Christians in Public School: Ginna

10 October 2023

The world would be a better place if everyone had a friend like Ginna. She’s kind, she’s wise, she’s generous, she’s humble. But perhaps my favorite thing about her is that she has this incredible gift of living in and ably navigating the real world, with all its brokenness and ugliness, while also faithfully looking toward the kingdom of God – and drawing the eyes of everyone around her to it, as well. I am easily a better friend, mom, wife, neighbor, and follower of Jesus because I get to walk alongside her.

Ginna has some powerful, wise words to share with us today. This is a lengthy post, and I hope it blesses you like it has me!

Just a note: if you haven’t read the intro post yet, start there!

Tell us about yourself and your family.

Hello, EFM readers! My name is Ginna and I live in Durham, NC, with my husband, two daughters, and dog. My oldest daughter is 7, in second grade, and my youngest is 6, in kindergarten. My husband is a software engineer and I run a bookkeeping company. You can find me @ginnaneel on Instagram. I know Emily through Articles Club and we have talked about this topic many times over delicious dinners! 

Why are you choosing public school for your family?

The choice of where to send your children to school is really a pretty recent concept, since up until maybe 60 years ago, for most people, there was only one school choice based solely on your location. Now, there seem to be endless options! This can be helpful, especially if you need an alternative learning style for your child, but having so many options can also make the decision challenging.

As we were approaching the elementary years and having long (looong!) conversations about where to send our kids, we ultimately decided on public school.

I never felt called to homeschool, so we were left with the choices of private, charter, public, or moving to another district.  

Historically, our county has a reputation for “bad schools.” In fact, just a mile away in Wake county, the same layout of our house would go for $50k+ more simply because it’s in a different school district. 

When I asked around about the school we were assigned to, I heard a lot of, Oh I would never send my kid there… heard bad things… low-scoring school… kids from bad homes… etc. After pressing a little bit more, I learned quickly that the school was generally dismissed before taking a tour, trying it out, or hearing any first-hand experience from parents whose children had attended recently. 

I finally got in touch with a friend of a friend who attended our church and sent their children to the school. She had nothing but amazing things to say about the teachers, the staff and her kids’ experience there. 

Aside from a few personal reviews from other parents, the other reasons we chose our public school were: 

1. The diversity of public school gives our children the opportunity to become friends with people who do not look like them or come from the same social-economic background. 

2. Financially, it just made more sense to our budget.

3. We really wanted our children to be close to home and did not want to spend a lot of our time driving to/from school, like many of the charter schools would have required. 

4. We knew that since they were not getting a Christian education at school, it would require my husband and I to be vigilant about instilling in our children a Christian worldview at home.

5. And finally, we believe that all children have the right to education, and feel that our educational system needs more believing Christians entering into it and not fleeing from it. 

Now, this topic of school choice is a fiery one, and I totally get it! I still feel a lot of insecurity about our choice, even though it’s going well. I feel like each individual family needs to make their own decision on what is best for their child. I grew up going to a Christian private school and loved that experience! It was the coziest, loveliest school, and I have some of the best memories and friends from my time there. I also know so many friends who are homeschooling and doing it beautifully!

But ultimately, we decided to enter into public school and take it year by year, child by child. 

What has been your experience with public school so far? Give us an overview.

We are starting our third year in public school and love it! My oldest entered in fall 2021 (bless those who sent their kindergarteners a year prior!) and last year my youngest and our former foster son were in the public pre-k program at the same school.

Academically – the reason they are there, after all! – it has been great. I am so impressed with all that they have learned so far. They both arrived at school after years of preschool and in some cases are more advanced academically than some of their peers, and the teachers do a great job of tailoring their work to their academic level so they are not bored. 

We receive information from the teachers on a regular basis on their progress and behaviors. I have the personal cell phone for each of the teachers, receive updates and announcements through a private class app, and receive emails and phone calls for any county-wide or school announcements. Each quarter we have a check-in with the teacher on their progress, normally through phone, Zoom or in person. 

