My husband and I both attended Catholic schools from grades K-12, so when it came time to send our first son to kindergarten, we were a little skeptical about public education. We discussed how in our small classes growing up, we had the same 20 kids every year. Our teachers, for the most part, seemed to really care about their students and could even remember our names when they saw us in the grocery store 20 years later. As young parents, my husband and I wanted what was best for our son, but when we compared the cost of private education to public, our tiny bank account said to go with the latter. The only comfort was that Columbia schools were ranked high in Illinois, and that we had nephews in the school system who were happy. So with much hesitancy, I walked my baby to his classroom, not wanting to relinquish him to strangers but knowing it was what we had to do. I’ve never regretted it.
Ten years later, we have three kids in the district in three separate schools. As any parent will agree, it’s not easy letting someone else care for your kids 7-8 hours per day. You wonder if the other kids are being nice. You wonder if your own child is behaving. You wonder if they’re eating their lunch, or if they’re hungry, or if they’re happy. But at some point you have to let go and hope your kids are okay, and that they’ll tell you if they’re not. Each year there has always been open communication any time I wanted to ask questions, and I’ve always received honest answers.
While my boys had an easy time right from the start getting on the bus each day, my daughter – my baby – was a lot more apprehensive about leaving me. During her first few months of kindergarten when I dropped her off, she’d scream and cry as a teacher pulled her out of my car (it sounds mean, I know — but I promise they were gentle). The only thing that kept me from throwing up when I got home was when the social worker sent me texts to tell me she was okay. I received updates throughout each day to let me know my girl had settled into her classroom, and that she was even playing with friends on the playground. And when I picked her up every afternoon, her teacher was holding her hand. After several months, my daughter ended up loving school, and I don’t know how that would have happened — or how I would have made it through — without such an attentive, wonderful staff.
When there have been small bumps in the road, the amount of participation in my kids’ lives from not only teachers and social workers but from higher administration has made those bumps even smaller. I’ve seen principals at sports competitions. I’ve seen the superintendent at first grade plays. I’ve witnessed other staff members approach my kids outside of school grounds and address them by name.
And the positive reinforcement in this district is almost unheard of according to my teacher friends in other school districts. These kids are rewarded for not just good grades but also for their kindness and good behavior. My middle son came off the bus beaming after he received the Terrific Kid award for being a good friend to his classmates. And I’ll never forget the night I was curled up on the couch in my pajamas when the doorbell rang. I opened the door to be greeted by my daughter’s principal, several teachers and the social worker who were delivering a Student of the Month yard sign. They could have all been at home with their families, but they chose to show my child she deserved their attention for being a good listener.
As tough as high school can be, Columbia makes it known that students deserve kudos when they try hard to be good people. My first son — that kindergartner who started us in this district — was recently presented with a Star Student leadership award simply for being helpful in his classroom. Of course he shrugged it off as any teenager would, but I know he took note that good behavior will be recognized as he continues his academic career.
And who can possibly not notice the opportunities for parent participation at our schools? I have been allowed to volunteer in my kids’ classrooms and attend holiday parties, and my husband and I have both enjoyed special breakfasts with them. They truly value family.
As far as safety, there has only been one issue that I’ve had to address. In 2014 after other nationwide school shootings, our middle school began training students on how to react if an intruder entered the school with a gun. As a fairly anxious kid, my oldest talked about the drills and was excited about the random day when the school would put the plan in action by having a “real” intruder enter the building. He wanted to know he would be safe if it really happened. Well, the day the alarm went off and the “intruder” was making his way down the halls, my son had a substitute teacher who told the class to just keep working. He came home concerned that he didn’t get to participate. I am not a complainer and don’t approach administration about anything, but when my kid was afraid for his safety, I freaked. I emailed the principal and he called me right away. Within the next couple of days, the exercise was performed again to allow each student who was in my son’s classroom that day to practice their drill and feel safe.
After ten years of wonderful experiences, not only do I love Columbia school district; I trust them with my kids.
In recent weeks, there has been some heat toward our administration because parents weren’t notified of a school threat until several days later. As a mom, it’s completely understandable that we would want to know as soon as possible if our kids’ safety has been jeopardized, and I can’t imagine being the parents of a child who was threatened. However, the issue was addressed and the threatening student is no longer attending our schools, and the staff has made it known that safety is their number one priority. I believe them.
Newspapers and TV stations are omitting the fact that teachers and administrators have been trained in “4E” (Educate, Evade, Escape, and Engage) active intruder drill training with the local police department and know how to protect their students. Social media posts don’t mention that many of the district faculty members have kids of their own in these schools and would never put them at risk. Parents who are now claiming they don’t like our schools are forgetting they posted how blessed they were to be in them a year ago.
I like to make decisions by looking at the whole picture. In my eyes, even if something may have happened to make the glass 1/4 empty, that same glass is certainly still 3/4 full. I could not be happier with our decision to choose Columbia.
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