The SF Public School Difference

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Samantha Schoech is a writer and co-editor of the book The Bigger the Better, the Tighter the Sweater.

There was a moment, a few years back, when we considered moving to Marin, the county where I grew up. I attended a few open houses there. And as we looky-looed, I noticed a familiar refrain from realtors when I mentioned that I lived in the city. "But what do you do about schools?" they'd ask, looking at our two kids with genuine concern.

I've heard this tone many times when mentioning San Francisco public schools. And families fleeing the city and its schools is a well-documented fact. The reasons are always the same: if only the lottery weren't so stressful, if only we had gotten into the right school, if only we had the type of child who could thrive at public school.

I'm not immune. We applied to some private elementary schools. We may revisit privates for high school. But in the meantime, I have a terrific secret: San Francisco public school has been a gift.

Let's get the academic question out of the way. In addition to the 3Rs, our kids get dance, outdoor science, tech, music, and art. At 10, they can write a decent five-paragraph essay, a skill I didn't learn until high school.

But academics aren't the surprise. That, and my adoration, come from softer benefits like community, flexibility, and the feeling that they are learning in the nuanced real world.


Because our school has a program for children with autism, our fifth-grade daughter has discovered a passion and become a trained social peer who volunteers to go on outings so that kids with autism can hang out with friends and enjoy the stuff that children enjoy.

One of my son's friends immigrated from China two years ago. Not only can my son now swear in Mandarin, he also has a feel for what it means to come to a place as a stranger with no English and transform into a fully participating American kid, a process both ordinary and miraculous.

So, yes, perhaps they are missing out on tiny class sizes and organic cafeterias, but what they get, and give -- inclusion, empathy, and adaptability -- more than makes up for it.

With a Perspective, I'm Samantha Schoech.

Samantha Schoech is a writer and editor living in San Francisco.