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If you are wondering how to find the best Portland area school for your child, we’ve got you covered! Follow a step-by-step process created by two Portland moms who have gone through it themselves and want to give you the scoop on how it all works.

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Entries in Emerson School (5)


Option 3: Non-Traditional Schools

Most of us take for granted that school is the way it is, the way it’s always been - but does that mean the standard school is ideal for your kid? Once you start peeling away the onion layers and looking at the roots of traditional education, your mind may start to shift. To get a sense of how traditional schools were designed and thus how you might want to stray from that model when it comes to your child, I highly recommend this short visual lecture by Ken Robinson (worth the 12 minutes, I promise). If his talk inspires you to consider some type of non-traditional school, you will have plenty of possibilities in Portland.

Whether you’re looking at public or private schools, options in both of those camps include schools that don’t follow the mainstream approach. They may use a century-old method like Waldorf/Steiner or Montessori; or they may be some amalgam of “tried & true” and their own unique approach. The latter also tend to utilize collaborative, project-based, and experiential learning, with examples around town such as Renaissance, Emerson, The Living School, and others somewhere on the spectrum. But no matter which of these less-traditional paths you might choose to follow, the challenges and rewards tend to be similar. Based on dozens of conversations over the past few years, along with my own research and experience as a Montessori mom, I’ll lay out the pros and cons of these non-traditional approaches in a broad-strokes way. But it bears repeating that every school is different (even within the same method – e.g. Waldorf) and your assessment of a particular school requires diligent investigation!

The Scoop Half-full:

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Update on One Family's Search

Several weeks ago we met Pradeep*, a work-at-home dad in SE doing much of the school scouting for his twins while his wife Siri finishes her residency at OHSU.  We checked in with him again and here’s the scoop on their school visits:

  • Abernethy: Pradeep and Siri visited their neighborhood school and liked it well enough - but not enough to pull kids out of their last year of Montessori school. The bottom line is that they think that one of their twins would do fine anywhere, but that the other needs more freedom in his environment to engage in learning, which makes them very hesitant to jump the Montessori ship now.
  • Buckman Arts: They liked it, but it didn't feel that drastically different to them than their neighborhood school - just more art bells & whistles. They did think that if Buckman were their neighborhood school they would be more than happy with it - but is it enough to leave the

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Meet Another Neighbor

The other day we met Gina and her partner Luca, and learned about their extensive school search.  Today we meet Pradeep, a work-at-home dad, who is taking on most of the initial school research while his wife finishes her residency at OHSU.  Pradeep and Siri live in SE, and they have the double dilemma of finding a school for their twins, who have very different personalities.  Names and identifying information have been changed to protect their privacy, but their situation is one many of us can relate to. Even though most of us aren’t raising twins, having a second child often complicates the school situation when one sibling has very different needs from another. 

Pradeep lives in the Abernethy school district, and given its strong reputation, he feels pretty good about ultimately settling in there.  But their kids are in a Montessori program, and they’ve grown to love its more out-of-the-box, whole-child approach.  This presents a challenge for them because since Montessori preschools encompass a kindergarten year, they don’t *need* to enroll in an elementary program next year.  BUT...

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Charter Schools – Who Should Get In? 

I struck up a conversation with a mom at a Northeast Portland playground lately that could have threatened to undermine all the obsessive research I’ve been doing on education lately. We were each pushing our infant sons in baby swings, commenting on life with kids, the weather and Portland neighborhoods. I learned she lived nearby and was a decade-long Portlander. She learned I lived in Southwest Portland and had lived here for not quite two years. It didn’t take long for our talk to turn to education.

She had just received word that her son had been admitted to the Emerson School. She was happy about it, even though her first choice had been the Metropolitan Learning Center, where her son had been waitlisted.  I congratulated her on her happy news and mentioned my interest in learning more about the charter schools and other forms of alternative education in Portland. Her smile disappeared.

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Emerson School - profile*

I last toured The Emerson School, a charter with its own lottery, two years ago when it was high on my list of schools for my daughter.   Below are my thoughts on its pros and cons:

The Scoop Half-Full:  

Those parents seeking a non-traditional education should definitely take a look at Emerson. Its primary strength is its Project Approach to education, with each classroom delving into 2-3 big projects a year, and which involves the learning of traditional subjects and basic skills. Teachers work hard to put together dynamic units of study that are engaging and that take risks.  Of course with risk-taking comes some loose ends, but most Emerson parents (and all those other parents clamoring to get in) happily accept that a T or two might not get crossed along the way.

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