Christians in Public Schools: Amber

26 September 2023

When conceptualizing this series, I knew I wanted to include a family with older kids. For me, a public elementary school can feel a world apart from a public high school (or, to be fair, actually any high school), and so I was eager to include the perspective of a mom a little farther along.

Thankfully, I knew just the mom to ask. Amber is the kids director at our church, and she is one of the warmest, most welcoming people I know. She and her husband have three terrific kids, all of whom are in high school or college. She’s walked the public school walk for many years, and she graciously agreed to share a bit about the highs and lows with us.

Amber, I’m honored to have you here – take it away!

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

Tell us about yourself and your family.

We have three kids. Our oldest girl is 18 – she just graduated from public high school and is starting her freshman year at NC State University. Our middle girl is 16 and in 11th grade, and our youngest boy is 14 and in 9th. We live in the Triangle of North Carolina. My husband is a creative director in a corporate marketing department and I work part time as the Kids and Families Director for our church.

We stay busy! Our girls have been in the marching band; our oldest is continuing that in college. They have also been involved in many theater productions, as well as chorus and concert band. Our son has run track, played basketball, done debate team, and will join a special technology and engineering academy at school this year.

Why are you choosing public school for your family?

When my oldest was starting kindergarten, we considered all schooling options: private, homeschool, charter, magnet, regular public, and more. While I saw the merit in each type of school, we really felt called to public. I remember specifically thinking: if Jesus were a parent on earth right now, he would be in the midst of the public schools. Not that I am REMOTELY like Jesus – but I want to be! I felt he wouldn’t place himself with his own immediate family or only with other believers – he would be “in the world.” I felt confident and secure that God was guiding our decision to go to public schools.

This is of course personal, but I also did not feel it would be a good use of our money to pay for school tuition for three kids over many years. When we first entered school in 2010, our county had great schools with a good reputation, and I had heard good things about the elementary school that we were zoned for. I felt comfortable sending our oldest there.

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

How much time do you have? Ha! Like anything in life, public school has its plusses and minuses.

I’m grateful that it seems my kids are able to learn everywhere. They do well in school, but they also did well during the COVID months when they were at home. However, I love public school for all the extra experiences it provides. My girls have thrived in marching band, and they could not get that at home or at many private schools. And for my youngest who loves all things STEM, our high school has extensive course options. It would be challenging to teach the subjects he loves and provide the robotics, design, and technology experiences he gets at school at home.

The hard part is likely not surprising: with older kids in the times we live in, it’s hard to feel that the non-educational things that are taught are out of our control. Of course, this depends a lot on the area of the country you live in, but in recent years, I’ve been more and more unhappy with this.

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

I would say my favorite thing is the opportunity for my kids to interact with and become friends with diverse groups of people. Of course, that also has its challenges, as that diversity can be opposite of Christian beliefs. I am a relational person, so I also love the relationships I’ve made over the years.

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?

I wish we wouldn’t be so judgmental of each other. (I am convicted of this as well, so I’m also speaking for myself!)

I feel like people assume that public school is the easy, or even lazy, choice. No – for us, public school is hard. We are at the schools a lot – not just pouring into our own kids, but also kids we’ll never know. We take care of teachers and administrators. We give a lot of time and a lot of money to our community schools.

Additionally, I have been a part of prayer groups for all the years that my kids have been in school. Seeing God move through the prayers of public school moms has been such a blessing. Just this past week, we met and did a prayer walk around the high school, praying over specific buildings and gyms and athletic fields and parking lots and bus loops. If teachers or administrators passed by, we reached out and asked them how we could pray for them, and we prayed over those things on the spot.

This past year, we had a teacher email our group leader and ask if we were still meeting to pray because she could see the Lord working at our high school in so many ways. What a blessing to be making a difference in prayer – again, not just for my own kids, but for my community, as well!

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?

Now that my kids are older, I am hoping and praying that we are coming to a place of my kids starting to choose their faith because it is, in fact, what they want – that it is their faith, and not just their parent’s faith. And that they want to go to church and don’t just go because we are making them :)

My kids’ faith is tested, for sure, in the public schools. They won’t go to college and hear opposite faiths and beliefs for the first time. They’ve already heard it – daily! The blessing is that, when they hear things that are contrary to what they’ve heard in church and at home, they’re still under our roof and we can have talk through them together, as opposed to hearing opposing views for the first time in college when my husband and I would have much less influence. My kids have questions, and we have conversations constantly – the door is always open for discussion.

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

The best-case scenario is that they finish high school, go on to college or work or whatever is next for them, and find a relationship with Jesus that is their own – that they fall deeply in love with him out of the love he has for them. There’s nothing I desire more. Of course, I’d love for them to do well in school and all that. But ultimately, in my heart, that is secondary.

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’ll stick it out in public. We’re almost done, ha!

Amber, 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 Amber mentioned in your usual kind and thoughtful way. Grateful for you!

Series introduction

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Kelly Strawberry
September 26, 2023 7:30 am

The prayer group!! Wow, wow, wow! There is POWER in prayer!!!

September 26, 2023 2:22 pm

Grateful for another amazing perspective! I’m curious about one sentence: “it’s hard to feel that the non-educational things that are taught are out of our control.” It may be my lack of understanding about schools (I am10 years post graduation after all!), but what things are being taught that aren’t in the curriculum? Or are there things within the curriculum that you haven’t been happy with?

September 27, 2023 7:37 pm
Reply to  Em

Ahh yes, I can see now all the subtleties that I hadn’t considered that really weren’t part of my experience 10 years ago. Love learning from those of you going before me :)

September 29, 2023 8:21 am

Hearing from high school moms is sooo valuable. I need more friends in my life who are a little bit ahead of me!
If we can get Amber on for a follow-up, or if she doesn’t mind answering in the comments, I would love to hear more about her prayer group. How did it get started? Was it one person who led it or a group of friends who started? What is the frequency and did you have to get permission from the administration to be on campus to do prayer walks? As a mom of early elementary kids, I would love to start something like this with other believing moms, so any details would be very helpful!
Love this series, Emily! Thank you for hosting it. :)

September 30, 2023 11:26 am

I have kids in an elementary public school that we love, but am terrified of middle and high school! Love this perspective from someone further along and especially love the thought about how if Jesus was a parent, his kids would be in public schools. I’ve never quite thought about it like that and appreciate that perspective