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The Education of Barron Trump and Other 'First Kids'

Barron-Trump-family-Twitter.jpg

Guest post by Julie Depenbrock

Where the president's children attend school has long been a topic fraught with debate. Where the son of President-elect Donald Trump goes—perhaps even more so.

In Manhattan, Barron Trump attends the private, co-educational Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School—where he will stay put until the end of the school year, the Associated Press reported

When Barron does come to Washington, his schooling is likely to be more of a personal decision than a political one.

"Just because Barron Trump is a high-profile first kid, he's still entitled to find the educational venue—whether it's public or private or New York or Washington—that is the right one for him," said Steven Roy Goodman, an educational consultant in the Washington area. 

Goodman said it's important to remember: Barron is a 10-year-old.

"He has the right to focus on his math homework or his English homework, or whether or not he wants to play football or soccer, or if he's interested in American History or playing chess or any other activity," said Goodman.

Goodman thinks the family's decision, more than anything else, comes down to what's best for the child.

"Besides the Secret Service and the security, I think the first order of business is to find the right educational environment that's going to help him grow as a student," Goodman said.

The last time a "first kid" went to public school was during Jimmy Carter's presidency from 1977 to 1981. Carter sent his daughter, Amy, to Thaddeus Stevens Elementary School and later Hardy Middle School, both schools in the District of Columbia with primarily African American student populations.

President Carter reportedly found that education valuable. He would ask his daughter questions, according to The Baltimore Sun: 

"What would improve the lunch program? How could we help the children who could not speak English? Were the students being immunized against contagious diseases? What was being done to challenge the bright students in the class or to give extra help to the slow ones?"

Questions typical of any parent—but Carter was "in a unique position to act on the ideas," The Sun reported.

Since then, presidents with school-age children have chosen to go private. Chelsea Clinton, and Malia and Sasha Obama have all attended Sidwell Friends, a highly-selective, co-educational Quaker school, which has a main campus in Washington D.C. and a lower school in Bethesda, Md. The tuition at Sidwell is about $40,000 a year.

Catherine Cushinberry, executive director of Parents for Public Schools, believes presidents choosing public school for their children can send a strong message.

"I think that policies are more impactful when you've lived them and have been impacted by them," Cushinberry said.

She likened the education question to when parents of children being sent to war would ask their congressman or senator: What if it were your child?

"There has to be some kind of connection," Cushinberry said. "You've got to understand the system, its challenges. You've got to show some kind of investment in order to make decisions and policies that make sense for that system."

She realizes that it's a difficult choice and that there are security concerns. 

"However, I also think that when you don't have children in public schools, it can be very difficult for you—whether you're the president or not—to understand the unique needs of public schools and to know how your time and resources could help strengthen public schools," Cushinberry said. "When you're not there, I think it has a way of coloring your perspective about what most families deal with."

The new age of social media could make it harder for Trump's youngest son to elude the spotlight. 

"When you hold public office, it is often difficult for the public to recognize where the line should be drawn in terms of your private life and your private decisions," Cushinberry said.

Leigh Ann Cahill, of Independent School Options, an educational consulting group, said the most important factor here would be Barron's learning needs.

"Socially, I'm a little concerned for him," Cahill said. "I hope wherever he goes, they see him for who he is—not who his father is."

She believes that Barron will most likely end up at a private school—perhaps one similar to his current school in New York—somewhere like St. Andrew's Episcopal School in Potomac, Md. 

The good news for the first kid? He's coming to the right place for variety. 

"We have schools that are phenomenal for everyone. We have quirky, funky schools. We have schools for special needs. We have all-boys schools. We have STEM ... We have it all," Cahill said.

Though she says the chances of Barron attending a District of Columbia public school are "zero," Cushinberry underscored the importance of the president's private actions—how they have the power to shape a country.

"I think when we look at our public schools and the challenges they're facing—especially when it comes to issues related to segregation, division, lack of equity, lack of inclusion—I believe that anything a president can do to help bridge that divide, to bring parents of diverse backgrounds and cultures together, to think about ways to strengthen public schools ... has the potential to have a ripple effect across this country, within each state and within communities," Cushinberry said.

This item has been updated to give the correct locations of Sidwell Friends School. 

Photo: President-elect Donald Trump motions to supporters as he and his son, Barron Trump, center, and wife, Melania Trump, walk on stage at an election night victory rally on Nov. 9 in New York. (Julie Jacobson/AP)

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