Reader Mailbag: The Family Months

What’s inside? Here are the questions answered in today’s reader mailbag, boiled down to five word summaries. Click on the number to jump straight down to the question.
1. Charter school conundrum
2. Roth as college savings
3. Saving Legacy TreasuryDirect
4. Favorite board game
5. How I read
6. Education debt question
7. Community of church without religion
8. Introductory banking offers
9. Checking account conundrum
10. Creating online buzz

I like to think of November and December as family months. It’s during these two months (and the holidays contained within) that I get to see my extended family more than I do during the other ten months combined.

I’m usually apprehensive about it all as it approaches, but that apprehension gives way to relief once things actually happen, and then often the relief gives way to good times and good memories with good people.

Q1: Charter school conundrum
I have a 9 year old daughter, who is in 4th grade. Her school is consistently short of funds, and each year, tries to pass an operating levy that fails, leaving them hurting worse with each passing year. Currently, she has art once every 6 days, gym every 6 days, and computer lab every 6 days, and there has been talk of eliminating elementary art and music all together. My daughter has advanced reading and math skills, but because of large class sizes, the school is unable to challenge her much, and she has already begun to find school boring. There are no advanced placement programs.

I have an opportunity to enroll her in a charter school next year, less than 20 miles from my home. There is no bus, so I would need to drive her. The school has an excellent reputation, and delivers a well rounded liberal arts education. They have small classes, and promote a family atmosphere. There are no tuition costs. The goal is to produce students who are well prepared for college in a safe and inclusive environment, and they try to make it fun and exciting to learn.

The problem is, in order to drive her, I would need to quit my recently aquired, well paying, full time office manager job, and take a part time job with hours that accommodate this commute (school is from 8am to 2 pm). No one would starve at my house if I did this, but we would be a bit pinched until we adapted to the drop in income. The other option is to try to start a carpool, and ask my boss to come in late(and stay late) a couple of times each week, but I have seen how these things fail, and one parent is left picking up the slack, or the boss is less than thrilled with ‘flexible scheduling’, so I am reluctant to go this route.

How do I decide what is the best way to help my child? How can I decide if I should scrape by now, to provide her a better education, or keep her where she is, knowing it is more convenient? If she stays in public school, I can put away enough money to help with college expenses, I probably can’t if I work part time.

I just can’t find a way to compare the situations, and pick the better one. Do you have any ideas?
– Annie

The first thing I’d do is make sure I’ve explored all of my options. Are there any other children in your area that are joining this charter school, for example? Could you arrange something with the family of that charter school involving one half of the daily commute coupled with a bit of pre-school or after-school care?

Is there an after-school care option near the school that your child could utilize via school busing? What about before school?

I don’t think this is an either-or choice quite yet. If it truly comes down to that, I’d probably not switch schools, since evidence shows little correlation between charter, private, and public schools and long-term academic performance.

Q2: Roth as college savings
What do you think of using a Roth IRA as a vehicle to save for our kids’ potential college costs?

I am an engineer and my husband is a stay-at-home dad, we are both 28 years old. We currently have 2 kids (ages 3 years and 3 months) and plan to have one more child within the next few years. We have a 529 plan for the 3 year old with a negligible amount of money in it, probably around $700. We have no college savings for the 3 month old (yet!).

Currently we contribute 5% of my pay into our TSP account (federal gov’t employees version of a 401k). We also have a Vanguard Roth IRA to which we contribute ~$200 per month. At this time we only have $25 per month to save for each of the kids college ($50 total). I had planned to open a separate 529 plan for the 3 month old, and send $25 bucks to each 529 plan per month (at least until we are in a position where we can contribute more). However, I recently ran across the idea of using a Roth IRA as a college savings vehicle. This seems like a great idea for us since we are nowhere near the maximum yearly contribution level for the Roth. I also like the idea because neither myself or my husband needed money for a college education. Our children could be like me and get a free ride to college or they might turn out like my husband for whom college was a terrible fit. The biggest challenge of this idea seems like keeping track of what portion of the Roth is meant for our retirement and what portion for college. Excel spreadsheet? Separate Roth accounts? Is there a reason this would be a terrible idea?
– Kevin

A Roth IRA is a solid way to save for educational expenses.

The problem with using a Roth IRA for educational expenses is that to do so, you’re foregoing a very powerful tool for saving for your own retirement. Regardless of what you’re using it for, annual contributions to a Roth IRA are capped pretty low.

You’ll be in far better shape if you use that Roth IRA fully for retirement and utilize a 529 college savings plan for educational savings. If you’re not fully using that Roth IRA, I’d make absolutely sure that you shouldn’t be, because I’d far rather save for retirement than save for my children’s education. They can always get an education, but I don’t want to be an economic burden to them in my dotage.

Q3: Saving Legacy TreasuryDirect
I want to become active in rescuing the Legacy Treasury Direct system which as you may know is being phased out.

The reasons are pretty obvious, I think. Do you have any suggestions on how I can get started?
– Susan

I did some research into this and, for the most part, it seems that it’s mostly just an unnecessary hassle for people who were using Legacy TreasuryDirect to manage their securities. The phasing out of Legacy TreasuryDirect is being done to move people to the newer TreasuryDirect system, which conducts transactions mostly via the website.

(TreasuryDirect, of course, is a tool for buying treasuries and savings bonds from the United States Treasury.)

As for what you can do about it, the best route is to contact your congressperson. Sadly, contacting your congressperson in hand with a donation usually works the best. The best approach for change is to simply request that the features you want from Legacy TreasuryDirect be folded into the newer TreasuryDirect system.

Q4: Favorite board game
You’re often recommending games to people but you’ve never really talked about what games you like. What are your favorite board games?

– Alan

These change all the time. I’ll name one short game, one medium-length game, and one long game.

The Resistance is a very short deduction card game for five to ten players. In it, each player receives a “resistance” card or a “spy” card which secretly indicates which team they’re on. Then, over a series of five rounds, small teams of the players go on missions (done by playing a card) which can be sabotaged by the spies. If three missions go by successfully without sabotage, then the “resistance” players win. If three missions get sabotaged, then the “spy” players win.

Eminent Doman is a card game that takes forty five minutes or so for two to four players. In it, players are effectively exploring and conquering an unexplored region of the galaxy. Each turn, a player plays a card from their hand and follows the action written on it, then chooses a role card from one of the available stacks of role cards (there are five stacks available to all players) and follows that role. Each other player also has the option to follow that role, too. It ends up being a game of careful calculation as all players are trying to squeeze out victory points near the end, as the game ends when one or two (depending on which variation you choose) of the role stacks are emptied.

