Opinion: Daily Journal

Three things Raleigh parents don’t want to miss for the next school year 

View of downtown Raleigh from Moore Square Park
View of downtown Raleigh from Moore Square Park

Yes, it’s January, not June, and you may feel as if you’re finally settling into a routine during a challenging school year. But, as the saying goes, “The secret to getting ahead is getting started.” Despite the disruptions of COVID-19, January is the ideal time to check in with your child about your school choice and start planning for the 2020-21 school year.

That’s why National School Choice Week takes place the last week of January. Each year, the public awareness effort features thousands of independently planned community activities that help parents in Raleigh and across the nation learn more about school choices and prep for the next school year.

As families and teachers in North Carolina celebrate the Week with 1,352 virtual events and activities, don’t miss doing these three things to start planning now for an extraordinary school year:

First, talk to your child.

You see your child every day and know what makes them happy, nervous, or inspired. But make time during School Choice Week to speak with your child about their current school experience. What are they learning? What would they change? What are they doing when they feel happiest?

If you talk to other parents about their school choice, remember: What’s important to you and your child in a school may be different than what’s important to your neighbor — and that’s OK. One family may prioritize a school’s location; another may consider a school’s language offerings or extracurriculars more important. Be confident in what matters most to you and your child in a school.

Second, know your options.

You might know your child better than anyone else, but you may not know all the school options in your area. Here in North Carolina, a variety of educational options are available, including: traditional public schools, charter schools, magnet schools, online academies, private schools, and homeschooling. North Carolina’s students with disabilities, or whose families meet certain income guidelines, can qualify for state-run scholarships.

If reading this helped you learn something new about education options in your area, share that knowledge. A simple conversation with a neighbor about school options could transform their child’s life.

Third, find and celebrate your community.

Starting in January gives you plenty of time to consider new schools. Even if you’re not sure whether a school is for you, learning more via a call or visit may surprise you. Look for what seems to motivate the students and teachers. Is it an environment you could see your child thriving in?

Or, maybe you already love your current school and plan to stay. If so, use this time and your child’s feedback to make a simple plan to truly invest in your school choice. Maybe you’ll volunteer at the school once a month. Maybe you’ll supplement classroom learning with monthly museum trips, or use Khan Academy one evening a week to help your child’s fill their weak spots in math.

At the end of the day, navigating the K-12 education process is an adventure — celebrate it! Use School Choice Week to spread positivity about your school on social media or send a thank you note to a teacher. Spreading positivity can start a domino effect, reminding teachers of their love for education and inspiring other parents to be more engaged.

A child’s learning environment is one of the single-biggest influencers of their life, and it’s worth putting in the time to find a great school fit. Whether it’s finding a new school or showering your current school with love, now is the time to start deciding what school choices to make next.

A nationally recognized advocate for children and families, Andrew R. Campanella serves as president of National School Choice Week, the world’s largest-annual celebration of opportunity in education.