When school and family mix: parent-child pairs at PHS

graphic: Caroline Smith

graphic: Caroline Smith

For the vast majority of PHS students, school and family are two very separate domains. But imagine if your parent were at PHS with you, perhaps teaching one of your or your friends’ classes. Mixing those two typically distinct realms together can have many pros and cons, and there are several parent-child pairs at PHS that can shed some light on the situation.

While many teachers’ children would geographically attend a different school based on the district in which they live, their parents can choose to transfer them to Princeton Public Schools. To do this, a teacher must fill out a parent-child school application, receive approval from the district’s administration, and have a certain amount deducted from their paychecks for their children to attend school here. Natalie Loughran ’16, who would otherwise be attending Montgomery High School, and orchestra teacher Robert Loughran are one such pair. “[I decided to bring my daughter here] because PHS is all pros. It’s a vibrant, engaging educational environment, and the arts here are simply phenomenal. Not only that, but she’s in my class, so every day I get to interact with her, and it’s rather fun. Sometimes I see her in the halls, and that’s a treat,” said Robert Loughran.

Teachers and their children take several factors into account when deciding whether or not to bring their children to PHS, such as the environment and convenience. “I’ve been here for 17 years, so over that time I’ve been able to become familiar with the culture of the school and all the great things that PHS has to offer,” said gym teacher Wayne Sutcliffe, whose son Liam Sutcliffe is now a freshman at PHS. “Just looking in the past to other faculty members whose children attended PHS, I really can’t think of any who didn’t have a great experience … It helped to reinforce [my decision to send my son here].”

Another benefit parents take into consideration is the ease of organizing vacations and responding to personal emergencies. “What happens if you have a different school calendar in your district, and your school is closed up there but open down here? It becomes a nightmare,” said science teacher Paula Jakowlew, whose son Shiloh Jakowlew-Dahlhaus ’15 attends PHS.

Some families also consider the programs that set PHS apart. Sutcliffe, whose son plays the trumpet in Studio Band, said that the band program influenced his decision to send his son to PHS.

Despite the possible advantages, there are also cons to coming to school in the same building as your parents. “I would recommend the school where your parent is not at because you get more of a sense of being your own individual,” said Jakowlew-Dahlhaus.

Parents can also feel conflicted about how their reputation or character could affect their child’s experience. Jakowlew said, “Sometimes you wonder if people expect your kid to have the same personality. They’re kind of in your shadow, and that can make it very difficult for them to express themselves and their own identities as an individual.”

Furthermore, criticism of teachers from classmates can be both embarrassing and frustrating. Some children do not feel as influenced by the opinions of their friends, however. “In freshman year, it sort of fazed me … but then you think about it, and it’s not that bad,” said Jakowlew-Dahlhaus. “I’d been hearing a lot of observations about my mom up until [people realized that I was her son], and when that happened, I didn’t hear as much.”

Natalie Loughran said there are both good and bad aspects of sharing PHS with her father. “The best part is he’s always there, so if I need any money or I need to get something signed, I can do it right away. The worst part is he knows a lot of people, and … what’s going on. Most kids leave their parents and have their own thing at school, and my [life] is kind of mixed together,” she said.

In some cases, students end up having their parents teaching one of their classes. “I was actually in my mom’s bio class freshman year … With my mom, there wasn’t really much conflict of interest, because she’s very fair,” said Jakowlew-Dahlhaus. “If anything, she graded me slightly more harshly.”

“If [the class] was more academic it might be different because he would grade my tests and stuff, but he doesn’t really grade much, so he doesn’t really treat me differently. He’s actually more strict with me, so people don’t think I’m getting special treatment or anything,” Natalie Loughran said.

In spite of being in a good position to do so, many teachers are careful to ensure that advocacy for their children does not put their colleagues in an uncomfortable position. History teacher Kim Groome, whose children have spent most of their academic careers in the district, said, “Over the course of their high school careers, I’ve tended to not interact all that directly with a lot of the staff. Either I’ll encourage them to talk with their teachers about it, or I’ll encourage them to talk to their dad.”

Some students find that their other teachers treat them differently because their parents work at the school. Natalie Loughran said, “A lot of my teachers that I have know my dad, so I guess it could be a good thing, but they already have an opinion of me before I start.”

However, Jakowlew-Dahlhaus said, “So far, my teachers basically all know my mom, and some of them raise the bar, but most of them treat me just like anyone else.”


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