Hi Rene, I need your help!

Here’s my problem: We live in an area where the schools are not that great based on test scores, frequent fights, and gangs. The school has a horrible reputation throughout the metro area. We have the option to send our daughters to schools with better test scores and reputations, but further from our home.

I have heard from several parents and students who say the school is not as bad as people say and vice versa. The decision is so difficult for us because we went to the so-called “horrible school” and while my husband and I didn’t go to college right out of high school, we are decent people who live a great life.

I know that parental influence has the greatest impact on a child’s life but we worry because most of the kids at the poor performing school live in poor areas and lack strong guidance and academic involvement from parents. I’m afraid my 9th grader is more likely to fall in with the wrong crowd there, though I know that can happen at any school. I know I’m rambling, I just hope you can bring a little clarity to the situation. Any advice you could give would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks, Mel, Columbia, SC

Hi Mel:

Well, I can certainly see your concern. In college I majored in psychology. We studied a number of psychologists but one who really made an impact on me was a man by the name of Abraham Maslow and his theory of the Hierarchy of Human Needs.

Maslow illustrated human behavior using a pyramid where the foundation had to be strong before other things could be achieved.

In the case of your daughters, this shows that they need to feel safe and secure in their environment (the bottom of the pyramid) before they can move on to learning (near the top of the pyramid). Practically speaking, how would your daughters be able to concentrate on say math if they were worried about getting into fights in the hallway? The answer is they could not.

The school may have been good while you and your husband were attending but times change, schools change, neighborhoods change. So, if I were you, here’s what I would do:

INVESTIGATE: Put on your reporter’s hat and check out statistics on the school. It actually sounds like you have already done that. Make an appointment to talk with the principal and ask if you can speak with some of the teachers. Also check out the surrounding neighborhood. You can do that by going to the local police station or just taking a peek around. Are there a lot of kids hanging around doing nothing after school? Take in all that information and then listen to your gut. I am a big believer in that and feel like so much of the trouble we get into is because we silence that visceral alarm. If something doesn’t feel right to you, it’s because it is not.

TALK WITH YOUR DAUGHTERS: Sometimes we make decisions without ever asking the people who are most acutely affected. What do your daughters think about the school? Will they feel safe going there and furthermore will they be able to learn? Maybe they have heard things about the school and the people there. As long as their issues are genuine and not of a petty nature (i.e. I don’t want to go there because Tracy goes there and I don’t like her) I think you need to take them into account.

FIGURE OUT WHAT GOING TO THE OTHER SCHOOL WILL MEAN: You mentioned the other school is further from your home. That means your life is probably going to be disrupted somewhat. Kids will have to get up earlier and you may have to drive them on occasion. Will they be able to take part in after school activities? What kind of impact will this have on your family life? Weigh all of these factors before making your decision.

I can understand you being torn, after all the school wasn’t bad two decades ago. But as parents, along with keeping our kids safe as we usher them to adulthood, we have an obligation to make sure they get the best education possible. What they learn in high school will set them up for college and beyond. Be brutally honest with yourself; can you say your kids will be able to get what they need educationally AND be safe at your alma mater? If not, you know what you have to do.

Good luck to you!

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