Descent: Journeys in the Dark is a board game that can take two to four hours in the basic version and can go on over many, many continued sessions with the Road to Legend expansion. It’s largely a game of dungeon exploration (think Dungeons and Dragons, but little roleplaying and more strategic thought) where one player controls a horde of villains trying to prevent you from exploring the dungeon and the other players each playing a hero (or two) trying to get through the dungeon. I’ve been playing the Road to Legend expansion with a few friends for a few months now and we’ve been having a lot of fun with it.

Q5: How I read
You’ve talked before about how you go reading; taking an hour at the end of the day to sit down and read. But I’m wondering, is it really that you just take one hour at the end of the day and that’s it? You seem to get through books quickly. Can you elaborate on how you read (do you usually try the speed-reading tricks?), where you read (in bed, favorite chair, etc), and any other information you think would be interesting.

– Will

I make it a point to read for an hour or so at the end of any given day. However, that does not preclude reading when I can throughout the day.

I tend to take a book with me every time I leave the house, as there are often times to read when I’m out and about. I’ll often take short breaks from work during the day to do something else and refresh my mind, and at least once a day those breaks involve reading for personal enrichment.

I find all sorts of little spaces during the day to get a few pages in, because it’s something I value.

I do read pretty fast, but it’s more of a matter of many many years of practice reading every single day. I have never taken a speedreading class, nor do I really want to.

Q6: Education debt question
I’ve been living in China for 6 years and am pretty good at Chinese! Would love to go back to school, get an MA in Chinese and a one year degree in Education so that I would be qualified to teach Chinese in the USA. I’ve been a teacher here at a prestigious university and love it.

My problem is: Education in America is robbery. The programs I see cost 20,000$ tuition plus room/board for each year. It’s so hard for me to make the choice for massive debt to teach (at a low salary).

I have been spending most of my adult life here studying Chinese and traveling all over East Asia, and would love to use it this knowledge. –OR– I could stop studying and save $20,000 a year or more by working full time teaching English (though I don’t enjoy it that much at the private schools).

I’m 30 and have a BA in History, enjoy my life now, but think I ought to do something “more”. Is it saving money, buying a house cash in a 4 years in Western MI (where I’m from) and doing anything really (free rent and maybe even a roommate?). Or should I follow a passion, something I love and be up to my eyeballs in debt? What do you think?

I have 10,000 in student debt. 20,000 in cash. If I give this money to my parents and do my FAFSA alone (without parents info) I would probably get some help from grants, but not sure how much. I get paid in cash and when I file taxes my income has been very low.
– Chloe

Education in America is expensive, but there are some ways to reduce the debt load.

If you’re going for graduate work, one way to reduce the load is to teach. Most large schools will employ graduate students to do teaching assistant work for undergraduate classes and will even allow you to fully teach some smaller classes in some cases. They compensate for this either directly or through reduced tuition.

If you’re going for an undergraduate degree, one way to reduce the load is to get as many classes out of the way as possible at the community college level. Find a community college that transfers credits to the school you want, then take your general education requirements there at a much cheaper rate.

Another approach, if you’re a teacher, is to look for loan forgiveness opportunities, where you agree to teach in a disadvantaged district for some number of years in exchange for your remaining student loans to be wiped away.

Q7: Community of church without religion
When I was growing up, my parents and my sisters and I attended a church with a very tight-knit community. Everyone knew everyone and people were constantly helping each other out and inviting each other over for meals and the like.

As an adult, I no longer agree with that religion – or pretty much any religion. What I do miss is that sense of community, though. How can I go about finding that without joining a church that doesn’t share my beliefs?
– Shawn

I agree with you that a church community can be an awesome thing. To me, the community and fellowship is the biggest reason to be involved in a church.

If you’re looking for that with minimal religious doctrine, I would suggest looking at a unitarian church. I took some religious studies coursework in college and attended the services of several different faiths, and the Unitarian church I attended (which I attended twice) seemed to mostly be discussions about different issues with very little overriding doctrine. In fact, it seemed that everyone believed something different. Many of the discussions had little to do with actual religious doctrine at all.

Beyond that, though, the church seemed to have a strong community, with multiple weekly congregational dinners, volunteer activities, and other things. Their calendar was full of activities, plus I overheard several different families discussing smaller potlucks and other things that weren’t on the calendar.

I’d try this route if I were you.

Q8: Introductory banking offers
I sometimes see offers such as “Get $25 for opening a savings account at our bank.” Do you think opening multiple accounts to get these incentives, particularly if they do not require a large deposit, is a good idea? This also leads me into my next question.

I have four savings accounts, one with a few thousand and the others a few hundred each. I plan to use one as my emergency savings (the one with the most) and another for a scholarship fund. My problem is I sometimes feel that I’m not making progress in saving, but this may just be a result of having so many savings accounts. I split $400 each month into all four accounts, so $100 each. I do not have anything that I am saving for in particular, especially now that I have reached my goal for the scholarship fund account. I thought about rotating sending all of the money to one account each month, so instead of $100 to each account it would be $400. I guess I would be doing this so I could see a big jump. Any suggestions?
– Shelly

Introductory savings and checking account offers vary from instance to instance. Some have no strings attached. Many require that you do certain things like maintain a $1,000 balance in the account for one year or else pay back the value of the initial offer. Read any such offer very carefully before taking advantage of it.

As for the multiple accounts, if you have no reason to have extra accounts open (usually, this is done to help with multiple savings goals), feel free to close the extra ones and roll all of the money into a smaller number of accounts.

It sounds like you have one savings goal and one emergency fund. Keep those separate in two accounts and close the rest.

Q9: Checking account conundrum
A few months ago, the bank with which I was a customer for about 15 years started to assess what I felt were unreasonable fees for ATM card use. It was $2 per transaction at any ATM that was not their bank, something that I felt was egregious at the time.

The credit union we joined over a year ago has just announced a new structure to their checking accounts. If I do not respond to their letter I will automatically be put into their plus membership, which requires either a minimum checking balance of $1500 or minimum relationship balance of $10,000 (which I think includes savings accounts…is that what combined consumer deposits means? If it does then I qualify.) Interest is 0.10%, variable. There is a monthly maintenance fee of $10 and up to 10 free ATM transactions at star ATMs. Non-star ATMs are $1.50. Debit pin- based transactions, aka getting cash back when you buy groceries, is $0.25 per transaction.

For the basic plan I could have no minimum requirement, no monthly maintenance fee, no interest and no free ATM transactions at star ATMs.

Right now I have no minimum, no fees for ATM unless I go over 10 per month and no fees for getting cash back. I have interest as well but I have made 1.71 in the last 10 months. By my calculations, I use a pnc ATM that has no fees 3.3 times per month. I get cash at the store 2.1 times per month on average. Based on my current year, I would have been assessed $38 in fees already and be on track to have $45 in fees for the entire year. I suppose that compared to the $10 monthly maintenance fee then I am in better shape.

