This post is in partnership with Suburban Jungle.
I started to freak out about the San Francisco kindergarten admissions process last fall. From the moment we thought about raising kids in the city, we knew that getting them into a good school would be one of the biggest obstacles we’d face. It had been in the back of our minds for over four years, and now here we were. The time had come to start researching, touring, and applying.
The pressure on parents to enroll our kids into “good schools” is immense. I think we mostly put it on ourselves. Isn’t our job to provide our children with “the best” that we can? Just as I was starting to spiral with anxiety over the kindergarten situation, one of our contributors wrote an article about her experience attending an elite New York City private school. She explained how it really wasn’t the right fit for her, even though, on paper, it was the ticket to a successful life. Her experience got me thinking about a conversation I had a few years earlier with a strategist from Suburban Jungle.
As I’ve mentioned before, my husband and I reached out to Suburban Jungle to learn more about which Bay Area suburbs might be a good fit for us – a preemptive move to avoid the chaos of San Francisco kindergarten placements. During that conversation, our strategist, Barbara, asked us to describe what we considered a good school. The question made me pause. Was there more than one way to define it?
It turns out, there is, and it may influence where you ultimately settle down. For my husband and me, a good school means access to lots of extracurricular activities and sports teams, a sense of community, and a safe environment. For some, it means having schools that accommodate children with special needs. For others, having an alternative school that puts little to no emphasis on grades is preferred. Then there are the parents who want academics and test scores to reign supreme.
My mind jumped again to a different conversation I had. I was making small talk somewhere with a father of a 6th-grader who attended one of the prestigious all-girls private schools in San Francisco. He was boasting about how the academics there were so rigorous that an alumnus from the school, now a doctor, said the only thing more challenging than her middle school years was medical school.
To him, this highly competitive academic environment was ideal, and, hey, it obviously turns out doctors. Personally, I’d be concerned that this kind of pressure cooker environment would give my daughter an ulcer before she hit puberty, and it turns out this isn’t much of an exaggeration.
Dr. Mercedes Kwiatkowski is a pediatric psychiatrist working on the Peninsula who treats students coping with the stress of competitive academic life. She says,