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home : opinions : opinions June 28, 2016

2/4/2014 1:58:00 PM
Commentary: Great choices are available for educating your children
Ben Russel is administrator the of Verde Valley Christian School in Cottonwood
Ben Russel is administrator the of Verde Valley Christian School in Cottonwood
By Ben Russel
My Turn

In honor of National School Choice Week, allow me to give some insight on that great dilemma, "Where should I send my kids to school next year?"

I often talk with parents who are searching for a new school. They aren't quite sure how to go about finding the best option for their children. They may feel pressed for time and miss important steps as a result. Here are a few tips and ideas for those of you who may have a little one turning school age, or are just looking for a better fit for your family.

Make sure to give yourself plenty of time: You don't want to find out that you waited too late and now your school options are limited. Springtime is a great time to begin looking at options for the fall.

Know your options: Arizona is a national leader in school choice. Many creative schools and school choice ideas are flourishing here as a result of our state's commitment to allowing parents greater choice. Here are a few:

• Private Schools: Private schools are tuition based and generally offer smaller class sizes. There are several great private schools in the Verde Valley. Private schools can be either secular or faith-based and focus on the blend of character education with strong academics and a commitment to safety. Arizona has several scholarship programs that open private school availability to anyone.

• Tax Credit Scholarships: Under this program anyone with a tax burden in the state of Arizona can direct would-be tax funds to help students in education. Married couples can direct up to $2,000 to help a student in a private school as well as $400 to help with extra-curricular activities in a public school. At Verde Valley Christian, our families have seen much support through this program. As a matter of fact our average family accessed about 70 percent of tuition in scholarships.

• Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA): The Arizona Education Department is fielding much interest from other states as a result of this program. The ESA program allows expanded educational choice for families with students who have special needs, students who have been adopted, students whose parent is an active military member serving in Arizona, or families who reside in a failing school district. The state will deposit tuition funds into a debit account and allow qualifying families to dispense the funds for qualified expenses including home schooling or private schooling.

• Home School/Cooperatives: Families commonly gather together to provide education for their children. The Verde Valley Homeschoolers Association boasts around one hundred participants in their yearly homeschool kickoff events. One highlight is the Classical Conversations movement where students gather together in a cooperative with a tutor and follow a classical education model.

• Charter Schools: The charter movement has become a major participant in education in Arizona. Charter schools operate as tuition-free public schools and are designed to give parents additional school choice. They receive state funding, accept students without prejudice, and may offer a specialized school experience. Schools such as the Basis Charters in Scottsdale and Tucson are highly respected on a national level.

• Public Schools: The "Disney on Broadway" performance at Mingus High School is a fantastic example of the diverse and outstanding programs that our public schools can offer. From strong athletic programs to quality performance opportunities, our public schools combine extra-curricular opportunities with a commitment to academic improvement to provide great offerings for Verde Valley families.

• Do Your Homework: Often in our fast-paced society we try to make decisions on the fly. Choosing where your child will spend 1,500 hours in the next year shouldn't be taken lightly. The web can be a handy tool in our pursuit, but don't rely on it exclusively. Go to perspective schools and ask to take a tour. Make a list of questions, find out what that school is passionate about. Does it fit what your family is passionate about? Ask other families that go to that school what they like and what they wish they could change. Meet with the principal and find out about their vision for the future. If at all possible, do these things as a family with your child in the mix. They may have some great questions as well.

As someone who has been involved in private, home and public school, I can attest that there are many options available to us as parents. But while every option has value, not every option is a great fit for everyone. Decide as a family by taking time to research your options. Your children's future is worth it.

Ben Russel is administrator the of Verde Valley Christian School in Cottonwood

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Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, February 7, 2014
Article comment by: Regina Smith

Thank you for your informative letter regarding the opportunities available for our children, and for your dedication to training the future leaders of our nation!

Posted: Tuesday, February 4, 2014
Article comment by: Good Information

. . . And remember just because you have choices, does not mean you should not look at the school's state report card in making your decision.

After all the goal of education, is EDUCATION, not ideology.

Only four(4) schools in the Verde Valley are rated 'A.'

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