I think for at least a year and a half, Len and I have been working on whether or not staying in the city and paying for private school was going to be a sustainable option for us. Even without the financial aspect, the physical toll it was taking on all of us to keep attending school in the Loop while living to the north was becoming untenable. My daily commute for the past three years has been 2 1/2 to 3 hours (1 1/2 hours in the morning round-trip and 1 to 1 1/2 hours in the afternoon roundtrip). Sadly, one of the reasons for living in the city (not driving and using public transportation) takes much longer than driving and requires multiple modes of transport including 2 city buses, a commuter train and a generous amount of walking on both ends. In winter.
As I saw it, I had two options: either I get a full-time job that would enable us to continue on with private school as well as before/after-care for the girls until we could pick them up after work or we move to the 'burbs and get them into a free public school. Desperately wanting to keep them in the school they are in and stay in the city, I spent a good 6-9 months looking for work. Unfortunately, my line of work as a kitchen/bath designer requires a great deal of evenings/weekends on top of regular M-F work. Not something I really wanted to do after waiting so long to have children. The thought of seeing Kate and Lucy for breakfast and a late supper M-F and not having my weekends free for family time was not worth it.
So, with the goal of moving in mind, the next question was: where? Our main priority was on the girls' continuing education in Mandarin. Although a lot of the public schools in the city offer courses in Mandarin, none of them offered full immersion and all of them required a lottery to get in. After quite a bit of research into the testing and paperwork and pure luck that would be required to get two children into the same school and then into the same Chinese program, we decided that winning the powerball offered better odds.
Thus, the search for a school system began. Turns out that Mandarin immersion is offered in two school systems in IL but only one will take them to 12th grade and grant them a dual-language diploma if they stick with it. While getting into the program is not guaranteed (they have a cap of 23 students per cohort), they have not yet turned away anyone. Instead, when the program became popular, they added a second cohort to accommodate the increased demand.
I went out in September to tour the school and sit in on the Mandarin portion of the class. From that meeting, I was put in touch with the head of the elementary PTA and the head of the Chinese program PTA. They were a wonderful source of information about the school system, the program itself and the area in general.
For 1st-5th grade, there are two teachers, one who teaches only in Mandarin and one who teaches in English. For the upper grades, Chinese becomes a class that they attend as an intensive to study by itself. Although it has a lot of the drawbacks that I'm not real keen on (testing, grades, a more traditional approach to teaching) I did notice that there are some more forward-thinking ideas such as tables set up for group work as well as individual workstations so not everyone is sitting in rows while the teacher lectures on. It's not Montessori which, in my personal opinion, is one of the best methods for teaching anything, but it's the best we can do under the circumstances.
It is located about an hour outside Chicago but with the commuter train, Len's commute into the city will only take 45 minutes (or about the time it currently takes us to drive the 8 miles to his office every morning).
With that, our house search began. To date, I have looked at over 100 properties online and physically been inside 30 houses (not including the ones I've been in twice so Len could see them on separate trips). We also put our condo on the market and were fortunate in that it was under contract within 5 days. If all goes well, we will close in mid-May and rent back until the first of June so the girls can graduate kindergarten.
Yesterday, we all drove out there again to look at two more houses. Afterwards, we took the girls over to the playground of their new school where Kate finally got up the courage to brachiate on the monkey bars!
That sums them up in a nutshell doesn't it?