Let Me Ask You...

Updated  April 27, 2017 |
Let Me Ask You...
This fictional interview illustrates how one set of parents chose a private school for their daughter.

What follows is a fictional interview. I wrote it to illustrate why some parents chose a specific kind of high school education for their child. The account is fictional to the extent that the parents I am interviewing in this article do not exist per se. However, the scenarios, facts and questions about private schools are ones which I have dealt with countless times over the years. They are real. Hopefully, you will find the answers in this interview both helpful and useful. 

Helen, why did you consider sending your child to a boarding school?

My husband and I thought about sending our daughter to boarding school. Convincing her that boarding school would be the best option was a major challenge. However, with the help of our educational consultant and a couple of close friends whose children currently attend boarding school in Vermont, we were able to show her the incredible value a boarding school education offers. 

What clinched the deal was the vast array of extracurricular activities which the schools we visited offered. We live in a very affluent area of Connecticut. The public schools are highly rated. But honestly, they offered fewer extracurricular activities than most of the boarding schools we reviewed. Our daughter is an avid swimmer and field hockey enthusiast. The athletic facilities and grounds at most of the schools we visited were superb. They contained state of the art equipment with professional athletic staff supervising their programs. That was very reassuring to us. Our daughter could hardly wait to try out for the varsity field hockey team. Frankly, we had not seen her so excited about school since 3rd grade.

The other feature of boarding school which we appreciated as busy parents with full-time careers was the 24/7 supervision which a boarding school. When Buffie attended our local day school, she would hitch a ride home with one of her friends who was old enough to drive. There were several times when my heart was in my mouth, as I had no idea how good a driver she was with or where she was going after school. Boarding school solved that problem for us, as we know that the school faculty and staff are supervising students constantly. The Dean of Students at her school explained that our child's safety was his top concern.

How did you handle the cost of a private school education?

We thought that we were in a good position when it came to paying for our daughter's private school education. Our cash flow was strong, so we figured that we would simply write checks twice a year, and that would be all there was to it. Our financial advisor had other ideas. She advised us to complete the Parents Financial Statement anyway and see if we qualified for any financial assistance. With tuition and fees amounting to $63,000 exclusive of the extras such as flute lessons, trips and so on, we were very pleased that we did apply for financial assistance. The school awarded us $5,000. Every little bit helps.

The other detail about paying for private school is that the school required us to take out tuition insurance. That is a mandatory coverage which we figured we would never have to use. We were very happy that we had that protection because Buffie broke her leg while skiing. The break was serious enough that her doctors insisted that Buffie withdraw from school for the rest of the year. Naturally, the school expected to be paid as per the contract which we had signed with them. The tuition insurance took care of everything with minimum fuss. Once Buffie is healed, and her therapy is finished, she will be able to go back to school.

Which approach to Buffie's education did you choose and why?

We evaluated several different educational approaches when we looked at boarding schools. My husband and I had both had fairly conventional educations in our local public schools. We took AP courses and SATs as part of our college preparation. We both got accepted early decision at colleges whose names you would recognize. We met each other in business school. As you can imagine, our careers are demanding as we both have major responsibilities and much travel where we work. While that kind of education worked for us twenty years ago, we feel that our daughter needs a different path to higher education. She is much more well-rounded than we were at that age. We also don't want her to attend a school which focuses on teaching to the test. APs and SATs were OK for us, but I am not so sure that they would work for Buffie.

That is the main reason we began exploring alternatives to the conventional education which Ralph and I had. We had always heard interesting gossip about homeschooling and progressive schools. Frankly, homeschooling was out of the question for us because we both worked. On the other hand, we were delighted at the programs which we saw online at several progressive high schools. Visiting two of these schools which our consultant thought would be a good fit for us completely convinced us.

What did we like about progressive education? We liked the idea that Buffie could explore a variety of subjects in what is a project-based curriculum. Children learn by doing. Making mistakes and starting from scratch is part of what we have come to realize is how we all learn. Memorizing facts and theories should not be an end unto themselves. Knowing how to use information is what we wanted Buffie to learn. The progressive school which she attends is a wonderful fit for our needs and requirements.

What about getting into college?

As I mentioned before, Ralph and I had conventional educations. Our APs and SAT scores got us into some good colleges. So much has changed since then, including the admission requirements for many universities. While SATs and APs still play a part in developing an applicant's admissions profile, increasingly colleges are looking for candidates who not only can do the academic work but also can contribute something meaningful to the life of the college community and ultimately to society. A progressive education checks all the right boxes for many fine colleges admissions offices. That works for us.

Questions? You can contact us via Twitter. @privateschoolreview


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