Faculty Insights Blog
Barnesville School of Arts & Sciences teachers and other faculty members share insights about childhood development and educational issues.
Barnesville’s Director of Admissions Debbie Don was recently asked by “The Washington Post Magazine” to discuss making the transition from public to private school. Following is her response that was quoted in the magazine’s 2017 Private School supplement.
We find that many parents look at private middle school as an alternative to larger public schools where it can be challenging to navigate social dynamics in what is already a difficult time in adolescence. Some families are also planning ahead for their children to attend competitive magnet programs or selective independent high schools, and they want to ensure their children are academically and socially prepared.
Parents often worry about their children’s ability to blend into a classroom with students who have been classmates for several years. In reality, new students are warmly welcomed and quickly get to know everyone in a small class setting. Activities like sports, clubs, theater, and student government provide opportunities for new students to make friends outside the classroom. The best advice for making a smooth transition is to get involved. Smaller schools still offer a wide variety of activities, so students can explore their interests and try new things.
One of the greatest attributes of small independent schools is that faculty and staff are available and attentive to each child’s needs. Students are able to develop close relationships with their teachers and become comfortable seeking help when they need it. The ability to self-advocate is an important skill that serves students well throughout their education.
An honest and open dialogue about academic readiness is an important part of the admissions process. Often when a student transitions into an independent school from public school, there are academic gaps that need to be addressed. Independent schools are able to address the individual needs of each student, and ensure that new students are appropriately placed in classes that will both meet their needs and provide an appropriate level of challenge. Younger students generally catch up quickly with additional teacher instruction, while older students may need to do independent work to prepare for a different curriculum and often a different style of teaching. Tutors are also available to work with students on areas of concern.
Insights from Debbie Don, Director of Admissions & Advancement at Barnesville School of Arts & Sciences
Once a family makes the decision to explore an independent school education for their child, there are many factors to be considered. While it may be easy to be swayed by what others may deem “the best”, the first and foremost question parents should ask is, “Is this school the right fit for my child?” Education is not one size fits all, so what constitutes “the best” is highly subjective. To help determine which school is the right fit, parents should consider the following:
1. Do we desire an education that will include faith-based instruction?
For many families this is a priority and a quick way to narrow down choices. Other families may consider it less important but are not opposed to faith-based instruction if the school can otherwise meet their needs. And for those families who prefer to keep education and religion separate, non-secular schools are good choices.
2. Does our child have a special need/talent/interest that can only be served by a certain type of school?
Many independent schools are able to serve a range of learning profiles, but some students will be better served in an educational setting that has staff specifically trained to meet their needs.
If a family has a child with a special talent or interest (e.g., theater or science), it’s important to carefully research the curriculum and extracurricular offerings of the schools in consideration to ensure that their student will have exposure to a varied curriculum that will allow them to pursue their desired path, and even explore other opportunities that may not have been considered.
3. What is most important to our family in a school?
Strong academics often tops this list, but what does that actually mean to your family? Is rigor the only measure of a quality education? Is rigor even what’s right for your child? Current research indicates what should be obvious to all of us – children learn when they’re engaged and enjoying the process. Independent schools can achieve this through small classroom instruction and experiential learning that allows students to explore new concepts and be active participants in their learning. Small class sizes also allow for the development of strong student/teacher relationships and a deeper understanding of how individual students learn. Independent schools are also often able to provide differentiated instruction aimed at allowing for enrichment for high-achieving students and additional support for students who are still developing mastery of concepts.
4. Can we afford tuition?
Private school education can be a significant, albeit beneficial, financial commitment, but don’t dismiss a school because you believe tuition may be out of your range. Most schools offer variable tuition or financial aid to families who are eligible in an effort to make an independent education more accessible to a wider range of students. Financial aid allows for socioeconomic, racial, and cultural diversity that enriches the classroom experience for all students. Many families are hesitant to apply for financial aid because they don’t think they’ll qualify or perhaps because they are uncomfortable asking for help or sharing their personal financial information. All schools keep financial aid information in the utmost confidence, and other families do not know who may or may not receive aid.
5. Does the school community reflect our family values?
Students spend so much time at school that it often becomes a second home with the school faculty and staff feeling like extended family. It’s important to ask questions of teachers and administration when touring different schools to get a sense of what the school community is like beyond what is depicted on the website. Do the teachers model the values you want to reinforce? Does the student body reflect the culturally rich community you are seeking? Do the students seem happy and eager to learn? Reach out to current parents and attend events on campus to see if it feels like someplace you would want your child to attend. Open Houses are a great way to get a first look at a school you might be considering.
Choosing an independent school can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Families considering independent education will be best served if they take the time to reflect on what will work best for their child and keep their personal objectives at the forefront as they navigate their options.
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