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Groh column: Individualized learning makes private schools best choice for some

Note: Over the next few weeks I will be taking a look at why parents choose private, public or home education for their children. Each type of school is beautiful in its own way, and in no way am I promoting one over the other.

I was supposed to be a public school kid.

As a rising kindergartener, I was registered and set to go to Green Road Elementary School in Raleigh – that is until I attended an open house with my parents.

We walked in the library and I looked at my mom and said, “Mommy, where are the books about Jesus?”

That’s when the search for private schools began.

Parents choose private education over public education for a variety of reasons – academic, religious, class sizes or even special curriculum focuses.

For my family, it started as a religious reason. Over time, however, it grew to be much more than that as I blossomed socially, academically and spiritually.

Even as a young child, my faith was a very important part of my life and my parents decided they wanted to nurture and develop that at school as well as at home.

So, after looking at the Christian schools in the area, my parents decided to send me to Grace Christian School.

I’m glad they did.

I received a truly individualized learning experience.

It was at Grace that I had kindergarten teachers like Mrs. Butler and Mrs. Harmon who taught me to love reading – and who encouraged my parents to hold me back when I wasn’t keeping up like I should.

It was at Grace that I had teachers like Miss Gale who pushed me academically and continued to foster my love of reading and writing, or Mrs. Sutter who found specific activities for me to work on that met my interests.

With smaller class sizes, my teachers were able to get to know each of us on a very personal level and tailor our education to each of us. My teachers would suggest harder books for me to read and were always willing to discuss what we were learning outside of class.

Smaller enrollment numbers also gave me a chance to overcome shyness.

Classes were small, which meant after-school math tutoring was even smaller, giving me the one-on-one time I needed to learn and excel.

Not only did my principals know me by name, they knew about my academic process, who my friends were, what I was interested in and even that I was a figure skater.

When I got to high school, I switched to a larger, more established private school. The school I had been at was just beginning to grow its high school program, and my parents wanted me to go somewhere with a proven track record.

My new school, North Raleigh Christian Academy, was much larger. I went from a class of 15 to a class of nearly 100.

The larger school afforded more options, such as competitive athletics, a stellar fine arts program and a whole host of Advanced Placement and honors classes. But it didn’t neglect the things about private school that I loved the most – a faith-centered education and an individualized learning experience.

Don’t get me wrong – private schools have their flaws. They can be expensive, which can lead to a sense of exclusiveness. Cliques can become a major problem.

Smaller schools also have a hard time providing a strong variety of programs or sports teams when they don’t have enough students or teachers to fill them all.

Robin Fisher may be the marketing and communications director for Sacred Heart Catholic School, but she’s also a mom who decided to go the private school route for her sons.

“All my boys have gone through Sacred Heart,” she said.

“The curriculum is more rigorous,” Fisher said. “There’s a more positive environment toward learning.”

“It’s cool to learn,” she added.

Fisher said she was also a huge supporter of the Christian background. Although Fisher isn’t Catholic, she wanted her sons to be in a Christian environment filled with positive influences and role models.

“It’s a good, positive influence for them,” she said.

Since Sacred Heart only goes through eighth grade, Fisher decided that public school was the best route for her sons through high school.

“I know both sides very well,” Fisher said.

The educational experience they had at Sacred Heart left them well-prepared for public high school, and they transitioned well, she said.

Fisher added that the parent involvement and support at private schools is unparalleled at public schools.

“We definitely have more parent support,” she said, adding that “learning continues at home.”

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