Aside from academics, I think the key to a happy kid at school are good teachers and positive friendships, two things that are kind of outside of your control no matter the school. But so far we have had some amazing teachers and great peer friendships.

What has been one of your favorite parts about your school experience so far? Has anything been challenging?

The school community is great. Any time we’ve had a school-wide event, the staff, parents and students are all so friendly and I have gotten to know many of the other parents in our class through volunteering and chaperoning field trips. The cost is pretty sweet – you can’t beat free! And public schools are given a lot of state resources and programming that other schools are not afforded.

As for challenges, because it is a large county school, we have a lack of control over classroom or teacher choice, like you may in other schools. Because the system is large, sometimes making a change can be time consuming. For example, I tried to get my former foster care son occupational therapy at school, but due to the case load and some details needed by social services, it took longer than we’d like.

The only other challenge is that kids are assigned laptops to occasionally watch educational videos. I haven’t see any negative effects to them socially or academically, but it is certainly more screen time than they ever have at home (which is very minimal). 

What do you wish other Christians knew about your life as a faithful family in public school? What might surprise people about your journey in public school so far?

Believe it or not, there are other Christians in public school! I think there is a Christian subculture misperception that public schools are full of evil, secular people, but that is not the case. I have met a handful of other parents and teachers who are Bible-believing, church-attending Christians. 

Another surprise is that everyone seems to know my kids! I thought we would lose out on the coziness of a private school, but just the other day we had open house and so many teachers recognized my kids by name. 

I was also delighted to find out how deeply these teachers love the kids. I’m sure that’s not the case for every teacher, but the ones we have go above and beyond to make sure their kids are happy, healthy, learning, and invested in their growth – not just academically, but also in their character. (Let’s push to increase teacher salaries, shall we? :))

What does faith formation look like for your family outside of or alongside school? How are you helping your kids to know and love God and their neighbors?

Because I know the kids are not getting a foundation of a Christian worldview in their school, it has really challenged me to step up our faith formation at home. This has been such a blessing! 

We are not perfect at this, but our regular home life includes prayer before meals, reading Bible stories and books that share our faith, weekly church services, devotional journals, and they attend Awanas near our house for worship and bible memory. I try to reinforce that our faith is not just with our immediate family, but that there is a whole community of believers in our extended family, neighborhood, and city. 

At the end of the day, though, I know more is caught than taught, and modeling the behavior I want them to emulate speaks more than any teaching I can do. This challenges me so much to model the values we believe to them – serving each other in our home, offering an apology and repentance when we fall short, and modeling what it looks like to be the hands and feet of Jesus to the least of us in our community through foster care. 

What are your hopes for your kids and their education? What’s the best-case scenario?

My deepest desire is for my children to grow to love and serve God. My hope for their education is that they learn in a safe environment with teachers who inspire them, peers who bring them joy, and that they graduate high school as students with a strong foundation to enter adulthood with wisdom and discernment, ready and equipped to bring joy and healing to this broken world. 

Do you plan to continue with public school indefinitely, do you plan to change course in the future, or do you hold it with open hands?

We are holding our kids and our decisions with open hands, trusting God will provide us with guidance along the way. As long as we feel like our kids are learning and safe, we will stay the course. 

Anything else to add?

I want to encourage those who are in the middle of their decision-making to ask yourself whether you are making a decision out of prayer or out of fear. 

The American Christian subculture has a strong bias against public school in favor of home school, private school, or some moderation between the two. If you are a Christian parent, then you no doubt have seen it, heard it, and probably believe it. (I certainly did!) The messaging is strongly encouraging parents to protect your child from the secular world’s evils and give your children a secured environment that not only teaches them academically, but also the foundation of God’s truth. 

But this narrative, I believe, is actually bad theology on two fronts. 