My question to you is, do I have any choice as a consumer to stay with my current checking account? Why do I have to be forced to choose one? They say in their letter that the previous options will no longer be available after January.

It sounds like the basic plan would work for me, but it really annoys me to have to deal with fees! I hoped a credit union would make me safer from these fees but it hasn’t. It’s the wave of the future!
– Jenny

This might be an opportunity to shop around for a new bank, one that doesn’t charge such fees. These seem a little over the top on the “better” account, especially just for getting a measly 0.10% interest.

When dealing with a bank, you essentially have to choose among the account types they offer. It sounds like they’re offering two to you, of which neither one is all that good.

If I were you, I’d complain there. If the complaint didn’t result in any changes, I’d switch financial institutions.

Q10: Creating online buzz
I spent some time researching emergency 72 hour kits. With all the disasters happening and peoples lack of being prepared I thought this was a good niche market. I was able to make the determination that buying a pre assembled kit was best. For example, People have thoughts on what knife they want or what type radio they want ect. I wanted to cover the basics and allow people to add the extras. It is important to note I was able to secure distribution rights for Canada. How can I create interest, buzz ect. I have researched google ad works, a variety of search placement sites, contacted insurance groups, auto clubs ect. Everybody has an opinion which seems to conflict with others. I hope this is clear and to the point. Please ask other questions as I may have missed a key important point.

– Rob

The tricky part is that there are a lot of ways to create this buzz that you seek.

Given that you seem to have a particular product that appeals to a particular group (Canadians who would be interested in such kits), I’d spend some time figuring out where that group congregates online. Are there messageboards that cater to such a group? I’m not familiar with the exact nature of this group, but I would assume that you do since you’re involved in the business.

Find that group and market to them. Buy ads specifically targeting the places where they congregate online. Join those sites and join in the conversation. This doesn’t mean talk about your product all the time. It means be a member of the messageboard. If you want, put your business in the signature, but if all you do is promote your business directly, you’ll probably wind up being banned or ignored.

This is the approach I’d start with for online buzz for your product.

Got any questions? Email them to me or leave them in the comments and I’ll attempt to answer them in a future mailbag (which, by way of full disclosure, may also get re-posted on other websites that pick up my blog). However, I do receive hundreds of questions per week, so I may not necessarily be able to answer yours.

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  1. Johanna says:

    Q1: I’d recommend not switching schools. A big part of any difference in outcome between public schools and alternatives (private schools, charter schools, homeschooling, etc.) is due to self-selection: Parents who take their children out of public schools are ones who are involved in and care about their children’s education. If your daughter is as talented as you say she is, and if you care about her education as much as it sounds like you do, she’ll be all right no matter what school she attends.

    Really, being bored in school is not the worst thing in the world. A talented student isn’t going to be able to avoid situations where she’s mastered the material and has to wait for the rest of the class to catch up. Learning how to cope in situations like that is a valuable skill.

    You can help your daughter by finding ways to challenge her outside of school. Buy her books, games, and other materials that she can use to learn about subjects more advanced than her schoolwork. Keep your eye out for summer programs or other extracurricular activities where she can meet and socialize with other talented students (I’m not sure how many of these there are for 9-year-olds, but there are more for middle-school and high-school ages) – when I was in your daughter’s shoes, being lonely was a bigger problem than being bored.

  2. Jamie says:

    Q1: Another option is to hire someone to drive her (someone you know?) who is unemployed or self-employed and looking to make a little money. People are hard-pressed for cash out there, and a lot of people are picking up odd jobs to stay afloat. You say your job is well-paying, so if you can keep that job and start a college fund, and get your daughter a better education, and help out a friend, this could be a good option…

  3. Tracy says:

    The cost of good enrichment programs and outside lessons should be less than the drop in your income if you quit your job over this – and would give your daughter even more flexibility to focus on what she actually wants.

    Plus, your daughter’s already in the 4th grade, so by the time you enroll her in the fifth grade, she’s already almost out of elementary school anyway. This seems like a drastic change for something that would affect her for one or two years – middle school and junior high tend to be structured completely differently in terms of both academics and enrichment classes.

  4. Katie says:

    Johanna, I think your comment is really profound. The intelligent adults I know who have the most problems are the ones who never learned how to handle boredom. Because, in reality, any job – even exciting dream jobs or self-employed independent ones – requires a lot of gruntwork in with the interesting stuff, and coping with that is pretty crucial as a life skill.

  5. Tom says:

    Q1: When are you planning on making the switch? If it’s not until the semester is over, you may have some time to prove to your new boss that you do quality work and he/she may allow you to do the flexible schedule thing. For most “real” jobs this isn’t an unreasonable request.
    Make sure this charter school is willing to do the transfer mid-year, and that it is better than the public option. Where I live, there is one charter school that is head and shoulders above every other school in the state, and a bunch of not-so-good ones…

  6. MARIA says:

    What about taking the part time job and spending more time at your daughter’s current school volunteering in her classroom. I am sure a lower end financially strapped school would love to have all the help it can get.
    If this doesn’t make you and your daughter feel more comfortable I would change schools.
    If your gut says something doesn’t seem right and the current school is not providing what you want your child to experience it may be time to find a better fitting school for your expectations and lifestyle.. especially since you say she is not being challenged and there is not an option of advanced placement classes.
    A well maintained charter school or private school ( if you can afford) providing education and experiences that fit the way you are raising your family and your education values may be the better choice for your family.
    I live in Central Florida.. one of the worst states for public education.. I never considered public school for my children. Both went to private school from kindergarten to 12th. We researched many schools and were able to pick the one that we felt best represented our values, educational demands, affordability and provided an atmosphere of like minded families.
    Don’t stay in a school that is not providing what you expect. Seek out and find the best possible school for your family, whether is may
    be charter, private or a different public school.

  7. valleycat1 says:

    I’m with Johanna, Tracy & Katie. If your daughter is finishing lessons/class work early & bored, work with her teacher on additional activities or responsibilities in the class your daughter could take on. Most teachers are happy to provide additional worksheets at higher levels if needed. The other activities can be pursued after school (art classes, music lessons, sports or dance). My siblings and I are all products of not-so-great public schools, but with our parents’ dedication we each earned at least a BA with 2 PhDs (most of us were at the top of our class). Two are now college professors), the others: a self-employed business owner/retired airforce, a teacher, and an office manager.

  8. Brit says:

    @Shawn #7
    I, too, am no longer religious (quite the opposite actually) but missed the community aspect of the church I grew up in, and Trent hit the nail right on the head, a Unitarian church is the answer! I’ve been a member for about two years now at my local church (which is actually quite large with about 1500 regular members) and I can enjoy being a member of choir, helping out in the community, and even going to sunday school classes about great books =) It’s church without all the doctrine, and I love it.

