From the moment you become a parent, you are surrounded by a seemingly endless stream of choices. Everything from feeding choices to decisions about sleep and screen time and more - what seemed so easy in parenting books, blogs and websites is suddenly jumbled into a mosaic of a reality that brings new questions, new challenges and new choices every day. Eventually, you find yourself in a rhythm that for the most part, carries you through it all. You embrace the challenges, successes and changes as they come. Your child starts school and you're certain that everything will be routine and that you'll work through any challenges as you had in the past. After all, school is predictable and you've been through it so you know what to expect, right?
When I had children, I was absolutely certain that they would have the same K-12 experience that I had. I grew up in suburban Philadelphia and stayed local to my hometown after getting married and having children. We were fortunate to be zoned for an excellent public school system, and as my daughter quickly approached Kindergarten age, we prepared for the transition. Both of my children were already in preschool where I held the role of Assistant Principal and where they had been exposed to all of what I believed would prepare them for success during their K-12 experience. Everything changed in June of 2019 (the Summer prior to my daughter's Kindergarten year) when the refinery where my husband had worked for 17 years was closed after a devastating explosion and we found ourselves on a new journey that would lead us to Bismarck.
After my husband moved to Bismarck, I stayed in Pennsylvania with my children for several months to sell our home and to prepare for our move. I had never been to North Dakota prior to our move (that was definitely a "trust the process" approach!) so I didn't know what to expect. I had my Bachelor's degree and Master's degree in Early Childhood Education and had worked for private preschools for 15+ years, so I carried assumptions with me that I'd end up in a similar setting for work after our move. Once we moved and I realized that Early Childhood Education looks very different in ND than it does in PA (mostly in-home daycares/preschools here in ND vs private, corporately owned/franchised preschools in PA), I put my career on hold and shifted my focus to helping my children adjust to our move.
After a short period of adjustment, I enrolled my daughter at a local public elementary school to finish her Kindergarten year. She was overwhelmed by the amount of students, the fast pace of the day (she never ate lunch because by the time she found her way to a table, lunch was over) and the amount of independence she was expected to have mastered at the age of 5 (getting herself ready, organized, transitioned and on-task for 7 hours a day). Anxieties were cropping up that I hadn't seen previously in her, and before I could address it, COVID hit and schools closed.
I found myself at home, in a new environment, unable to really familiarize myself with our new hometown while trying to manage the care and education of my children. I worked with my daughter on Zoom, trying to get her to pay attention, to stop talking and to follow the instructions. I sat with her as she cried from frustration trying to complete reading and writing assignments that she had no interest in but that I had to submit as "complete." My own frustrations grew as her questions and curiosities fell to the wayside, replaced by "assignment submitted" checklists on Google Classroom. We were all doing the best we could, but could we do better?
It was around this time, through a local Facebook group, that I heard about The Innovation School. I was extremely excited by the prospect of working for a private school at the preschool level, something that I truly missed from my life back on the East Coast. I met (virtually) with Maggie and her team, which was the beginning of another journey for myself and my family. Now I was faced with another choice - to keep my daughter in public school for first grade, or to trust that something different would be worth trying. I pulled her from public school and in the Fall of 2020, we both became a part of the TIS community. My son, who was too young to join TIS in the Fall of 2020, joined in the Fall of 2021.
Our experience at TIS has been incredible. My daughter has built such confidence, her curiosity is strong and she truly loves going to school. I have been able to stretch as an educator in ways I would not have had the opportunity to do if I had been bound to a specific curriculum. My son (who I am teaching in my class for the 2nd year) now willingly works on tasks that used to cause meltdowns for him and he shows pride in his efforts and in the new skills that he's gaining. We have all been met where we are while being challenged in ways that require courage and trust. It can be hard to trust that you are exactly where you are supposed to be and to settle into a journey that might not be as predictable as you had imagined while avoiding the "what if" questions that tend to intrude on our confidence in our choices.
I am so grateful that life has led my family to TIS and that being a part of the TIS community will forever be written into our journey. I trust that my children are getting exactly what they need through their school experience, even if it looks different than the experience that I had. I have the courage to advocate this school experience not only for my family, but also for other local families who may be trying to overcome the fear of change and of something different. No matter where your journey leads, have courage and embrace your choices with confidence while listening to your intuition - a reminder that I give to myself and my children every day.
Yellow Band (Primary Level Program) Educator & Parent of Two TIS Students