The Many Types of Schools for Your Child
Today’s San Antonio parents have more choices than their parents did when it comes to choosing the right schools for their kids. Public school districts have become home to more and more innovative magnet programs, high-tech learning laboratories and partnerships with local colleges. Additionally, private schools have become more accessible with the increase in scholarships and other tuition assistance in recent years.
It’s also no longer a matter of children always attending their first day of school in a kindergarten classroom. San Antonio’s nationally recognized Pre-K 4 SA public education program for 4-year-olds expanded from two schools to four this school year.
Avance-San Antonio provides early childhood education to children under the age of 3. So does San Antonio’s Mustard Seed Early Learning Center. “They’re learning immediately from the time they’re born,” says Mustard Seed director Roxy Vasquez. “It’s not about babysitting. It’s a fully engaged curriculum.”
Early, Early Education
Vasquez says learning activities at very early ages can produce long-term results. “They just grow and learn so much faster. It’s a more deliberate learning process. It sets them up for success later in life,” she says.
The youngest students at San Antonio’s Cottage School for Deaf Children also are provided a “solid pre-literacy foundation” through the school’s Early Childhood Language Adventure Curriculum for kids ages 3 to 5.
SA’s Private Schools
San Antonio is also home to many secular and religious private schools. On the secular front, for example, the Montessori School of San Antonio offers mixed-age classrooms and a “whole child” education approaches for elementary- and middle school-age children.
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Antonio oversees 30 schools. Among them is Mount Sacred Heart School, a school for elementary and middle school students that also offers a Montessori program for pre-kindergarten kids.
Charter School Choices
San Antonio parents can also shop more than 20 tuition-free public charter schools in the city. Charter schools are expanding their base in San Antonio. KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) Schools, which opened the program’s first campus in San Antonio in 2003, last year opened its fifth school. A sixth school will open this summer. Basis School San Antonio has two campuses in San Antonio for grades 5 through 8, and the school plans to serve grades 5 through 12 by 2018.
At Basis School San Antonio, middle school students study classes in logic, Latin, algebra and other subjects once considered high school-level courses. “In 5th grade, students last year read Beowulf,” says head of school Tiffany O’Neill. “I read Beowulf as a junior in high school.” Basis students begin studying physics in 6th grade.
“By the time our kids get to high school, they already have a jump start on what other high school students are doing,” O’Neill says. “Our campuses are college preparatory. We start with high-level concepts early.”
At San Antonio Technology Academy, an open-enrollment charter high school, the focus is on advanced computer skills in addition to traditional courses. “We call our teachers learning engineers, and we call our students scholars,” says Principal Ben Johnson. His school also offers flexible hours to accommodate working students.
On the technology front, the goal is to provide students with computer-training classes that can lead to careers and college. “The thing about computer repair and computer networking is that those are the new woodshop and drafting and architecture classes that used to be prevalent in the school system. These are courses that will help those students get blue collar jobs,” Johnson says.
“They’re also gateways to white collar jobs in terms of actually programming the computers.” Students who continue in higher education will already have a marketable skill when they enroll in college, he says.
The school won a major grant for the current school year to provide a tablet computer to every student, as well as to support college readiness programs for students and parents. “We want to give back to the community,” Johnson says.
Redefining School Districts
Bexar County’s 15 public school districts, of course, dominate the local education scene by the sheer size of their budgets and enrollment numbers. San Antonio’s largest, the Northside Independent School District, enrolls more than 100,000 students and is the fourth-largest public school district in Texas.
These traditional neighborhood schools have embraced innovative approaches to education, including magnet programs that zero in on the needs of students interested in law, the arts, technology, science and other fields. Northside defines its Business Careers High School as a “school within a school” on the campus of Oliver Wendell Holmes High School.
The North East Independent School District’s North East School of the Arts is a magnet program at Robert E. Lee High School that focuses on cinema, creative writing, dance, and other arts fields. The 17-year-old program has produced so many professional actors, screenwriters, dancers and directors; The Hollywood Reporter last fall named it one of the country’s top 10 high school-based “launch pads for teenage talent.”
San Antonio Independent District (SAISD), which enrolls more than 50,000 students, has magnet programs ranging from the city’s only International Baccalaureate Diploma program, based at Burbank High School, to magnet programs at middle schools. SAISD has 13 in-district charter schools. While girls-only and boys-only schools were once the domain of private schools, SAISD has the city’s only all-girls public school – Women’s Leadership Academy.
Some still remember when a high school diploma was the big prize for finishing the 12th grade. San Antonio’s Alamo Colleges district reports that 82 percent of students enrolled in the Early College High School program at SAISD and Judson Independent School District in 2013 earned an associate’s degree or technical certificate in addition to their high school diploma. The program is a partnership with the local community college district.
High school students can also earn college credit through Advanced Placement (AP) programs that now are the norm at middle and high schools. Last fall, the Northside and North East school districts were named to the national Advanced Placement District Honor Roll by The College Board. The Northside district has more than 16,000 middle and high school students enrolled in AP courses.
Gail Saunders of San Antonio, a former classroom teacher and high school principal who now is an independent tutor for private and public school kids, says parents can begin with basic questions when considering where to enroll their children.
“Is my child being accepted? Is it financially feasible? Some private schools are so expensive; only the affluent can have access,” Saunders says. Distance is also a factor, she adds. “Is it close?”
Time away from structured learning is important, too, Saunders believes. “I’m an advocate for play,” she says. “You can learn a lot through play.”
Saunders welcomed visits by parents of prospective students when she was a principal. Today, she advises parents in search of the best school for their children to visit local campuses.
“In my opinion, if you can walk into a school and you feel it’s a happy place, that’s where you begin,” she says. “The child is there eight hours a day. That’s a long time to be in an environment that’s not a positive environment.”
Renee Haines is a San Antonio freelance writer.