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April 2006
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We’re Going to Eastside Prep!

Yesterday at lunch I ran a little errand. I went and dropped off the check for our deposit for Amy’s school next year. We had applied to six. One was eliminated when we visited because they were a bunch of Jesus freaks. Another was eliminated simply because we never managed to schedule an onsite visit with them and they were not very proactive about anything. Another was eliminated because it was just a little too noisy and urban for us. That left three. They were about equal on our list at the time we saw them, although after visiting both of them, Amy started leaning more and more toward the second one. The two were Forrest Ridge and Eastside Prep. As mentioned, at the moment we walked out of the door after having been to five of the six schools, these were the top two. The third choice was The Bush School.

We got notice from Forest Ridge first. They would like to have Amy as a student… but… they had no spaces left at the moment, but they would put us on a waiting list. We were glad to be in, but I was anxious about the waiting list. I wanted to hurry up and call to find out if we were 2nd in line, or 50th… ie, is there any chance of actually making it off the waiting list this year. Brandy wanted to wait to hear from the other schools.

Next we heard from the Bush school. They would not be offering Amy a spot next year. They had seemed very positive during our visit, but I guess that is the way things go.

Finally we heard from Eastside Prep. Mind you, Eastside Prep was the last school we visited. They sent us their answer just a few days after we visited. It was a yes!

At that point, Brandy (and especially Amy’s) mind was completely made up. Amy went around school announcing to everyone that she would be going to a school called Eastside Prep next year and telling all her classmates about the kids she met while visiting the school and some of the things about the school.

I was still holding out to see if we happened to hear from Forrest Ridge again before our deadline for giving Eastside Prep an answer. We did not. Which might be good. If we had gotten that call from Forrest Ridge, it might have been a hard decision. Forrest Ridge has a lot going for it. It is pretty big. It is very established. It is connected with a network of schools internationally that allow for easy exchange programs in high school. It has very deep resources. On the other hand, it is a religious school, which is a major turn off for me personally… I’d come to peace with that however, because unliek the Jesus school we visited, they are very open minded about it. You have to learn a bit about Cathoilic beliefs, but you are not required to actually believe. They have students of all sorts of different belief stripes. The whole having to take classes about a random imaginary diety and his supposed acts was bothersome, but I’d come to terms with it once balanced with all the other good things at that school.

But while I was still thinking of two places and their pros and cons, the decision had clearly already been made by Amy anyway. She was VERY excited about Eastside Prep and had told Brandy very early on that of all the places we visited she had been most comfortable and felt most like she fit in there.

And I’d been very impressed by them too. In my mind I may have still had a tie, but it was definately still a tie and a hard choice (if a spot had opened up).

Lets see:

Eastside Prep is a very new school. They have not yet graduated their first Senior class. (The first graduating class will be the class of 2009. Amy will be the class of 2013.) It is brand new. The students and faculty who “founded” the school are for the most part still there. On the one hand, this made me nervous. What, no track record? But on the other hand with everybody we talked to there there was a palpable feeling of excitement, and not just excitement but PRIDE. Pride in what they had built over the last few years, and prinde in what they were indeed still building. These were not just people who were hired to teach and go home at night. These were people dedicated to buidling something. Building something new and something good. And that was something you could just feel walking around. That isn’t to say that you couldn’t tell in the other places we visited that people liked where they were and what they were doing and were proud of their schools… but this just had a qualitative difference. It was a sense of direct ownership. I liked that a lot. When Brandy and I walked out the door, leaving Amy to spend the day at classes, that was absolutely the first thing I said. “Did you see how excited and proud they are about what they are doing?”

It is also a small school. Between that and the newness that means they don’t have all the things some of the bigger places have in terms of fully established clubs and activities and all that sort of thing. But at a student body for the whole school of less than 100 kids, and only about 15 per grade… it means there will be a LOT of individual attention, and there will be no “slipping through the cracks” or getting bored because the class is moving to slow, or whatever. This is exactly the kind of environment Amy needs to thrive.

While small, they are clearly growing and building. You can see the newness. You can see that there is new “stuff” coming all the time. The day we visited they announced that they had just acquired more buildings to make their current location a “perminant home”.

There is not a required number of hours per quarter or whatnot that parents have to volunteer. However it was also clear that parental involvement is very welcome and families are VERY involved in the school and its growth. That is exciting as well.

