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When the Fancy Schools Aren’t in the Stars… or the Budget.

Jessica Ward is a full-time freelance writer and adoptive mom to two wonderful children. She writes to support her parenting/adopting habit. For more information see or for frugal family tips see or @jessc098 on Twitter.

Many parents know the feeling—your school may not be meeting your child’s educational needs, or you do not feel they are safe there, but you don’t have the resources for a private school  either. What options are available to parents?

We’ve faced this in our household, our youngest, adopted from east Africa arrived with a language delay but a high IQ—she might not reach her full potential entering Kindergarten this year. Our oldest, also very high IQ, has learning disabilities that interfere with her classroom functioning, but she isn’t low-functioning enough to qualify for special services. In sixth grade, she risks missing out on critical life-skills (organization, time management) that may affect her success for a long time.

My family is a resourceful bunch and mired in education. My in-laws both work for school districts (a teacher and an administrator) my mother is a school psychologist, and I was home-schooled until the ninth grade. (And I like to think I turned out all right.)

There are still options for parents who have concerns that their neighborhood public school just isn’t hitting the mark.

Private schools. Yes, I know, not in the budget. Many schools still offer scholarships for children. Do some research and contact schools that might work.

Change public schools. Some districts may allow you to waiver your child out of a district and into a district with programs that better fit your child’s needs.

Charter schools, or alternative learning environments. Washington State (where I live) doesn’t allow for charter schools, but our district does have an alternative school available for grades 3-12, and two districts offer online school, which is ultimately what we choose—we waivered our kids out of our home school district and into a public online school.

Home schooling. This can be done with or without a curriculum program.  Home-educators can order “school” from a provider, or attend co-operative groups to share teaching and grading duties with other families, or design their own program to meet their state’s educational requirements.

Un-schooling. Un-schooling is perhaps the earliest form of schooling, encouraging children to learn from their natural environment. It’s gaining popularity as a learning program and works for many kids with attention or behavior challenges.

Supplementing. Keep the public school, but add on programs from the local library, church, synagogue, 4-H, scouting or other organizations.

Don’t be limited—you can mix the strategies above to meet your child’s individual needs. Private and alternative school programs aren’t all full of preps or thugs, many cater to children who are kinesthetic learners or who need more workforce-oriented learning opportunities instead of the classic “reading, writing and arithmetic.”

It is possible to meet your child’s young educational needs without sacrificing their future college fund.

On that subject…
It isn’t too early to be shopping for scholarships and academic programs to give your child a financial kick-start into college. While many scholarships aimed at children under age 13 aren’t published (for privacy reasons), there are some directories available. My daughters and I plan for these scholarships each year and make a list of which ones to apply for. This list caters to elementary and middle school students.

Also, many programs exist for children to begin college early. Here in Washington we have a program called “Running Start” which allows high school juniors and seniors to attend community college classes along with, or instead of their high school classes at no charge.  I benefited from two years of free tuition this way, and a direct-acceptance agreement to any state university after I completed my Associates’ Degree.

Bottom  line: Don’t give up! A little planning and frugality now can give your child the education he or she deserves and will give you the peace of mind that you need as a parent.

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