Families in Southwest and across the District enjoy a wide array of options when choosing a school for their children. There are private schools, charter schools, and public schools in other quadrants. Then there is the neighborhood school, sometimes considered a last resort for families striving to find the best education for their children.
In the case of Amidon-Bowen—the elementary school that serves most of Southwest—word of improving test scores, high-quality teachers, academic rigor, and varied extracurricular offerings have begun to overtake the lingering perception of an under-performing school.
The CBCC Education Committee seeks to support all of our neighborhood schools by helping tell the story of the positive changes taking place within their walls. In the interest of demonstrating the wide range of Southwest families who increasingly are choosing Amidon-Bowen for their children, the committee believes it is time to provide these neighborhood families with a platform to describe their choice and experience with the school in their own words. This article marks the second in a series of profiles.
Jennifer and Tim Grisham have lived in Southwest since 2008. Their son, Theodore, has just completed preschool-3 at Amidon-Bowen. Their daughter, Sabrina, just turned one. Jennifer is a regulatory strategic policy principal for a large energy company, and Tim is a corporate accountant. This interview, conducted with Jennifer, has been edited for length and clarity.
What were your initial impressions of Amidon-Bowen?
The winter before we enrolled Theo in school we started attending open houses and visiting all the schools that interested us. I think one of the biggest challenges was that Theo at the time was two-and-a-half, and there are so many different models around for the various schools—Montessori, Reggio Emilia, Tools of the Mind, Creative Curriculum—that it can be difficult to determine which one would be the best fit for your child. They change so much between the time that you select a school and the next school year starts. As a parent, it’s so easy to become stressed and anxious when there are so many different options available, and you begin to wonder, which of these philosophies do I even agree with? You can see things, read things, but it’s still hard to determine what would be the best fit for your child. By the end of the summer, we had a few options, including Amidon-Bowen.
I actually had missed open houses for Amidon, because it was low on my radar. The school really was an afterthought for us. We didn’t have a negative impression of it, it was just something we hadn’t considered. The week before the lottery closed, I figured, let’s at least check out the local school. I called the front office and they said sure, come down. Ms. Cureton showed me the early education teachers, and the beautiful facility, and was very accommodating. I told Tim to go on his own to see what he thought. Unlike some of the other schools we toured, Amidon-Bowen didn’t provide us with decorative reading materials or cute giveaways, but we did find warm classrooms with engaged teachers and happy children, which was really our top priority. Tim and I agreed it was a school we’d want to try out. Over the summer, Theo received admittance off the waitlist to several other schools, but we couldn’t find a compelling reason to pick any of them over Amidon-Bowen.
What compelled you to enroll your child at Amidon-Bowen? What has your experience been thus far?
Our experience this year has been fantastic. The school really has exceeded all of our expectations. The deciding factor in choosing Amidon-Bowen was seeing that quality teachers were choosing to teach at the school. I really liked seeing Mr. Taylor (the teacher’s aide) in the classroom. I thought it was positive to have a male figure there as a role model for my son.
How would you rate the quality of the teachers?
We couldn’t have asked for a better group of teachers. They’re so patient and our son has learned so much. I think they’re phenomenal. He’s so inquisitive now, and as much as a four-year-old can, his critical thinking skills have developed. He’s being taught at a developmentally appropriate level. When words come up that he’s not familiar with, we talk with him about their definition. It’s important to meet children on the level that they’re on and I think Amidon does a good job of that. I’m really happy with his progress.
How would you rate the quality of the facilities?
The school has a great teaching staff, the facilities are gorgeous—they have a cafeteria, music room, library, gym. I like that the young kids are in their own wing; however any exposure my son has had to the older kids has been positive. They’ve always been very polite and well-mannered to me and nice to the younger kids.
What are some of the best features of the school?
Theo loves going to school. The teachers are engaged and the children are enthusiastic. The kids really seem to take a lot of pride in the school and being Tigers. There are a lot of resources there for the kids to take advantage of.
Has your child had opportunities at Amidon-Bowen that you do not think he would have had elsewhere?
I think it is wonderful that as a three-year-old our son has gotten to go to a separate music class, art class, physical education class, and library special. He wouldn’t have gotten to do all of those activities at a lot of other schools—public or public charter. Sometimes he does his calisthenics for me and tells me he wants to be on the track team when he gets older. He’s in art club after school. Amidon’s extracurriculars are a major selling point, as is the library.
Have you felt any benefits from enrolling your child at the neighborhood elementary school (as opposed to a charter or other public school elsewhere in the city)?
I stopped off at the grocery store on my way to pick him up and a little girl who is not even in my son’s class came up to me and said, “Hi Theo’s mom!” Some of his classmates come up and give me hugs in the morning during drop-off. Those are sweet moments, and I wish there were even more of them. Going to community events like the summer reading kickoff at the library have been a great way to connect to our neighbors that we didn’t have before school started. I really appreciate that connection to the community.
What do you think the school’s greatest challenge is?
I am amazed at how the number of families in Southwest has grown since we moved in. I think the school could do more community outreach, not only to improve the perception but to incorporate itself as a central part of our neighborhood. I think this would help connect both current and prospective parents in the Southwest neighborhood.
What would you advise prospective parents to consider when evaluating their school choices in DC?
Take a tour of your neighborhood school. Talk to parents who’ve actually sent their kid there in the past few years. We could not have imaged a better preschool year for our son.
By: CBCC Education Committee