me, her father, and brother, all white, in a predominately white community. Of the 3,300 students in the school district where we live, only 6 percent are African American and 5 percent are Hispanic. I want her to feel like she’s part of the bigger community. I’m struggling to make that happen in this town and adding private school to the mix doesn’t help. The lure of the small class size and courses not available in the public schools kept bringing me back though.

It would be a new school, so I did my due diligence. I called the State Department of Education about private school accreditation and moving back into public schools when the time came. In my state, the state doesn’t accredit private schools, and its up to the local school district to determine what will be required of students entering without public school records. An administrator in my local school district said that the school accepts the student at the level that the parent places the child. If the teacher determines that the placement is not right after the child has participated in class, testing will be done. That sounded reasonable.

I visited the public school for the kindergarten pre-registration open house in the spring. It was a nice facility with a big gym, beautiful art room, and large playground. If I hadn’t had a choice that I was more familiar with, I would have sent her to public school without a second thought. Now I just had to decide whether I wanted to experience diverse curriculum or diverse classmates.

Like the public school, the private school offered reading, writing, and arithmetic. It also offered Spanish and Bible. The teachers were interested in seeking grant funds to develop special programs such as Artists in the Classroom and field trips that incorporate the curriculum.

In the end, I chose the diverse curriculum. I love the exposure to a foreign language. I like that she is able to move ahead in the classes that she excels and get the extra attention in her weaker areas. She completed kindergarten there in May. This month, she started first grade there. She remains the only minority in her class, but this year, there is a girl who uses a wheelchair. At least this adds another kind of diversity to the class, I tell myself.

I still worry. Which is the right choice? Diverse classes or diverse classmates. I hate that I have to choose between the two.

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