After we made the decision to move to Hawaii, school applications quickly became the focal point. G had spent years traveling to Oahu for work and one thing I remember him saying from all of his time visiting Hawaii's best private high schools was that the public system in Hawaii had a struggling reputation. Hawaii actually has the highest percentage of private school enrolment in the country. Of course, private schools here aren't always an option: they tend to be very competitive and they are all, almost without exception, expensive (surprise!).
When GL was little I didn't know how I would ever send her to school. I'd never left her with anyone, and suddenly I was supposed to send her off to strangers. Not to mention the fact that I'd just miss her. I thought to myself ... she's quite smart already ... what more does she REALLY need to know? When she was four, I managed to send her to part-time preschool because I knew it would be good for her, despite secretly wanting to pull a Mother Gothel (minus the whole evil kidnapping witch thing). When it was time for kindergarten the following year, I considered home-schooling and red-shirting along with any other avoidance strategy before deciding that, even though I might die, she was ready to go. In both cases her schools and teachers were perfect and on most days I'd be happy if she was still in kindergarten, aside from the fact that she's on her way to being eight.
GL loves school, though, and seems to jump whole-heartedly into new things in a way that belies her quiet, shy nature. I knew she would be fine, so my concerns were more with my own comfort level.
Then there was L, who always takes a minute to get used to a situation before embracing it fully. When he started preschool he clung to my leg like a koala to a tree and had first day of school pictures that required a happy-version-retake later that day. Once he was settled into preschool, he immediately loved his friends and teachers so much that he started to think about the fact that the following year might not be the same as the current one. This is the child who, at barely two, was devastated because we moved to a bigger, arguably much nicer house. Every single time we drove past the old one he would say "I miss the old house" in a way that might make sense if you were, say, a former Presidential child who had to move out of the White House. It went on for months. He is nostalgic. Clearly, he gets this from me.
Needless to say, finding the right schools in Hawaii was always going to be a priority. I couldn't get my mind around sending GL to public school because we couldn't pinpoint which one it would be since we had no idea where we would be living. Some schools have great reputations, but there was no way of knowing if we would find a house within the specific zoning of a great school. Not to mention that we wouldn't be visiting any of them in advance and had no prior knowledge of any beyond random Zillow ratings.
Ultimately we decided to apply to two independent schools, each with similarly elaborate application processes. Both required report cards, application fees, letters of recommendation from GL's current and past teachers, and one had us do a Skype interview while the other had her write an essay proctored by her current teacher. It was like college applications for second grade. Meanwhile, we had missed all application deadlines by several months so we weren't confident that she would be accepted anywhere.
I had a great feeling about both of the schools we applied to, and had no idea what we would do if she got into neither. Ultimately she was accepted to both and we chose the one with the club that helped sick birds, not exclusively or even predominantly for that reason (although I do like to pay attention to signs, and birds are kind of GL's thing). We found a house that same day, and everything started to fall into place.
I was then able to focus on preschools for L, which was problematic because the fact that we'd missed deadlines actually meant that there weren't any spaces. G had a work trip to Hawaii prior to moving, and during a small window of down-time I asked him to visit a preschool that, at least on paper, was a possibility. G met with the Director, who all but sent him packing at the mention of food allergies. She told him that they weren't equipped to handle dietary restrictions (in a way that was far less eloquent) and that maybe their school wasn't the right place for us. It was, in effect, the old "it's not you, it's me" break-up line, preschool style.
I found a two half-day option for him at one school, and ended up accepting it since it was the only thing we had. It never really felt right, and a week before school was due to start I ended up contacting another school with a five day part-time program to check for space. They told me they had none, and then the following day I got a call to say that someone had withdrawn at the last minute. The fact that it was last-minute didn't spare us from the application process, though.
During a lengthy conversation with the Admissions Director, who at one point told me that I was her hero for reasons I can't recall but that were certainly undeserved, she also told me that she didn't foresee any problems although they had to see that L had "a teachable heart." It threw me back momentarily, you know, since he's four, and I wondered whether he'd pass. I had no idea how you assessed a four year old's heart. He's great at hugs ... did that count? He's very happy ... that had to be good. Sometimes he doesn't listen, though ... so that might be bad.
We all went for a family interview before which everyone was suitably briefed (ie, bribed, probably). They asked questions like "what is your method of discipline?" to which I could initially only think to reply that we didn't hit, because it's a classical school and the teachable heart thing had me questioning just how strict they were. I think we landed somewhere on discipline techniques like "incentive systems" and "withholding," which is Oprah speak for giving and taking away Legos.
Later that day I had a call from the Admissions Director to go through the many steps I needed to complete to accept their offer. She also mentioned that the offer was probationary because they hadn't witnessed him interacting with other children as school was not in session. Glowing references from his past preschool and loving interactions with his sisters weren't enough. Sigh.
In any case, they both have schools with programs that seem right, at least for now. Let's just hope L makes it past probation. If not, we're definitely getting him an unteachable heart t-shirt. I bet there's a whole market for those out there.