f you had to choose when to send your child to private school, would you send her to private school for the primary grades or high school? It's a tough call, isn't it? The expense alone is a major consideration for many parents. Another consideration is the market where you live. Do you have several private school options to choose from? Using the search tool on Private School Review, I asked it to list schools within 25 miles of my zip code in Raleigh. There were 119 schools to choose from. Obviously not all would meet my requirements, but at least I had some material to work with. Investigate your local private school options first and see how those schools meet your requirements.
Could you send your child to primary school through 12th grade in the same school? Or would you have to consider individual schools for the primary, middle and high school grades? Would it make sense to send your child to public school for primary grades and then consider private school for the high school years?
Frankly, I always feel that the high school years are where things can go off the rails. I wanted my children in a well-disciplined, serious learning environment. That's what I got when I sent my two daughters off to boarding school. They both attended private pre-schools. One attended a private primary school and the other went to a very fine, very small K-6 elementary school which happened to be right across the street from our home in our tiny northwest Connecticut town. The primary grades didn't worry me as much as the high school grades. I wanted a deeper bench of academics, athletics and extracurricular activities than the local regional school offered. Here is an example of the sort of program which appeals to me. This video is from The Episcopal School of Dallas.
It is a catch 22 situation. Primary school lays the foundation for solid achievement in high school, while high school lays the foundation for solid achievement in college. If either foundation is constructed with less than the best materials, the structure built on that foundation will have deficiencies.
The role of the primary grades.
Primary grades build the foundation. Since most parents can more easily monitor and help with learning in the primary grades, sending your child to a good public school for the early years makes sense. The important thing any parent must do for her young child is to engage it in a wide variety of stimulating activities, such as reading, solving puzzles, making music, art and so on. Limiting television and video game time and teaching your child to entertain itself with non-electronic activities is a good thing. The problem is that many parents feel they have to sacrifice quality time with their children for their careers and jobs. That is a very tough call. If you can afford to stay home with your child while it is young, you can shape that young mind yourself instead of leaving that critical task to others. After all, you are particular about what food your child eats. Shouldn't you be just as particular about what ideas and facts your child's mind is fed? Here is an example of what I mean.
You also need to aware of how your child's mind is being fed. Teachers whose training and experience is limited can hamper your child's progress. Those early years are a time when the school should be reinforcing that love of learning you have so carefully nurtured in your child since birth. So, if and when you decide to send your child to primary school, make a point of observing some classes. See how the teacher handles a wide variety of learning perspectives. She has to understand how a child learns and how he receives the information his teacher is presenting. An experienced teacher understands how to teach on several levels at the same time in order to ensure that all her students understand what they are learning.
The high school years: college preparatory or preparation for something else?
College prep curricula usually require subject specialists. These are teachers who have advanced degrees and years of experience teaching their subjects. Most high school subjects require specialist teachers with in-depth knowledge of their subjects. On the other hand, high school subjects, especially those being taught at the AP and IB level, are intensive and quite complicated. You need a teacher who has a degree in Mandarin, Latin or calculus to teach those subjects.. The highly trained teachers a good prep school affords know how to teach those subjects and prepare your child properly for the national examinations most colleges and universities will expect.
What if you are thinking a progressive high school is what your child needs? Approach progressive schools the same way as you would when looking at traditional schools which teach AP and IB courses. Progressive schools prepare their students for college. They simply use a different approach. Take the time necessary to fully understand what your child will hope to accomplish at a progressive school. Then find a school which matches your objectives and requirements. This video from the Wingra School offers a glimpse of what awaits students in a progressive school.
Teenagers need both supervision and stretching. Teenagers need the socialization, the structure and the stretching which a good private school can provide. "Idle hands are the devil's tools." If you are busy parents with demanding careers, then prep school is the way to go. You won't be worrying about what your child is up to or who she is with because the school has all of those matters in hand. An ambitious college preparation program of study combined with sports and extracurricular activities will keep your teenager fully occupied. The coaching and mentoring necessary to make the transition from childhood to adulthood is built in to a private school's mission and day to day program. The enrichment which every teenager needs is part of any good prep school's activities and routines.
This does not mean that you can abrogate your responsibilities as a parent. Private schools will always insist on your involvement in your child's education. Your role as guide, exemplar, mentor and friend does not change just because your child is attending a private high school. In fact you will find that it intensifies as you help your child deal with major decisions such as what to do after high school.
If you have to make a choice, invest in high school. If you don't have to make a choice, invest in private education from kindergarten on up. You will not regret it.
Questions? You may contact me on Twitter. @privateschool