  9. Matt says:

    @ Q6 –

    Is there a reason you’ve ruled out education in other countries? Can you not get an MA in Chinese from a university in the UK, for example? Or… since you are already in China, can you get a MA in China, and then come back to the US with the MA? If you have an MA in something related to Chinese language from a respected Chinese university, I’d bet you’d be able to get some assistance from a U.S. university (or possibly even a larger grade school system) in picking up the Education credentials.

  10. R S says:

    @Q1 – My parents swapped my brother & I out of schools, when they felt the education was sub-par. It worked for me, it didn’t for him. An unintended consequence of swapping schools was that our extracurricular activity options were limited, due to a longer commute to school. My brother was miserable, not being able to do activities with the kids he grew up with. I was a bit more resilient, but I do remember it being lonely.
    Eventually, my parents figured out, local public schools were the way to go + supplementing extracurricular activities.
    Kumon was great for filling our boredom with math at school. In addition to that, they got english workbooks from a school supply store. By the time we got to middle school, music, sports and clubs appealed to us, and took up our extra free time.

  11. Dee says:

    Q1: Lots of great suggestions here already.
    Do you have a spouse? Could that person drive your daughter instead of you?

    Q9: Switching banks.
    A charge to use a non-bank ATM is pretty standard and (IMO) not unreasonable. But if you don’t want that, you can try an online bank that either reimburses your ATM fees or has a network of banks where you are not charged.
    Also, since you take money out so frequently, why not try just taking out one lump sum?

  12. Kai says:

    I’m on the other side of the education question.
    I was a quick-learning student who spent most of her schooling life bored and waiting for the teaching to catch up (ie. usually, a concept would be taught, then practiced and manipulated and played with for a few classes, then a new concept would be taught. I would grasp the concept on the first explanation, and have no use for the next couple classes).
    I learned how to handle boredom fine – I always had something to do.
    What I didn’t learn is how to deal with a challenging subject. I wasn’t presented with something I had to really struggle to figure out/learn until grade twelve. It’s extremely difficult to learn how to learn at 17. It’s hard to learn how to study at 21 because until university I’d never needed to actually put time into studying a concept to be able to know, understand it, and use it on a test.

    I really really wish I had been put in a more challenging school environment as a child where I would have moved at a much faster pace so I got into the habit of learning something, then moving on to learn something else, then learning something and struggling with it for a bit, then moving on instead of learn something, wait a few days, learn something, wait a few days.

    Giving more work isn’t the solution unless you are going to actually progress a student forward. In grade one, the grade one books were boring, so I read the grade four books – guess what we studied in grade four? In grade three, I scored perfectly on every spelling test without studying, so my teacher moved me and a couple others up to grade five spelling words. It was great, until the next year, when I did grade four spelling.
    No kid wants to sit around and do extra worksheets, and I recognised when I was given extra stuff just to keep me busy.

    If your child is not challenged, and you can put her in a situation where she will be, it’s worth looking at the options to make it possible.
    Yes, good students can work through bad school situations. Most of what I learned as a child I learned through self-study, because I loved learning. But do you want your child to learn that ‘learning’ and ‘schooling’ are mutually exclusive situations?

  13. jackowick says:

    Q1 If you want a real economic argument, look at your hit in earnings vs money you could sock away over the next 9 years towards college. Will it be worth it? An excellent student from any school is just as likely to get in to any college. I was public school and got accepted at an Ivy League.

    Being 9 is a tough age. Only a couple more years until the curriculum usually changes for most junior highs in terms of day to day as well as expectations for homework and projects. And this all gets ramped up again when a high school curriculum is introduced.

    Other alternatives include summer and weekend programs that are academically based. For example, my local community college and high school run programs that are music and art based, and once high school hits, there are options to take college level courses, which can be especially inspiring when it comes to music and the arts.

    I’m trying to say “stick with the current school” not because the other is a charter, but because I think things can get better.

    Finally, one big piece of evidence is missing: did you talk to the teachers and if so what did they say?

    I think there is too much on the line in sacrifices that may or may not make a difference, but in the long term, the natural school progression should take of the boredom issue. In most cases. Disclaimer.

  14. Temi says:

    Q1 – I’m going to disagree with Trent, Johanna and others on this topic. Though there may be no long term differences between charter, public and private schools as a whole, there are huge differences from school to school. One school, public or private, can be terrible for your child, another can be terrific.
    I have three boys, all “gifted,” and their local schools were a terrible fit. Our family was in your exact situation. I had started a new job and had no way to get them to a better (for them) school – about thirteen miles away. Somehow we managed, through coming in late, car pooling, etc. My husbands employer was NOT happy. But we were able to work it out and I am so glad we did. I wish we had done it years earlier.
    Because of the challenging school environment we expect my oldest child to be accepted to a top tier university next year (Duke or Harvard) with close to a full scholarship. This would not have even been a remote possibility had we not changed schools. The high schools in our district don’t provide enough college preparation.
    To those suggesting that learning to cope with boredom is good for bright children I offer this analogy. Imagine driving in really bad traffic six hours a day for nine months a year for thirteen years. You have a car that can do eighty mph but you are forced to go 20 mph. All day, every day. You will be frustrated. You will be bored. But, on the positive side, it’s important to know how to drive in traffic! Imagine being forced to do something so entirely unproductive for so many years. It’s an enormous waste of one of our countries most valuable resources.

  15. jackowick says:

    #12 Thank you for presenting a very thoughtful opinion. It’s good to see differing opinions without bickering.

    Q10: (Forgot this in my earlier comment)
    I’m a big fan of wordpress just by preference, which I have linked to a twitter. I love to read the stats pages and see the referral links from searches and found some surprises into why some of my pages were hit more than others. Look up SEO and check out some of the linkedin groups that talk around this and you’ll get great feedback. Besides targeting ads, don’t underestimate the ability of people to “stumble upon” your page(s).

    And remember to actually look up your own idea constantly online. If you find that the 72 hour kit is being replaced jargonwise with 3DK or something similar, be ready to shift your words.

  16. Amy says:

    Annie, ditto what Jamie says in comment #2. My very first thought was to hire someone to drive your daughter — a stay-at-home parent, or a retiree perhaps. Do you have a petsitter? Maybe that person would be willing to diversify. :-) Better still if you can find another parent who could use that too, and split the cost.

  17. Vanessa says:

    Q7 says he doesn’t agree with religion, and Trent’s advice is to join another religion? I don’t get it.

  18. valleycat1 says:

    Q1 – back to the financial & practical sides of the question – If you decide the charter school is the better way to go, I hope your part-time job would be in the same town as the charter schools so you aren’t adding a twice-daily 40-mile commute (it doesn’t sound so bad now, but it can become onerous every.single.day). The mention above about social life is also a consideration – are most of the school’s students from that other town – if so, how will your daughter maintain a social connections? Plus, extracurricular activities, teacher meetings, birthday parties for friends, etc., will also be 20 miles away.

