A careful search to find the right school for one’s unique son is a beautiful manifestation of a mother’s love. We are proud to share this blog post written by Cavett Thorne based on interviews with Anna Koalenz, who used San Antonio Charter Moms resources in her diligent search to find a school that is the right fit for her son, Beau.
Every parent considers their child special, a gift, a manifest blessing. For Anna and Buck Koalenz, Beau embodied all of the above. Born in Utah to Buck, a native San Antonian, and Anna from San Marcos, Beau was a delight. As he developed into the toddler stage, he, like Anna, was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Beau’s energetic nature leading to the need to move around frequently were familiar traits to Anna. However, unlike his mother, Beau had not yet developed the competencies and mannerisms which ADHD management requires.
San Antonio School Search
A job change brought Anna and Buck to San Antonio, where a search began for an appropriate preschool for Beau. The criteria primarily addressed an environment conducive to Beau’s needs, one familiar with highly energetic children. Did the teachers and staff understand ADHD traits? If so, how did they deal with diagnosed or similarly affected children? What did a typical school day look like for a Pre-K child? How much of a day was spent in seated activities? Might it negatively impact students like Beau who do not meet the model of the perfectly obedient sit-still-until-it’s time-for-the-next-activity child? What is the student-teacher ratio?
Before Anna began an in-depth hunt for a school suited to Beau’s needs, she enrolled him in a recommended pre-school. It was problematic on several levels. Expectations were not emotion- and age-appropriate for Beau’s abilities. Procedures and practices did not differentiate bad behavior from hyperactivity. As a result, Beau was thought to be “acting out” when, in fact, he was merely displaying ADHD traits. Suggestions of home discipline followed. Anna contemplated the long-term effect punishment for being oneself might have on young Beau.
The Will Smith Zoo School looked promising. It featured outdoor activities and offered a gentler touch than the previous school. The school was a great next step but ultimately did not suite Beau’s needs because during the pandemic his family wanted to ensure an in-person curriculum for kindergarten which did not include remote learning. Anna knew Beau would not tolerate that setup well. Anna and Buck decided on The Acorn—A School for Young Children. It turned out to be an excellent choice for Beau, and he attended with success for one and a half years, a year longer than customarily prescribed. Anna said they “red-shirted” Beau intentionally because his maturity level was low at that point. The hope was that another year in kinder would offer better acclimation and preparation for the coming 12 years of education that the USA expects. But come the school year 2022–2023, Beau will have aged out of The Acorn, kindergarten being its highest level.
Being proactive and planning for the significant transition ahead, Anna began searching for a full-day elementary school fit. Having not grown up in San Antonio, Anna was unfamiliar with school names, their locations, and specialties. She started with Google: “Schools for energetic boys” and then asked other people who might have insight. She also contacted San Antonio Charter Moms and spoke with Inga, who proved extremely helpful. Anna found the Facebook group to be a nurturing place to learn, grow, and occasionally make mistakes, but always safe.
Spreadsheet of 67 Schools, and 16 School Visits
A spreadsheet guru, Anna soon compiled a document listing 67 schools all over the San Antonio area. She contacted each of the 67 by telephone, asking questions amassed from her lessons learned. As she listened to their responses and descriptions of what they offered to students and parents, Anna’s list of questions grew, allowing her to winnow down the schools that might best fit her family’s needs. Though the original target was charter schools, most of which are tuition-free, based on Anna’s research and recommendations, she also found a few tuition-based schools that piqued her interest. Her list of 67 narrowed to 30.
Armed with new search criteria, in addition to her own, Anna felt sufficiently equipped to begin the next step: school visits. They would tell this evidence-based mother whether the schools’ self-assessments proved to be accurate. With Beau in tow and sometimes Buck—when his job responsibilities did not conflict with site visit dates—she set out on an in-person hunt. A recurring remark by Beau’s previous school teachers was that Beau was “the most energetic kid” they had ever seen and trying to find a school that felt comfortable with that energy was important to the parents.
In total, Anna and Beau visited 16 schools, a few virtually. Her school criteria included: support for emotional growth, a low ratio of students-to-teachers, the practicality of routine, the ability of teachers to promote students’ self-monitoring, the absence of a plethora of worksheets, character building, whether students seem to enjoy the environment they are in, and whether they feel successful in their endeavors.
Finding the School That’s the Right Fit
After many months and 100+ hours of research and visits, Anna and Buck ultimately selected San Antonio Academy (SAA) for Beau. They were impressed with the apparent love and respect the boys and teachers have for each other. The morning “chapel”—not religious at all—is a gathering of all students to calm themselves, learn something new, and prepare for a full day of academics, exercise, food, and fun. It was the lunch routine that stood out for Anna. There are no cafeteria lines. Instead, each table seats boys from all grade levels. Each table of ten student plus one teacher is set family-style, i.e., the entrée, vegetables, bread, and dessert are in separate bowls or platters. The older boys serve the younger ones’ plates. The younger ones are responsible for clearing the table when lunch is over.
Another factor that placed SAA as the benchmark for the right school for Beau is that alumni often return, even decades after graduation, to speak during chapel, play alumni basketball games, or simply visit the school. “Who does that?” Anna asks incredulously. “Who re-visits their elementary schools?”
Anna maintains that people often underestimate the level and amount of growth that occurs in lower grades, tending not to see the wisdom of investing education dollars at that level. Instead, they save for upper-grade levels and college. But it is during the earlier years when values and a spirit of giving and concern for others are established and ultimately determine a person’s character. “Learning how to build and maintain friendships is a skill set,” says Anna. One which she desires for Beau. “Our goal is not for an ‘A’ or Honor Roll student,” she says, “but for an education that also teaches people how to work through issues and not give up. Sometimes ‘A’ students [in settings that are not challenging enough] miss out on that needed grit.”
San Antonio Academy is not tuition-free, but scholarships are available if needed and requested.
Charter Moms Chats
Watch Anna Koalenz speak about her school search with Inga Cotton on Charter Moms Chats on September 8, 2022 at 4:00 PM Central live on Facebook and YouTube.
Anna Koalenz is the proud mom of Beau and Magnolia, and the wife of Buck. Her family is multi-passionate and enjoys hobbies and accolades ranging from sports to creative endeavors. She and her husband believe education should look at the big picture and work towards creating compassionate, gritty, positive people. Her family has happily made a home in the Stone Oak area of San Antonio since 2016.
Read More About School Search
- “What is School Choice in Texas? KSAT Explains,” Myra Arthur, KSAT, January 23, 2023
- “Erin Stinson Offers a Parent Perspective from Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran School,” Erin Stinson, San Antonio Charter Moms, February 23, 2022
- “A Mother’s Angst: Kathleen Gomez Exercised School Choice in the Age of COVID,” Kathleen Gomez, San Antonio Charter Moms, May 27, 2021
- “Stephanie Adams Shares Her School Search Experience,” Stephanie Adams, San Antonio Charter Moms, May 5, 2021
- “How to Find the Best Schools in San Antonio,” San Antonio Charter Moms, February 25, 2020
- “Searching for Charter Schools in San Antonio: What You Can Do in January,” San Antonio Charter Moms, January 17, 2019
- “Finding the Right Schools in San Antonio for Your Children – MOMS Club of San Antonio NE Edition,” Inga Cotton, San Antonio Charter Moms, April 9, 2018