As Manuel Palchizaca decides where to send his son to school this fall, he is mainly interested in one characteristic: a bilingual education.
“It’s the best thing for his future,” he said. “With two languages, he can do anything.”
Palchizaca was one of hundreds of parents who spent Saturday researching schools at the Minneapolis School Fair Showcase, a one-day event at the Minneapolis Convention Center where parents met staff and teachers from almost every school in the district and some charter schools.
The event coincided with others across the state and country aimed at giving parents school choice, as opposed to having to attend a school simply because they live nearby.
Kaylie Burns Gahagan, the event’s coordinator, expected more than 1,000 parents and students to attend by day’s end. Most of the parents at Saturday’s event had children about to enter kindergarten.
“This is a one-stop shop to talk with principals and staff and get more information on after-school programs and extracurriculars,” Burns Gahagan said.
Brendan and Sarah Kearin live 10 blocks from Hale Elementary School in southeast Minneapolis. They bought their house when their son, Roy, was 2, with an eye toward the quality of the neighborhood’s schools.
Although they are almost certain Roy will attend Hale, they wanted to “get a full feel” for the other schools in their area, they said.
The fair resembled a wedding or fishing expo, with booths lined up in a large room. There were performances by school groups, such as the mariachi band from Folwell School, a performing arts magnet, and a dance performance by a student at North High School.
Principals, staff members and teachers handed out cookies, pencils and lanyards to children and their families, along with pamphlets about their schools.
Tiana Goudy of Northeast College Prep, a charter school, said many parents told her they want a school with diversity.
Northeast is an International Baccalaureate school where students learn both Arabic and Spanish beginning in kindergarten.
While the fair showcases public and charter schools, some charters said they didn’t have many parents at the event enrolling kids in their schools.
“Of 190 kids we have in the school, there are probably five to 10 where the first point of contact was here,” said Carl Phillips, school director at Northeast College Prep. “But a lot of people come through, get information and then spread the word.”
Burns Gahagan said parents at this year’s event were surveyed so schools can learn what impact their presence at the fair has on the choices parents ultimately make. The district also plans to ask high schools if they want to continue participating, since most of the families who attend have young children.
This year the St. Paul School District limited its school choice fair to target only prekindergarten and kindergarten families.
Still, several teachers and principals said they enjoyed highlighting the work their schools are doing to educate the district’s children, and seeing staff members from other schools all in one room.
“It’s the only event where the whole district is together,” Burns Gahagan said.