EDITOR'S NOTE: The signs for various schools are in yards around the city; the advertisements are on TV and the radio, encouraging listeners to enroll in one school or another. Choice has become a buzzword across the state when talking about education.
Whichever side of the choice debate you're on, the evidence of Indiana's and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett's push for more choices is evident in the various options parents now have for their child's education.
As students head back to school, this week's stories feature different families and the education choices they make, their reasons and why their schools are right for them.
Fort Wayne Community Schools could see nearly 32,000 students walk through the doors of its schools Monday, the first day back for the district.
FWCS is a choice district, which means families can choose any school within the district to attend, and the district attempts to provide transportation for most students, depending on routes and established bus stops. The move stems from a lawsuit filed in the late 1980s that alleged the district was segregated. Offering choice to parents, the district is better able to maintain between 15 and 45 percent of black students at most of its school.
At that time the district also established its magnet program. FWCS offers seven magnet schools, each with its own area of focus such as math and science, communication, fine arts and Montessori. Spaces for the district's magnet program are determined using a lottery system.
At the high school level, students and families have options such as South Side High School's International Baccalaureate program and Wayne New Tech Academy.
Abby Engquist, preschooler at Bunche Montessori, and Emma Engquist, first-grader at Towles Intermediate
When Jennifer Engquist and her husband were preparing their son Lars, now 13, for school they researched the different education options available and stumbled upon Montessori as a less traditional option.
Despite applying each year, the Engquists never won the lottery, so they sent Lars to private school.
When daughter Emma began school, the couple tried again, and this time won the lottery, and since siblings get preference, younger daughter Abby was also able to attend Bunche.
“I was always bored in school,” Jennifer Engquist said. “I never wanted my kids to be bored in school, but if they didn't excel, I didn't want them to struggle.”
She said the Montessori program in FWCS provides a learning environment tailored to each student and an opportunity for each to learn at his or her own pace.
Engquist couldn't say enough about the dedication and devotion of the staff at Bunche.
“If every child had the opportunity to have a staff that cared the way they do, we'd have no problems at all,” she said.
And one of the most rewarding aspects is that Emma and Abby love to go to school and have been itching to go back all summer.
And Jennifer said her daughters come home from school and want to practice what they've learned. She said Emma's class made strawberry shortcake once at Bunche and Emma wanted to make it for the family. Jennifer said Emma created a shopping list of needed items, cut up the strawberries and made the dessert for her family.
“How many 6-year-olds do you know who would care to do that?” Jennifer asked. “They're learning it and bringing it home. There's a huge difference between learning life skills and learning information to regurgitate for a test.”
Kamya and Kamoni Grayson, first grade and kindergarten, respectively; both attending Irwin Elementary School, a math and science magnet
When Trina Grayson found out she won the lottery she said she was “excited. Very excited.” Grayson wasn't referring to winning any amount of money. She won a spot in FWCS' math and science magnet Irwin Elementary School for her daughter Kamya, a kindergartener at the time.
This opened the door for younger daughter Kamoni to attend the school when she enters kindergarten this year.
“We were ecstatic,” Trina said of her and her husband, Kamontee. “It's a fabulous school.”
The evidence is in Kamya's love for learning and all the information she shares with her parents.
Trina said Kamya was reading by January of her kindergarten year. She also remembers a time when Kamya and her classmates studied the sun in a science lab. Trina said she was amazed at all the information Kamya could tell her about the sun when she picked her up from school that day.
“She retained so much information from just one science lab,” she said.
Kamontee credits the learning environment to the staff and their use of innovative education practices across different subject areas. He said the education at Irwin helps students develop the critical thinking skills needed to be successful in life.
The Graysons know because they've visited the school and their daughter's classroom and have seen the learning environment and teaching practices firsthand.
The couple has three older children, all of whom attended East Allen County Schools. Two then graduated from Wayne High School, and one currently attends Wayne New Tech.
Their oldest son attended private school for kindergarten, and Kamontee said with Kamya attending Irwin she “has more confidence and more growth than he ever did.” He said none of his other children were reading in kindergarten.
“(Kamya's) coming home excited about her homework,” he said. “(Irwin) has instilled in her an excitement for learning.”
The Graysons said they've heard friends' horror stories from other schools in the county.
“I can truly say our experience has been a great one,” Kamontee said.