When you start thinking about sending your child to private school, you will spend a lot of time reviewing school websites. As you do that, bear in mind that you see what the schools want you to see. Think of the private school website as its front door and entrance hall, and you will get the idea. Once you get to the next stage of the school search process, look for the following five features which every good private school should have. Doing your due diligence will take a lot of your time but is necessary to confirm that schools on your short list meet your needs and requirements.
Small classes are at the top of the list of features which every private school should have. If the private high school which you are looking at doesn't have small classes, what is the point of taking your child out of public school? Obviously, the adjective small can be interpreted in different ways. Typically a class size of 12-15 students will allow students plenty of interaction with their teacher. That interaction is a critical part of learning and is one of the features which you must look for when you consider sending your child to a private high school.
This video from Savannah Country Day School illustrates some of the features you should look for in a private school.
Small classes mean that your child won't just be a number. She cannot fall through the cracks. She will not be able to hide in a small class. Some teens prefer to sit on the edges and observe rather than participate. A small class draws students into discussions and activities. From a teaching perspective, small classes are beneficial because the teacher can see how each student is doing. Discipline is not an issue in a private high school as a rule, so small class sizes have little impact on that aspect of classroom management. The benefit of having a small number of students in a class is that teaching and learning can occur. Since you send your child to a private school to learn, small class size is a feature which you want.
Highly Qualified Teachers
By highly qualified mean having a first degree in the subject being taught, complemented by an advanced degree. The requisite coursework should fortify the intrinsic passion a teacher has for that subject specialty. For example, if a teacher is teaching physics or calculus, he should have a respectable first degree in those subjects, preferably with honors. Adding a masters degree in those disciplines completes the package. A terminal degree is nice but not required.
In addition to the teachers' degree qualifications, look for plenty of experience teaching the subjects. Teaching is all about inspiring young people. If a teacher is not only passionate about her subject but also can teach it enthusiastically and effectively, then your child will benefit.
Unlike public school teachers, private school teachers are not unionized. As a result, if a teacher is ineffective or, worse, incompetent, the school will not renew her contract. There will be no waiting for endless hearings and long drawn out appeals processes.
A Sense of Community
A sense of community in a private high school is something which you feel and experience. A school either has it or it does not. Private school administrators and faculty usually make this a top priority because community teaches students so many life lessons. Most private schools try to produce graduates who are aware of the world around them. Even more importantly, they are taught to respect the rights and opinions of others.
Here is a look at The Taft School's community-building ritual known as The Morning Meeting.
Community doesn't mean that its members become faceless, uniform robots who all act and think the same. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Private school communities encourage individuality and uniqueness. They also respect those same attributes and qualities in their various members.
A concerned, vibrant community is particularly important in a boarding school. When you are at school 24/7 for weeks on end, you begin to value the school's community which is your family.
Extensive Sports Programs
Sports programs, and arts programs, for that matter, are frequently considered extras in public schools. The minute a district has budgetary problems the extras get cut. Private schools, on the other hand, take the view that sports and arts programs provide balance to the learning and maturation processes taking place in young people during high school.
That's why you will notice that most high schools set aside large amounts of time, usually an entire afternoon, when the whole student body suits up and gets out on the field for some serious exercise and athletic activity. Yes, you can play varsity sports if that is your inclination, but most schools offer a wide range of sports so that everybody can participate. As you will quickly discover when you visit schools on your short list, sports programs are an integral part of the school's life and purpose.
Teachers are involved in the sports program too. They won't be seen leaving campus while the students head off the field house. Faculty involvement allows your child to see his teachers in a quite different situation from the usual classroom setting.
Extracurricular activities in public schools survive at the whim of budgets and teachers. This is not the case in private schools. Extracurriculars, as they are often called, are part of the balanced approach to learning and maturation which most private schools feel is a critical part of the mission.
Unlike in public schools, private school teachers are required to advise or direct an extracurricular activity as one of their duties. That allows your child to see her teacher in a different role than just as her math teacher, for example. The math teacher becomes a cool person who loves hiking just as much as your child does.
This video from Groton School illustrates the importance of athletics in private school life.
As you visit schools, look for these features of each school's program. Most private high schools will offer these attributes. They are the main reasons why you will decide to send your child to private school.
Choosing the right private school for your child takes time. The process has many parts to it. Don't try to do it all at once. Take your time. Think about what you see and have seen. Never forget that you know what is best for your child.
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