    One financial consideration – if you drop the great job now for a part-time job, the reality is that future great jobs with better pay as an office manager will only (possibly) pay better if you have years of experience behind you. So you will most likely be compromising your future earning ability if you drop the job now.

    I’d say you need to figure out what’s best for yourself first, then adjust what you need to for the rest of the family members. If job, career, and the added income are personally rewarding (separate from simply saying it’d just mean a slight crunch budget-wise to give it up), then stick with it. Then either find a way to make the charter school work for your daughter or explore other options as already mentioned by everyone.

  19. kristine says:

    Temi,
    I agree. We actually moved to put our children into a better school. What we lost in college savings- we made up for in full tuition scholarship for my daughter, and my son is still in HS, but also doing well. My kids are also gifted, as was I. I was bored in school, and got straight As without ever cracking a book. That should never, ever happen. And this was a “good” school district.

    Comparing aggregate data here is meaningless. The question is about 2 specific schools, not averages. Performance for both schools should be available online. I would recommend sticking it out till high school, and supplementing with high quality extra curriculars in the meantime. You have time.

    Once in high school, it is not just about being challenged. It is also about opportunities. Many of the opportunities our daughter had in our new district were not even known about at her old school- just 2 towns away. And many of these opportunities are only available through a school, not to families on their own.

  20. kristine says:

    Vanessa- yeah, I know! What about the Ethical Humanist Society? All of the principles, and the community, but none of the extraterrestrials.

  21. Riki says:

    I agree that the advice to join a church is strange, especially because the writer specifically states that he no longer agrees with any religion. If he considers himself non-religious or athiest or (insert self-identified label here), a church probably isn’t the place he wants to go. Worshipping without doctrine is still worshipping something that he doesn’t necessarily believe in. I’m a vehement athiest and I would never, ever be comfortable with a church group. Even if Shawn isn’t as opinioned as I tend to be, recommending a church seems . . . ridiculous.

    Shawn, I would look for clubs or community groups that are interesting to you. For instance, I’m part of a very active photography club. Some clubs are more active than others, but they can certainly help to foster a sense of community without having to be involved in a church. My city publishes a seasonal calendar listing lots of options so that might be a place to start for you. You can also try searching online for “activity name + city name” to see what pops up.

  22. Johanna says:

    @Temi: “Coping with boredom” doesn’t necessarily mean learning how to sit there doing nothing all day, every day. It can mean learning how to learn the material on a deeper level than is strictly required. It can mean seeking out the teachers who are sympathetic to your situation and asking them for more challenging material. It can mean figuring out which teachers won’t mind if you sit quietly in the back of the room and work on more challenging material on your own. And so forth.

  23. kristine says:

    And Temi- congrats to your son! Thats’ quite an accomplishment. I agree with you: the AP classes, the top notch guidance team and faculty…it all factors in. There are thousands of valedictorians every year- they do not all get scholarships, or even acceptance to their choices. The HS really matters, as does the school culture-are they prepping the kids to be employees, or future leaders? Are they having an in-school science fair, or vying to be serious contenders in the Intel competition? Do they offer mechanical drawing, or AutoCad? My daughter is at MIT. Just curious, are you from NY?

    On another note: according to Harvard’s Project Zero- schools with a strong art program produce students who average about 100 pts. higher on the SATs. In a world that increasingly relies on creative thinking, eliminating the primary venue for imaginative problem solving and processes is not the way to go.

    And in a country rife with obesity and diabetes, letting the children have physical activity so infrequently during the most energetic hours is penny-wise, pound foolish. I’d sale back after-school sports first- as that is an optional extra for a subset. Keeping art, music, and PE intact benefits all the students.

  24. jim says:

    Q1 : I would check the state test scores and make sure that charter school does better than your current school. Don’t just assume that a good reputation means a school is really better. How long has that school been around? Charter schools are public schools too (thats why its free) so they use tax dollars and are limited in funding the same way. They aren’t a magic wand to fix everything, they’re just ran differently.

    If you do go the charter school then I would attempt the car pooling. Or if that doesn’t work out then maybe you can pay someone to drive her. If your job pays enough more then paying someone to drive her and keeping your higher paying full time job could put you ahead financially.

    Q2 Kevin : Using a Roth to save towards college would work OK. Just make sure you’re saving enough for your retirement first. Retirement savings needs to be a priority before saving for college. I assume as a fed. govt employee that you’d have the pension so you may be saving enough now. If theres no pension for you then you need to up your retirement savings to at least 10% of your income.

    Q6 : I don’t really know what your plan is. Do you expect to teach at a university in the US with an MA? That isn’t likely. You genearlly need a PhD to teach at US colleges. Teaching at a k-12 school generally doesn’t require a MA. YOu need the teacher credential but with a BA already there are programs to get you teacher cred. within a year. You need to shop around for mores schools. Only you can decide what path is best for you as far as career and life choices. You need to decide that for yourself first. If you know what you want to do then others can give advice on best way to do it financially. But we can’t tell you if you should work FT in China, go to college in the US or buy a house in Michigan.

    College in the US is not ‘robbery’. Thats pointless hyperbole. The USA has the best universities in the world. If it was robbery then our grad schools wouldn’t be packed with foreigners. If you honestly believe that then you clearly shouldn’t do it as its obviously not worth it to you. Assuming you value college enough to do it then its clearly not robbery.

    Q9 Jenny: The no fee option seems to meet your needs so why not take that? You seem to be irritated that they’re changing your account or adding the fees. You shouldn’t take it personal if your bank changes their services and offerings. You aren’t entitled to free checking/savings and any bank will eventually change its offerings. Its just business. If your current bank/credit union doesn’t meet your needs then find another. If the free checking they offer works then take it. If you want better interest you can always put your savings in an online hi yield bank like ING.

  25. Leslie says:

    For those that are saying that the Unitarian suggestion is a bad one you should really check out a Unitarian Church. I am not the tiniest bit religious – I am Agnostic and I have frequently attended a Unitarian Church and enjoyed it. I have heard it described as the place for Humanists (or agnostics or even Atheists) that haven’t fallen out of the “church habit”. The one I go to even has a Wiccan group and a Buddhist Group.

    Wait…did I just agree with Trent on something? That doesn’t often happen…

  26. Rockledge says:

    Q1. I can give a few examples from my life that might help you in this decision.

    I was so bored in school, it made me depressed. My parents let me illegally drop out in seventh grade. They worked and I stayed home and read and did math. It was wonderful! I got a GED, aced my SAT, got a degree in Mechanical Engineering, worked at NASA, then switched my career to Environmental Education, got a master’s in that and have won awards in my field.

    I say all this not to brag, but to point out that school can be pure torture for some students, especially the bright, active, introverted ones. I truly don’t think I would have been able to go to college if I had to stick through all of those years sitting at a desk being bored.

