My son, as you might remember, just finished second grade. After a rough beginning in school, he's doing well, enjoying school, and making steady progress to overcome his dyslexia.
Overall, I really like his elementary school, which is our local school (within walking distance) but also a magnet school that attracts kids from all over town. The school is a magnet for "individually prescribed education," which is kind of a stupid name because a public school can't really give each student and individualized education. What it means in practice is that the school is particularly good at differentiation, has decent programs for gifted kids, and does its best to help struggling learners. There's a lot of team teaching, which means that, if kids get a homeroom teacher that's not a perfect fit, they're not stuck with that teacher all day long. Our part of town is quite mixed both income-wise and ethnically. Our street and the streets one one side of it are middle to upper middle class, mostly white but with a handful of African American families. A few streets down on the other side the houses get smaller and the families tend to be working class and a greater mix of ethnicities. On the other side of the major street the elementary school is on, there's a neighborhood with a similar income level that's mainly African American. There are also several low income apartment communities with a predominantly Hispanic population. This means that DS's school, while still majority white (65%), has a pretty good ethnic mix. He doesn't play much with kids from school outside of school, but every time we go out biking in the neighborhood he sees and says hi to at least one child from school, often 3 or more. So, basically, I'm very happy with where DS is now school-wise.
The problem comes when elementary school is done. Our local middle school, unfortunately, is not at all well regarded. None of the upper middle class kids who came in through the magnet program from other parts of town go there, obviously, so that takes out one positive segment from the population coming over from DS's school. Kids from three other area elementary schools that are much lower performing are districted for that middle school. People from our immediate neighborhood seem to do their best to get their kids into an alternate school. So far, no child from our street who has reached middle school age has attended the local middle school. I'm only working from hearsay and ratings based on test scores (which are only part of the picture, I know), but it doesn't sound at all like the place where I'd like to send my son. Add to that the fact that he's a sensitive, creative, quirky kid with some interests that are more typical of girls, and putting him in a questionable middle school environment is even less attractive.
Our districted high school is somewhat better in that there's a niche available for high achieving kids who want a good high school experience, but there's also a niche for kids who don't care at all about school. I subbed for our school system while I was pregnant with DS, and I had my worst subbing experience ever at that school. In the middle of a class in which the students had not listened to a word I said, on student piped up and said, "You're lucky. Some days we set things on fire." Now, this was a basic Spanish class (meaning it pulls from the whole population of the school), and I was told by the other teachers that the teacher I was subbing for was weak in the disciplinary area. Still, it made me question whether I'd ever want my kids to go there.
So why am I concerned about this now when DS has 3 years left of elementary school? Enter the creative and performing arts magnet school. Beginning in 4th grade, our district has a magnet school for creative and performing arts. The "major" areas are creative writing, visual arts, dance (both contemporary and ballet), drama, and vocal performance, and instrumental performance. The 4th-8th graders are housed in their own building. The 9th-12th graders are part of a separate program housed at a high school that's also home to a pre-engineering program and well regarded overall.
DS takes ballet, and about half the older kids a the ballet school attend this school. One of our neighbors is a creative writing major at the school, and a friend of mine has two daughters who are drama majors. I've heard a few negative things about how kids can get very competitive, but all the kids I know who go there love it. I always had a thought in the back of my mind that, if DS got more serious about ballet, he could audition for the school. Because fewer boys audition, any boy who does so has a much greater chance of getting in. A girl with a mid range audition score won't make it in, but a boy might. Yes, this is kind of unfair, but I don't mind since in this case it works in my child's favor :), and the fact is it really is a good thing to strive for a better gender balance. DS, however, has no interest in auditioning for the ballet major. He's always done ballet for fun, and, as the classes became more demanding and more technical this year, he began to lose interest, and may not return to classes next year. That might close the question of the performing arts school, if not for the fact that DS has always had an interest in acting. He's taken camps at the local children's theater for the past three summers, and he and his friends put on little plays for us in the basement on a regular basis. For Christmas, DH got him a light that has about a dozen settings and makes his "stage" area seem more like a theater. Now he says he wants a curtain. When I mentioned a couple weeks ago that next fall is the time he would try out for the school if he wanted to, he first responded that he didn't want to because he didn't want to do ballet at school. When I casually mentioned that ballet wasn't the only major, he excitedly asked, "Could I try out for acting?"
The question I have in my mind (and that I welcome comments on if you've made it this far) is, is this really something I should encourage? If DS does want to try out, it means he has to work hard to learn acting techniques more formally and prepare for the audition between now and November. It would probably involve private lessons. As I said above, we're all happy with his elementary school, so, if he tried out and got in, it would mean leaving a school we love two years early. It would also mean moving to a school that's much less diverse (85% white, 2% on free lunch). Though we don't have plans to move, there's also no guarantee that we'll even be living here when DS is in middle school. If we want the best chance of getting into this particular school, however, DS really needs to audition in 3rd grade. Two classes of 27 (54 kids total) are admitted in 4th grade. Rising 5th graders are welcome to audition, but none are admitted unless a child who came in 4th grade leaves. In 6th grade 2 more spots are opened up. That's 2 spots total, not 2 spots per major. In 7th and 8th, yet again, no one is admitted unless someone leaves. 9th grade is the next good chance to get in. Approximately 50 new students are admitted to the high school program. This varies from year to year depending on how many students are graduating from the program and how many are moving on from 8th grade (students sometimes decide to change their focus in high school and attend their local school).
If you've made it through this whole post, I welcome any thoughts, or any questions that came to your mind that might help me clarify my thoughts. Mind you, DS could decide this summer that he doesn't want to try out, and we definitely wouldn't force him. However, I'd like to be clear in my mind whether I should encourage him positively. I think it makes sense to do so, but I'd like to hear some other perspectives. There could be some factor I'm not seeing.