They talk about how they are using new and innovative techniques. At first, that sounds scary. What kind of freaky new-age stuff will they be doing with my child?? But what it seems to be is things like being heavily project based and interdisciplinary. What you do in English class ties in to what you do in Science and History. And as well as the usual homework and classwork, the number of longer term projects, both individual and group based, are perhaps more frequent and more prominant than in some other programs. Also, each grade in each year has an overarching question that provides a theme for the year. Everything for that year is tuned to provide different avenues and insights into that question, approaching it from many different directions. There is a lot of “learning to think and explore” here as well as learning the specific topics you are supposed to learn in each grade (Although of course you also get that.)

Oh, and of course they use USB thumb drives to hold much of their coursework rather than lugging a backpack full of textbooks, which is cool. Lots of other uses of technology where it makes sense too. It is a Windows campus unfortunately. (What can you do being only a few miles from Microsoft headquarters?) But that is OK. You’re allowed to use Macs, they just don’t have the resources to offically support them. :-) And then in the high school years, you are required to use a Tablet PC. But that is years away.

They were also very engaged and personable with us. A couple of the other schools actually got Amy’s name wrong at one point and got us confused with another family… etc. Some of them it definately felt like we were being stepped through an exact and defined procedure… ask them these questions… show them this stuff… tell them these things… then say goodbye. All friendly of course, but scripted. Eastside Prep was much less formal, much more engaged with our specific situation, and just generally felt more welcoming.

All in all we are very excited about Eastside Prep. And Amy is THRILLED. I think this will be a very good place for her. This is a very big decision. There is a lot of money involved. (Although Eastside Prep also is helping with some generous financial aid this first year when I am doing the whole pay for two houses thing for most of the year, which completely depletes resources… next year we shouldn’t need the aid I hope.) And it is just plain a big life decision. If the school goes well and if (cross fingers) my current job goes well (or at least I stay in Seattle) then this is a place that is going to be a huge part of Amy’s life for the next SEVEN YEARS. And her experiences there will very strongly affect the kind of adult she grows into and how her life will evolve through her teenage years, into college, and then into adulthood. It is a HUGE decision. If we make the wrong call, it will have consequences for many years to come. I think we are making the right decision, but it is still quite a big thing!

And we almost didn’t get to visit Eastside Prep. Brandy had initially asked if we could visit them during Amy’s spring break at the end of March. They had tentatively said yes. Then all the OTHER schools said they could not wait that long, and could we come earlier. We scrambled and set up an earlier time for Brandy and Amy to come to Seattle in early MArch rather than late March. All the appointments were set up with four of the other five schools. (The one that we didn’t get an appointment for… we’d already done a phone interview… is the one we never visited or heard back from.) We sent a note to Eastside prep saying we were going to be there earlier than expected and could we possibly come for the day visit in early March instead.

We did the vist and saw the four schools. We had not heard back from Eastside prep. We got an email from them just a few hours before Brandy and Amy were due to fly back to Florida confirming a date and time for the LATE MARCH time frame we’d asked them about first. At that point it would have been too late for a day visit with them in the first trip anyway, and we’d been fairly booked. But a round trip for both Amy and Brandy is expensive. And as this was in the Spring Break timeframe, it was more so than usual. And to get flights that were still open and allowed enough time in case there were delays, Amy had to miss more school again. It would cost us almost $1000 to make a second trip back to Seattle for the two of them, and with the whole house plus apartment thing going on at the moment, things are very very tight. There was discussion of not making the second trip. We were not even sure if we COULD finance the trip even if we wanted to… In the end though, we figured out how to squeeze it in… barely. So Brandy and Amy came out again for Spring Break… not just for the day of the school visit, but also for a full week. Which was very nice.

But I am VERY glad that we were able to arrange that second trip. After visiting the school we walked out with it a tie with Forrest Ridge. And as mentioned, within days with Amy and Brandy that had evolved into a #1 spot although I was still on the fence a bit. After leaving Forest Ridge Amy was very excited about that school (alone of the four we visited, although some others were “OK”.) Over the couple days after we visited Eastside Prep, her attention and interest had very much shifted to Eastside Prep. She really liked it there. If we had not had a chance to visit, we might not have gotten in, and if we did get in, although we might have eneded up with the same decision, our feelings about it would be a lot less clear. Visiting was crucial. I am so glad we did.

So… back to the beginning… I dropped off the deposit check yesterday. This acts as a downpayment of sorts. We start paying monthly when school actually starts next Fall. I handed the check to the same person who had interviewed Brandy and I during our day visit. They seemed very glad to have us. Brandy mailed the paperwork and contracts from Florida several days earlier. Our spot is reserved. We are going to Eastside Prep. And we are very excited.