    My son has mild ADDH and if he got too bored in school, he would get into mischief. Moving him to a small private school with small classes made a huge difference (that and really working on self-discipline with him–we never did medication). He is now in college taking Mechanical Engineering.

    My daughter is bright and will also get in trouble if she is forced to sit still while bored for hours after hour. We have done a combination of homeschooling and public school for her. She is in 11th grade in our local high school and a straight A student. She has learned to handle boring classes by sitting in the back doing homework, reading, or sketching.

    My point is that each child and school situation is different, and, yes, some boredom is to be expected in life and learned to be dealt with, but don’t dismiss the unhappiness caused by forcing a child to sit for hours every single school day in mind-numbing boredom.

  27. kristine says:

    Q^- Jim, not sure what state you are from, but in NY,you need to have an MA to teach k-12, or get one within 5 years of hiring. I already had an MA my field, but had to get an MSED full of pedagogy, special ed, and practical teaching courses to be certified. I also have to take 2-3 college courses a year, or equivalent “professional development”, out of pocket, to maintain certification- for the rest of my career. I’ve heard we are the most rigorous certifiers-maybe it’s true.

    As to the “undergrad” mentioned by Trent. No one I have ever heard of goes back for undergrad after obtaining the BA. Am I wrong, or does that ever happen?

  28. Brit says:

    I agree with Leslie, other commenters don’t seem to really understand Unitarian Universalist churches, just because it has the word “church” in it doesn’t mean it’s not a place for atheists (like myself), it just means its structured around the normal happenings at a church (there are services, classes, groups, choirs, etc.) however it is NOTHING like a typical Christian church. Typical sermons are more likely to be about reaching your full potential, enjoying life, helping others, etc. Their basic beliefs (if you can even call them that) are that we all came from the same place, and we are all going to the same place, and it really makes no difference what you believe those places to be, from the Big Bang to creation.

  29. Johanna says:

    @kristine: I know we’ve had this discussion before, but: I also went to a top-tier university on a full merit scholarship. Many (maybe even most?) of my fellow scholarship recipients also went to small public high schools that weren’t exactly brimming over with opportunities. We made our own opportunities, and found our own ways to shine.

    I totally get that not every school is a good match for every student, or every situation. But plenty of bright, talented people have come out of not-so-great schools, and have gone on to do just fine.

  30. Rockledge says:

    Q7. For me, being active in community groups gives me that sense of belonging. My neighborhood has a women’s group that I’m active with. When my kids were in elementary school, being active in the PTA was wonderful and I am still close friends from that group. Many cities have citizen’s groups and most charities need volunteers.

    If I were you, I’d think about what you like to do, what is important to you, and find a group to join that matches that. Not all will offer the kind of mutual support you seek, but try out a few for a couple of months and there’s a good chance you’ll eventually find what you are looking for.

    In addition, if you want community, why not try to foster that in your neighborhood? When we have new neighbors, I’ll whip outside when they are out and strike up a short, casual conversation–the weather is always a good one. When someone’s pet dies, I’ll send over a meal. I try to build up small, pleasant connections and my neighbors do the same. Now, we’ll watch each others houses during vacations, keep an eye on the kids, help out in emergencies, etc.

    My old neighborhood did not have that sense of community and when we went to move, we looked for place that had lots of community activities: church groups, scouts, PTA, tennis club, mom’s group, city-citizen coalitions, good police relations and such. We did this by simply driving around neighborhoods we were considering and stopping and talking to people walking or at the local park. If people were surly and unenthusiastic about their neighborhood, it was crossed off our list. Our “new” (we’ve been here 12 years) neighborhood had all that. As people move in, most either already know about the community spirit or are gently incorporated into it. We love our neighborhood.

  31. SMB says:

    I, too, am an agnostic who occasionally goes to a Unitarian Church. I feel completely comfortable and accepted there and enjoy my visits.

  32. Jonathan says:

    I agree with Johanna (#1) and Kai (#12), as well as several others who posted similar information.

    I was in a situation similar to Kai throughout my school years. The schools I attended were not bad, but I never felt challenged. I very much wish that I had learned how to learn early on.

    If Annie’s daughter is bored I think that learning to deal with the boredom would be a great asset. I also think that some additional teaching and projects at home that really challenge her would be a big help. It may even be possible to work something out with the teacher so that during the times that she is bored she can work on one of those extra, more challenging projects.

    While some schools obviously have advantages over others, I believe that the most important things a student can get from school is to learning how to learn, and also to develop a love or learning. Those things can be taught at home by an involved parent like Annie.

  33. jim says:

    Kristine #27
    “not sure what state you are from, but in NY,you need to have an MA to teach k-12″

    Ah yeah good point, I forgot most states do require a masters. I guess we can assume she wants to teach K-12. However she did mention teaching at a university so I’m not entirely sure.

    “As to the “undergrad” mentioned by Trent. No one I have ever heard of goes back for undergrad after obtaining the BA. Am I wrong, or does that ever happen?”

    I don’t know about BA’s but I did it with a BS. I got a BS and then got a 2nd BS. I was officially called a ‘post baccalaureate’ student rather than an undergrad. But in all purposes I was just like an undergrad. I didn’t have to take all the same general requirements to fulfill the 2nd degree. Theres nothing stopping someone with a bachelors from taking undergrad studies. I of course looked at a masters initially but it would have taken much longer to get the masters due to all their pre-req’s which basically assuming you already have a BS in the field. So I just went with the 2nd bachelors. Worked great for me.

    Of course my situation was unusual. Usually people are probably better off doing a masters if they already have a bachelors.

  34. Tracy says:

    Like Johanna, I went to a regular public school – mine was actually in the middle of a cornfield. And like many of the commentors here, I was reading at the 6th grade level by first grade. And I was a National Merit Scholar, blah blah blah.

    Johanna mentioned ‘coping with boredom’ – I would go on to say that for me, at least, it goes beyond that. Instead, it pretty much eliminated boredom – I found ways to constantly challenge myself and keep myself entertained/distracted. As long as I have my brain with me, I’m not bored. The rare exceptions are if I’m extremely tired or sick.

    Which is one way of saying, rather than thinking ‘my daughter is bored at school’ – find out what other activities are options are available once she’s grasped the material. Does her teacher not only allow, but encourage additional reading in history? Writing of book reports or short stories? Working on logic puzzles? What about peer tutoring? If that’s a possibility it can be an absolutely invaluable one – both in teaching empathy and because trying to break down different ways to explain things can actually enrich her own learning.

  35. Vanessa says:

    I get that UUA is a religion-that’s-not-really-a-religion. I just expected the advice to be more like what Riki(#21) and Rockledge(#30) suggested. Maybe Unitarian turns out to be the perfect solution for Shawn. My personal bias is I am turned off by anything that is even structured to look like religion. I also like Sunday mornings for sleeping in.