First, by this logic, we are telling ourselves and teaching our children that God is only God for the rich. Because to have a choice at all in education is a great privilege: only the privileged in time can have one parent home to homeschool, and only the privileged in money can pay to send their child to private school. And even though many middle class parents could probably decrease their lifestyle to afford such privileges, there are so many lower-income families working minimum-wage jobs who simply cannot, nor will ever, have any choice for education except public.

Secondly, if we think that in order to be a believing, God-fearing adult you must grow up in a fully-sheltered Christian environment, that is limiting God’s power. We are called to be good stewards in raising our children, but ultimately salvation belongs to the Lord. 

So my encouragement to you, as believers in a world full of many messages, is to pray and use the Holy Spirit to be your guiding light when you make this decision, not what the latest podcast or Christian influencer is sharing. You are the very best parent for your child and are equipped with all you need. I switched preschools for my oldest a few years ago because I just had a feeling that I should. It didn’t really make a lot of sense! But I am glad that I went with my intuition and felt a great peace with that switch. 

I hope this has been helpful! Please take my experience as one of very many out there. As a private school graduate (who adored the whole experience, truly), a friend to so many fabulous homeschooling moms, a neighbor to many charter school attendees, and a fellow public school parent in the trenches at the PTA meetings, I see you all and your hard work and love for your children. I pray that God will give each of us wisdom and strength as we parent this next generation. And thank you, Emily, for the chance to share my experience! 

Ginna, you are a gift to me and to many! Thank you for taking the time to share your family and your thoughts with us – it truly means so much.

Friends, please feel free to respond to anything Ginna mentioned in your usual kind and thoughtful way. Grateful for you! Next week will be our final post in this series as I share my thoughts to wrap things up.

Series introduction

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October 10, 2023 6:23 am

That anything else to add section is so, so good! I loved reading from the perspective of someone who isn’t districted to the “best” schools.
All of these posts have really made me wish there was more research on the adult faith lives of people vs. where they went to school. Would the research show really any discernible difference between those who went to a private school vs. those who went to public on whether or not they regularly practiced their faith as adults?

October 10, 2023 10:12 am

Hi Ginna! (We worked together at App many many years ago! :)) Thank you for sharing your perspective here, and for naming the very real piece about the financial pieces and privilege that make public vs. private school a debate that not everyone even has. We are a non-religious household, and also live in northern New England now, and religious school/private school is (seemingly) MUCH less a conversation topic up here. Or maybe it’s just because I’m not a part of a religious group of folks? Not sure. In either case, what I would offer (in response to this whole series!) is to just underline that folks from Christian and non-Christian backgrounds I think so often want the very same things for our kids – I think in many ways the morals and values that I raise my kids with are likely very similar to those in Christian households. What a gift that religious and non-religious kids get to connect in public school and become friends and learn from each other – and bond over their shared values – even if they aren’t necessarily rooted in the same faith tradition!

October 16, 2023 10:21 am
Reply to  Kara

KARA!! Hi! Oh, those App days were so fun! :) Yes, one thing I have learned in meeting parents of all backgrounds is the commonality that at the end of the day, we all want the best for our children.

Kelly Strawberry
October 10, 2023 10:26 am

Ginna, as someone that went to Durham Public Schools, I applaud you. I’ve seen so many people move out of Durham due to its “bad school system” and I can assure you that my experience in a diverse school shaped me for the better, as well as having parents who are very involved in church (we were there every Sunday and Wed) and a great youth group. My parents were very hands off when it came to school…they expected us to bring home good grades and were never once concerned with PTA, getting involved, meeting teachers, etc. We rode the school bus and I got a school-bus-education many times LOL. But you know what, it all worked out and the Lord has been faithful. :)

