Learning Matters: The world of education is wide open

Parents have a lot to decide about their children’s education. From a child’s earliest years to adulthood, parents grapple with the choices they or their child must make in the pursuit of success and happiness.

In my lifetime, the educational opportunities available to children have increased dramatically, to the point that today’s families are bombarded with possibilities and recommendations.

Where I started school in the San Gabriel Valley in the late 1950s, very few children attended preschool. For the elementary years, kids went either to the Catholic school or to the public school a few blocks away, from which they proceeded to the local junior high and high school.

No one I knew who wasn’t already in Catholic school talked about private high schools, and though most of us were planning to go on to college, we weren’t thinking about transcripts.

Now, both parents and students scour the Internet for the best programs available. What sort of preschool should my child attend? Should we enroll our 4-year-old in free transitional kindergarten or another year of paid, guided play in a nursery-school setting? Should we register for our neighborhood elementary or a magnet school? What about a dual-language immersion program, and if so, which language?

Middle and high school bring more choices and questions. What are career pathways, and are they available in our district? Is a comprehensive high school with sports, arts and student government the setting in which my child will thrive, or would she prefer a more limited, specialized program? How many Advanced Placement classes are too many, and will they curtail favorite elective options?

Having choices is great, but making them can be difficult. How is a person to choose, and what do the choices really mean? What help is there for students and parents as they chart a course through elementary and secondary education and on into college and careers? There are questions enough for multiple columns, but for now I’ll share two bits of help I’ve picked up along the way.

First, trying not to worry too much might help. Though the bad news is that there are too few counselors to research and recommend the options most appropriate for each child, the good news is, in a district like ours, most any course of study presents opportunities to move a student in a positive direction.

Where schools are generally well-governed and focused on preparing each student for success, there aren’t bad options. That said, focusing on a child’s interests or strengths is a start.

In the brochure “Pathways to Success” published jointly by Glendale Community College and Coast Community College District as part of the Governor’s Career Technical Education Initiative from 2009, the authors advise steering students in the direction of their interests.

“…We know that when people study and learn about the things that interest them, they learn more, learn faster and have a lot more fun doing it,” according to the brochure.

In a district that values student engagement as critical to learning, fun is a good thing.

Second, it’s helpful to keep in mind that learning is much more than resume building, and all experiences and study add to it. On the wall of the library at Cowell College, University of California at Santa Cruz, hang the words of the college motto: “The Pursuit of Truth in the Company of Friends.”

For me, those words encompass the purpose of education and pretty much the rest of life, including K-12 education. Interpreting “truth” as knowledge, the motto encourages children to learn whatever they can, wherever they are. “In the company of friends” embraces not just the people already known and liked but those as yet unknown — or disliked!

Education viewed so broadly is less about finding the school with the highest Academic Performance Index, getting into the right magnet or taking the most Advanced Placement classes. Education worth pursuing affirms both knowledge and friendships, and it’s available locally whatever the program or school.

--JOYLENE WAGNER is a former member of the Glendale Unified School Board. Email her at jkate4400@aol.com.

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