  36. jim says:

    You can probably argue around in circles all day about whether public or private schools are better or not in general. When it comes down to it I think that it really depends on the student and the specific schools in question. We don’t know quite enough about Annie’s daughter or the two schools to really give any good guidance on what she ought to do.

  37. Johanna says:

    @jim: It’s not just a question of which school would be better – it’s whether the charter school is *so* much better to justify the sacrifices that Annie would need to make. And I think that’s unlikely (although as Jamie and others point out, there might be ways of lessening those sacrifices).

    To return to the specifics of Annie’s question: Is it really so terrible for an elementary school to offer art and gym every 6 days? When I was in elementary school, we had each “special” subject once a week, which I think was the norm. And for as long as I can remember, there’s been “talk of eliminating elementary art and music altogether” – but usually the talk is just talk.

  38. Honey says:

    Q6. Most university programs also require an MA in order to be a teaching assistant as the “instructor of record,” though there are some places where that isn’t the case. With only a BA but her experience, she might be qualified to teach discussion sections (where the lecture is done by a faculty member). However, many graduate programs do not provide financial assistance to MA-level students. I manage 4 PhDs and 2 MAs, and we make it very clear to our MA applicants that all departmental resources (in terms of teaching and research assistantships, tuition assistance, etc.) is reserved for our PhD students. You can apply to a PhD program directly out of a BA, and it’s not worth it to us to spend money training/professionalizing MA students, who are only around for a year or two (as opposed to 5-8 years for a PhD student).

  39. Tracy says:

    @jim

    But isn’t that the point of the comments? To provide additional information and share experiences so that (assuming Annie reads the comments) she can more fully evaluate what her options?

    In particular because from her question, Annie sounded plagued with the guilt that if she chooses the public school, she’s to some extent sacrificing her child’s future for the sake of ‘convenience’.

  40. lurker carl says:

    Thinking back to the time when I was in elementary school. Art, music, phys ed, and library were each scheduled once every week. The rest of the day was structured around reading, writing, arithmetic and other such learning.

    We never had computer lab, there must have been a safety issue with dinosaurs tripping over the cables.

  41. Izabelle says:

    I cannot agree with those who suggest that a 9 year old take more responsibilities or try to be challenged outside of school to compensate for unchallenging schooling. Here is why, from personal experience:

    – Learning to cope with boredom is not as important as learning to put in a real effort, which can be lost on a gifted child for whom everything is easy. Learning to fail or even study hard because you have to (rather than as icing on the cake) is essential to success after school, in the “real” world.
    – A child who finds school easy will still be tired after a long school day. Burdening her with a busy schedule can lead to exertion and rob her of precious play/fun time (there is so little of that these days!).
    – Children who are given more responsibilities in class can have a much harder time fitting in – I know I did. I was branded as the teacher’s pet, and the other kids were either jealous or could not relate to me. This makes having genuine friends that much harder. People resent others who make them feel stupid, and that kid in the corner who does twice better AND still has time to help others will do just that (!).

    To summarize, I would have done anything to go to a more challenging school as a child. The only reason I couldn’t is that my tiny town did not offer any option. God knows my parents tried…

  42. mary w says:

    Q2. In your case I would definitely fund a Roth rather than a 529. You can put up to $16500 into TSP and still contribuate $10000 ($5000 each) to Roth IRAs. As you know you can take out the principle for any reason w/o tax or penalty so it’s there if you need it for college. If not you can use it for retirement. Also I think that retirement savings doesn’t count *against* you when applying for college financial aid.

    I wouldn’t fund a 525 for your children unless/until you are funding TSP and Roth’s to the max.

  43. Temi says:

    Q1 – Wow. Interesting discussion. I’m guessing a lot of highly intelligent people read this blog! :)

    @Kristine – Thank you. I am proud and very happy for him. We are from Oregon and, interestingly enough, his high school is a small charter school in a rural district without much resources. Still, they are committed to imaginative learning and providing advanced classes for all their students, as well as art, music and physical education. We, too, had considered moving to get into a better school. (Another idea for Annie?) But were unable to sell our house.

    @Johanna – I feel very strongly that a child shouldn’t have to figure out how to entertain/challenge herself in school. I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on that. I am glad it worked for you and some of the others commentors here and that you were able to succeed so well. However, there are many, many gifted people who are not able to do that and never achieve their full potential because of a system that is not designed to accomodate them. It makes me sad.

  44. jim says:

    Johanna & Tracy, Yeah I wasn’t meaning to say that the comments are pointless. I guess my point was that we are missing a lot of objective detail and specifics about the schools in question. Maybe that public school really really sucks and maybe its not so bad.

    I have some friends who were unhappy with their daughters elementary school cause their daughter was bored. Their daughter is 5 years old and the school is in the top 10% in the state. So Annie could be like that. But maybe the current school is far worse and has problems with crime and signification drop out rate and totally fails any standardized test.

    We really don’t know how good or bad the 2 schools are.

  45. Katie says:

    I don’t think anyone is saying that, as between two similarly situated schools, the challenging/more resources school isn’t the better one. (At least, I’m not). But we’re not talking about two similarly situated schools. We’re talking about one school that’s right here and one school that’s 20 miles away and will require mom to (probably) quit her job for the kid to attend. And people are saying that there are ways to make non-perfect schools work when the alternative is hugely inconvenient and difficult for everyone in the family. I don’t think that’s unreasonable.

  46. jim says:

    Katie,

    I’m not disagreeing with those points. Yes there are alternatives to making a nonperfect school work and someone needs to quit their job cause their 9 year old kid is a little bored. Yes I know the schools are 20 miles apart.

    But exactly how those 2 schools matter is pretty important and my point is that we don’t know much about that. I’m not even assuming the charter school is better.

    I think Annie should find and compare the state achievement scores for the schools.
    Are we talking 1-5% points difference or 50% points difference?

  47. jim says:

    I meant that she does NOT need to quit her job cause the 9 year old is bored.

  48. EngineerMom says:

    There is a LOT of discussion going on about Q1!

    My two cents:

    The one phrase that really concerned me: “the school is unable to challenge her much, and she has already begun to find school boring.”

    Bored students are not interested in learning, and if she remains bored, she could eventually completely lose interest in school. Why bother to try hard when just being a lump in class is enough to get an A?

    It is true that extracurricular programs could help, but she spends the majority of her day in school. Are a couple extra hours each week in after-school programs going to make that much of a difference? Why not switch to a school were far less of her time is wasted and far more of her talents and skills are engaged?