October 10, 2023 12:47 pm

Ginna is the first writer in this series who didn’t include having her kids exposed to different people and belief systems as one of the challenges in benefits/challenge section. Brava, Ginna. Well written/said.
In the prior installments of this series, the writers named “difference” as a challenge to overcome (while naming it as a benefit as well). And maybe it’s because of the way I grew up (I’m an Army brat who also spent a year at a Raleigh middle school as the token minority), that I wondered why some people view being exposed to different people as a challenge? I have my parents to thank I guess for putting me in situations to meet so many people unlike me that I don’t view it as something to overcome. It’s a fact of life. People are different from each other. Even those closest to us, they are different. We don’t have to overcome it. We learn to live with it. And Ginna, I’m sure your children will thank you for having the perspective you do on education and differences, and sitting in a classroom with the so-called “evil, secular people” of the word :)
As a Christian who went to seven different public schools nationally and internationally; on military bases and off; as a token minority and as one in a crowd; along with attending/visiting a whole slew of churches (some where we were REALLY involved and others where we weren’t)–I totally subscribe to the belief that what you are taught in your home about God and kindness (and what’s modeled for kids by adults they trust) matters SO SO much.

October 10, 2023 12:57 pm

“Secondly, if we think that in order to be a believing, God-fearing adult you must grow up in a fully-sheltered Christian environment, that is limiting God’s power.” Say it again for the people in the back!! Everyone needs a Ginna in their lives for sure and I’m so glad she’s in mine — and that you shared her with the EFM community, Emily! ❤️

October 11, 2023 7:59 am

Wow. Wow, wow, wow. I agree with everyone that the “anything else to add” spoke to me deeply. I anticipate returning to this post many times as we make school decisions for our currently 14-month-old son.
Thank you so much for sharing Ginna with all of us! And thank you Ginna for the insight!

Kristen M
October 11, 2023 10:45 am

I loved everything about this post and so many times I just said yes! yes! So many good points and I also echo all the great commentary from the comments as well. I was a librarian in Durham and often did visits to DPS schools to chat with them about Durham history and always had great experiences and loved connecting with the kids! Thank you Gianna for sharing with us!

October 11, 2023 5:52 pm

As a fellow Durhamite with a toddler I haven’t given school TOO much thought but it is in the back of my mind. Thank you for your kind perspective fully of Godly wisdom! I think we will also go to our local public school and I am encouraged to hear it has been a positive experience for your family.

October 12, 2023 3:01 pm

I appreciate this series! I grew up in an area with amazing public schools – I had never even heard of charter schools or magnet schools until I went to college. I still don’t really understand the concept haha. I always assume we would send our kids to public school because my husband and I went to the same school and had a good experience. We live in Florida now and there are really helpful government subsidies to help send your kid to any school you choose. I feel overwhelmed because I have no idea what the differences are between all the options or how we’ll choose (but we have time, our son is the same age as Annie). I’m encouraged to hear reasons why Christians choose public schools – I agree with Ginna on a lot of her reasoning!

October 16, 2023 10:31 am
Reply to  Sydni

I had the same confusion when my kids were babies! It is very confusing having so many different options. This may not be a perfect description, but charter schools are like public schools, but funded differently and have less requirements from the state. They are also a place where you can experiment with different learning styles, like montessori style or multi-lingual, etc. A magnet school is a public school, but may offer different programs like STEM or arts. The major difference between regular public school and charter schools is transportation, subsidized meals, and sometimes uniforms are required (at least this is the case for NC). These three things alone can be cost-prohibiting for lower-income families.
I love that you have the option in Florida to help with your choice! Thank you for the kind words. :)

July 10, 2024 11:01 am

Ginna, Thank you for this wonderful post!! I know that it is coming up on a year ago since it was posted, but it blessed me to read this morning. It is really challenging to be a Christian planning to send our oldest son to public kindergarten this year.. particularly for the times that other Christians are voicing why it’s so important to choose differently. I feel a lot of judgment and ickiness and doubt when talking about it with other Christians moms, and it can be really disheartening. It makes me want to avoid the topic altogether! I’m really grateful for our friends in our church small group who are a couple of years ahead of us. We are all standing on each others’ shoulders. So thank you for your words. Particularly at the end! And Emily, thank you for this series.