I was 30 years old by the time I learned study and work habits. Until then, I only deeply engaged if I loved the subject matter. I didn’t value learning for the sake of it; instead of craving knowledge, my goal was to get by, and so my parents would leave me alone. It wasn’t until I was a high school sophomore when my English teacher assigned a series of personal essays that I found my voice and myself. I want that and so much more for my kid.

My son is only four-and-a-half, his moody high school years still far off, but there’s a lot I can do now to set him up for a better educational experience. With all that in mind, I geared up for the infamous Los Angeles charter school lottery, seeking schools that would provide the kind of stimulation I was seeking. I prepared to do whatever it took to navigate the complexity of school choice to find the right school for my son.

I didn’t want to just enroll my son in a “good” school with only a high rating. I had attended many “good” schools. They hadn’t satisfied me as a child learner and wouldn’t satisfy me as a parent. Not to mention, learning about the idea of differentiated learning as an adult, it became clear how undifferentiated my own education had been. I would have benefited from varied styles of teaching, particularly in the subjects in which I’d struggled.

My husband and I had several friends whose children attended Citizen of the World charter schools in the L.A. area and raved about the experience. One family had even pulled their daughters from their highly rated neighborhood school and took them on the morning commute to the CWC Hollywood campus. But none of the locations made geographical sense to us, so I explored other options. And then, through sheer luck, I learned about the planned opening of a new Citizens school, CWC East Valley, coming to the Van Nuys area in fall 2021. We attended an information session and what we learned that night was more than enough for me to get on board. The charter’s dedication to project-based inquiry learning, social emotional development, and differentiated workshop-based instruction was just what I wanted for our son.

Right now, my son doesn’t have negative associations with learning. He’s intellectually curious, whether it’s about outer space, bugs or simple words he identifies in his books. “Mama, I’m a reader!” he crows. I don’t want him to lose that spirit. But I’ve also seen him shut down with frustration when he fails to understand something or perform a new skill with the speed and proficiency he’d like. Poor little guy gets that from me (sorry, kiddo!) and I know that my own fears and insecurities have kept me from exploring new interests at times in my life. But at CWC schools, student learning is hands-on and project-based, often starting with practical activities kids can relate to, leading them to opportunities to engage in deeper learning and in cultivating critical thinking skills. Academic subjects are enriched by and paired with extracurriculars like music, visual and dramatic arts, physical education, technology, and library skills. With all that at his fingertips, maybe my kid won’t have to wait as long as I did to discover something that lights him up inside.

And if my son, who has always been sensitive and empathetic, does have moments where self-doubt takes over, CWC has curriculum to address that as well, as social-emotional development is a significant part of their approach. He will learn about understanding and identifying his own emotions, how to adapt when things don’t go his way, and to be intrinsically motivated in his education (instead of extrinsically, as I so often was). Currently he’s learning to be a “bucket-filler” in his preschool, filling the metaphorical happiness buckets of those around him by being helpful and kind. He places so much value on being a positive member of his school community, a wonderful impulse CWC will continue to foster with their focus on communication and collaboration.

My little “bucket filler” attends a Jewish, temple pre-school where he has also learned about the concepts of tzedakah, or the moral obligation of charitable giving, and Tikkun olam, the idea of performing acts of kindness to help repair the world. While we chose the school for many reasons and he has benefited so much from what the school has to offer, one thing it lacks is both racial and socio-economic diversity.

Our son’s new school will not only provide him with a more diverse environment, but the CWC curriculum will expose him to sophisticated concepts like cultural competency, systems thinking and global advocacy. Learning about the intersections of culture, race, socio-economic background, privilege and prejudice, my child — who will one day grow up to be a white man — will understand how to be, simply put, a good citizen of the world.

His generation faces a future more disconnected by technology, more physically at risk by climate change, and more defined by a global economy than even we can imagine. If we want our kids to not only survive but to thrive as adults, we must teach them to both appreciate and participate in the beautiful, chaotic and complicated world around them. They’ll be better equipped to do just that if they value community as much as individuality, and if they can harness and develop both their abilities and passions as well as empathy for those around them.

After the single most challenging year in my life and at a moment in time when it feels like joy and hope are in short supply, I’m focusing on the positivity of the CWC approach to life and learning. It has been said many times that it takes a village to raise a child. I know CWC will be the village that helps me to raise an intellectually curious, responsible, considerate and socially-engaged human being, so he and his peers can help us right this sideways world.

Jennifer Notas Shapiro is a screenwriter who has written numerous TV movie rom coms. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and son.

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