  49. Tyler says:

    Art, music, and physical education are not tested. As such, they do not show up when evaluating a school on test scores. If a school is only offering these courses once every six days, the teachers for these areas are probably teaching 500+ student. They’re lucky to learn every student’s name in the first few months. Even the best teachers cannot accomplish much when they serve this many students. This also goes for large class sizes and classroom teachers: the students at the bottom matter most and get the most attention because that’s what the testing requires. Figure out a way to get her unbored in the school she’s in, or figure out how to get her into another situation. If you don’t, you risk losing her passion for learning, and that the worst of all the possible outcomes.

  50. Brittany says:

    Also, Annie, some areas have private bus companies. Houston has a vibrant charter and magnet school program, but transportation is not provided for the charters. Houston is huge (you can drive an hour on the freeway with no traffic and still be in the city, not even the suburbs), and going to a school many miles away is a huge challenge for families, especially economically disadvantaged families. However, there are also a lot of private bus (or van) services that are reasonably priced that serve kids going to charters. Paying for one may be more than the gas to drive yourself, but is surely less than quitting your full-time job.

  51. Liz says:

    Q5, I have not read a book with my eyes in a few years. I get audiobooks (free) from the library here and listen to them as I can during the day. This way I can get my activities in and still learn something.

  52. Johanna says:

    “If a school is only offering these courses once every six days, the teachers for these areas are probably teaching 500+ student. They’re lucky to learn every student’s name in the first few months.”

    They may be teaching the same students year after year, though, so they don’t really have to learn 500+ new names every year.

    And really, if a child is showing any kind of passion for art, music, or sports, these are precisely the sorts of things for which an involved parent should be looking into enrichment activities outside of school. Even the best elementary school music program is probably not going to be enough, by itself, for a child with true musical interest and talent.

  53. Golfing Girl says:

    Q2: I wholeheartedly agree with Mary in #42. Max out the Roths–you would need to double what you are putting in now to do that ($416/mo in each). If you weren’t already contributing to another plan I would advise against this approach, but for you it makes sense. Plus you’ve already hit two key points. They may not go to school or may get scholarships. We primarily use our kids’ 529 plans to put money from grandparents for birthdays and such.

  54. valleycat1 says:

    Q5 – reading – I read several books a week, & have a full-time job. I have an e-reader, which makes it really easy to carry reading material when out & about. I also check out a lot of books from the library. I usually read during my breaks and lunch at work, plus an hour or more in the evenings & even more on the weekends (more leisurely breakfast & lunch, at a minimum.) I tend to pick up a book rather than going online, chatting on the phone, or watching TV. I rarely read in bed, but do have a good reading nook with a comfy chair, bookshelf at hand, & a good reading lamp.

  55. SLCCOM says:

    #7: Check out the fraternal organizations. For instance, the assorted Masonic organizations require simply the belief in a Supreme Being. The advantages to becoming a Mason are many, including a world-wide network of Brothers, opportunities to participate in numerous related organizations with your spouse, and many other avenues to pursue an interest in more depth as a Shriner. The focus of the fraternal organizations is to be of service in various ways. Discussion of religion is specifically prohibited at Masonic meetings. Widows and orphans of Masons are looked after.

    My Dad and his family are long-time Masons, and my husband is a Mason and a Shriner (as was Dad); our lives have been enriched by knowing a network of men of significantly above-average integrity who are interested in working to make the world a better place.

    I think the most impressive thing for me was when I went off to live in New York City; before I left Colorado, Dad told me that if I ever found myself in trouble, find a Mason, tell him that I am the daughter of a Mason, and the Masons had an obligation to help me out (as long as it was not to their personal detriment) even though I was a stranger. Generally, Masons don’t bother to ask if you are related to a Mason — they just pitch in and do what they can for you.

    The idea of getting involved with your local community is a good one — Masonic organizations provide that, and also a world-wide network, which the local PTA and Neighborhood Watch don’t.

  56. Jayme says:

    Q7: Seems that you want community without church of any kind. Hard to do! The biggest reasons (that I see) that churches are so good at community is:
    1) They share a common belief structure
    2) They interact regularly

    I’d look at finding something that has the two elements – that isn’t a church. Some type of community center or service organization, maybe.

  57. Kate says:

    To add to the chatter about charter schools: I would strongly suggest looking at the charter school’s requirements for staying enrolled. We have a charter school in our state that requires all students test Proficient on the yearly state test to remain enrolled. It irks me that this school can even be ranked among the public schools in our state because of that. It would be truly horrible for the mom to quit her job and then her kid “flunks” out because of less than proficient performance on the yearly test–and that can happen quite easily if there has been any kind of disruption in the child’s life, i.e. a death in the family, a bad morning, feeling ill…
    To add to the chatter about boredom: There is a perception that kids who are bored should be given some kind of activity to engage them. This gives no responsibility to children to learn ways to combat boredom on their own. I was often bored in school as a child and that is when I read widely. My parents drilled into my head that I should take a book everywhere and it was good advice. The only bad part was when I was at a particularly good point in a book and had to put it down.
    I have to say that boredom in fourth grade is quite common and often has nothing to do with how challenging a curriculum is…it has more to do with child development.

  58. SLCCOM says:

    The advantage to having a charter school require that the students test Proficient is that it forces the kids to put forth effort, or else leave the place to kids who will put forth the effort; I don’t recall any kind of disruption in my life being sufficient excuse to fail at school. One bad morning? Come on! Feeling ill?

    The problem is “yearly test.” I bet that if a kid tests less than proficient, but is doing well otherwise, they are allowed to stay. Have you investigated that?

  59. Kate says:

    Unfortunately, SLCCOM, many people do not realize that the way our public schools are now rated is indeed based on performance on a test that is administered once a year. In many states, charter schools students are required to meet the same expectations that a certain number of students will test Proficient (regardless of any disability they might have). Charter schools in most states can deny admission to nonperforming students, unlike public schools, and they do it frequently to keep the test scores high and the dollars coming in.

  60. Kai says:

    The point we are trying to make is not that kids shouldn’t ever be bored, or that they don’t need to learn to cope with boredom.

    The point is that school shouldn’t be a place where they are constantly bored and need to find things to do to occupy themselves.
    School is supposed to be an engaging place to learn – not a drudging bore to sit through while thinking of other things.

    Yes, many students can go through a boring 12 years in a mediocre school and go on to great things. But that same student in a challenging environment has a much better chance. Just because something *can* work isn’t a reason to go with it if a much better opportunity exists.

    I’m not saying she should quit her job to cart the kid to the farther school, but that she should take a good look at the school, and if it seems like it really would offer the kid a lot more challenge and a lot more extracurricular opportunities, it would be worth trying to find ways to make it work.

    Do you really think it’s a great situation for a person to see schools as places where you are forced to go and sit, be bored, and try to occupy your brain by sneaking books under the desk?
    I’d much prefer school to be the place where you go to learn neat things.
    You don’t get that in a school with no challenge.

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