7 Key Questions to Answer
My brother’s son is in fifth grade and is starting to think about which high school is “right” for their family. In today’s private school market, the process of choosing the school that fits your family’s needs and style is nothing short of an art-form. Fortunately, this medium can be learned by just about anyone.
What’s your motivation for a private school education? This is the first question to ask when considering a private school education. Its answer reveals a lot about the parents and their hopes and dreams for their kids. For parents whose sole desire is to help their kids get into an Ivy-league college, private school may be helpful in this regard, as long as the child works hard and is responsible. Other families have a faith-based motivation for private schooling and so opt out of the public school system in favor of traditional values and a consistent process of discipline.
Some parents are looking for the school to provide structure and discipline which is not provided at home. This, I have found, is an unrealistic expectation. To expect a teacher to “undo” over twelve years of upbringing isn’t a fair expectation.
How far are you willing to travel? When I lived in New Hampshire, there were only four parochial high schools for the entire state. Some families would travel 45-50 minutes each way to school. What about you? Are you willing to add drive-time to your day? Can you be comfortable with your child when they get their license and handle the same commute in the 11th and 12th grades? How will the added driving expense affect your budget? The answers to these questions are as much about lifestyle as they are about educational expectations.
How much can you afford? Obviously an important question! I have seen countless families commit their teen to a private high school, only to have the school ask them to leave due to missed tuition payments. This places undue stress on the child and hardship on the family in the long run. If you can’t afford the tuition plus added expenses of books, technology and sports fees, better to go the public school rout.
What are your child’s needs? Children have particular wants and needs when it comes to a high school education. Some are so gifted athletically that they may choose for a private school that can coach them into professional sports. Others have a deep aptitude for science and choose a school that can focus his talents into an engineering path. Still others have children who need extra time, attention and resources and choose a high school accordingly.
Which values are at the top of your list? Why not sit down with your son or daughter and ask them to write 10 things down which are important for them in a high school. Encourage them to list everything from big lockers to fun dances to a fantastic art program. Parents should do the same thing and then compare your lists. Having a frank conversation about what’s important for parents and children is important.
How long a honeymoon will you endure? As it will take one to two years of research, Shopping around and open houses to attend, your decision should be given some time to play itself out. Don’t let one negative interaction with one secretary undermine several years of thoughtful discernment. On the other hand, if you see a pattern of poor communication or worse yet, irresponsibility on the part of the school administration, a red flag may be emerging. I recommend giving the school one to two years of honeymoon time.
What kind of parents help you feel at home? Let’s face it- not everyone is comfortable in every situation. If you feel out of place with the kind of people who are also part of the school community, it might not be the school for you. The key is in finding a school that helps you to feel at home. After all, your son or daughter will be spending four years there so comfort becomes a very important factor.
Mike St. Pierre is the Dean of Students at Oratory Preparatory School and blogs regularly at thedailysaint.com