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An Open Letter to First-Time Parents, from a First Child

Dear New Parents,

Congratulations! You have a new little person in your life. And you thought the decisions you had to make for yourself were hard.

I want to talk to you about the most important and best decision my parents ever made for me.

Both of my parents went to public school here in Utah County. Their experience was probably a lot like the experience of the vast majority of school kids. My mom was a theater geek who often got the lead role in her school plays. She hated her English class, which was taught by the football coach.

She’s told me that there were certain walls she couldn’t lean against, because they were the “popular kid” walls. My dad gamed with his friends, and played pranks like competing to see who could get in the most yearbook photos. He was so bored in math he and his friends tried to see who could get pencils caught in the ceiling tiles.

Probably a fairly average experience. But my parents changed and shaped my life simply by believing that they could offer their kids more than the “average” school experience. By searching for something more.

I could read and had memorized certain favorite bits of The Cat in the Hat by the time I went to preschool. My clearest impressions of my time before going to a small private school are of boredom, and anxiety about making friends. This combination meant that even though I thrived in academic environments, and loved reading and learning, school was mostly just stressful for me. When I transferred to private school, the dedicated teachers and small class sizes meant that I was allowed to learn at my own, natural pace. This meant reading several grade levels ahead, while getting focused attention and help in math.

My innate love of books was nurtured and allowed to thrive. At the same time, I also learned to love and be fascinated by science and history. I got to participate in class skits, choirs, and school plays. I got to go on both short and extended field trips that made the world my classroom. I was always a bit of an attention hog who wanted to make my teachers proud, but not a single student in my class ever went under the radar, or just “slid through” the education system. Each particular student need was addressed. Each student’s achievement was recognized.

Ensuing time and tests have revealed that I have somewhat of a learning disability. Though this is by no means the case for everyone with learning disabilities, in my particular situation, those small classes and incredible teachers meant that I not only got by in school, I thrived, totally unaware that things should have been much harder for me. I got A’s and A-’s even in math and foreign language, subjects that were very difficult for me. This wasn’t because of any special accommodations, but simply because I had highly qualified teachers who were able to focus on real teaching instead of classroom management problems. They were able to give me and every other student individualized attention. Every student's situation is unique, but I have been able to go through graduate school, I believe, based on the study habits and learning attitudes I developed with those elementary school teachers.

There’s no such thing as a magic pill to cure all ills. But what attending private school gave me was a safe space to develop socially and emotionally at my own pace, and an academically rigorous education that prepared me for college and graduate school. I got to participate in trips and school programs, as well as a myriad of other experiences, that I never would have in a public school. And not only were my parents in constant contact with my teachers, they were able to participate frequently and directly with the school.

Inertia can be a strong force when it comes to education. My parents could easily have let the system run its course, and sent us to the schools in our district just like everyone else. Sending me and my siblings to private school took deliberate decision making, financial planning, and dedication on their part. And to use the words of a favorite poet, that choice has made all the difference.

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