Exercising Their Options
They met and fell in love in the hallways of Walnut Hills High School. They're proud Cincinnati public school graduates and boast about their alma mater's academic prowess.
Yet, when it came time to select a school for their children, they chose a small, private Episcopal school in Glendale, a suburb north of the city.
For Dwight and Melanie Moody, an African-American couple who are both 41, college-educated, and middle-class, the decision wasn't simple. No one in their immediate family had ever attended private school. Many, in fact, were graduates of Walnut Hills, a magnet school that is often considered among the nation's top public high schools.
And Melanie Moody, an assistant director of systems security for the Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble, points out, "We all had successful lives."
Still, she adds: "You reach a point where you have to decide what's best for your particular child."
The Moodys—who have three children, ages 9, 6, and 2—have considered the consequences of opting for private schooling. Unlike families with limited resources, they acknowledge that they have the disposable income and the time to be involved at their children's school. Dwight Moody is a State Farm insurance agent and financial planner.
"If people like us don't support the public schools," Melanie Moody says, "they have no hope."
While the Moodys were happy with the public preschool program their daughter attended, they were worried about the long- term future of Cincinnati's schools. It took three attempts to pass an operating levy last year. Yet, on the first attempt, there was overwhelming support among city voters for a sales-tax increase to construct two new professional sports stadiums. The Moodys feared that a lack of support could decrease the public schools' budget over the years.
But finding a private school where their children would be exposed to racial and ethnic diversity every day proved difficult.
"I want my daughter to see role models, like Mae Jemison, so she can have someone to look up to," says Dwight Moody of the doctor who was the first woman of color to travel to space.
That's why the family enrolled their daughter, Ryan, and later their son David, in Bethany School, which is part of an Episcopal convent. Part of the school's mission is to maintain a diverse campus. About 40 percent of the school's 262 students in kindergarten through 8th grade are children of color.
Dubbed the "Sound of Music" school by Dwight Moody, Bethany boasts a wooded, 20-acre site that it shares with the nuns who assist with the students' religious instruction. The 103-year-old former boarding school resembles a quaint college campus, with multiple buildings and class sizes that don't exceed 15. Tuition costs $5,950 annually.
Cheryl Pez, the head of the school, said Bethany accepts average and above-average students, often attracting children who are uncomfortable with their current schools or those seeking a greater academic challenge.
Pez says: "I feel like we've always been the right choice for some people."
Melanie Moody admits that it's easy for educated black families with well-paying jobs to opt out of public education. And, for some African-Americans, she says, that can be perceived as "selling out."
Still, the Moodys say they don't feel guilty. Bethany School is providing "the best opportunity for my children to grow and develop," Dwight Moody says.
At the same time, the two refuse to participate in what they call "public school bashing." Melanie Moody believes she needs to find another way to help the city's public schools, perhaps by mentoring.
And their children may attend public school one day. This past summer, they moved out of the city and are building a home in Wyoming, a community whose public schools are considered among the best in Ohio.
Ironically, the Moodys could end up paying to send their daughter to Walnut Hills High. Ryan, who is a blossoming artist, has her sights set on being a member of Walnut Hills' class of 2010.
"I don't know what I would do if I couldn't afford that kind of choice," Melanie Moody says.
Jan Leslie, the director of public affairs for the Cincinnati public schools, notes that the district has three of its own charter schools, Montessori schools, and has reorganized low-performing schools. But Cincinnati's enrollment has dropped from about 50,000 students in 1991 to 41,400 this year.
Melanie Moody worries about the long-term effects of alternatives like vouchers on the public school students who remain behind.
But she adds: "I think for a lot of people, the discussion about [school choice] and reality, when it applies to you, are very different."
Vol. 21, Issue 14, Page 37