For many parents, one of the biggest decisions they make is where to send their children to school: public, private, or religious school.
Having been a public and private school student and parent, I know first hand some of the benefits of independent education. (Disclaimer: there is a wide range of schools of all types, so your local options may vary.) If you are already considering writing those tuition checks, here are some of the positive qualities you can expect:
1. Small Class Size
Look for no more than eighteen students in the room with one teacher. At the younger ages, you can expect two teachers in the room. In some situations, such as reading groups for younger students, three or four teachers may be in the classroom teaching groups as small as four or five students.
2. Great Libraries
Most independent schools boast roomy, comfortable libraries with large, well-curated collections and staffs of smart, super-literate librarians who can advise kids and families on reading selections and academic research. Parents can often borrow books too!
A good private school should provide talented gym, art, music, dance, and theater teachers at all grade levels. Students will meet in these “special” classes at least every other week, and sometimes as often as several times a week.
Expect professional production values for plays, musicals, and concerts. Look for attractive displays of strong artworks, and even a dedicated gallery. Better schools also provide a full range of film, photography, and computer graphics equipment.
Students in private schools often receive laptops or tablets for their own use. Internet service is fast and reliable, and a technology support department promptly fixes problems with service and equipment as they arise.
6. Quality Food
Many independent schools offer healthy food included with the tuition. Think fresh fruits and vegetables, a selection of restaurant cuisine, vegan options, low fat and salt content, non-GMO–the opposite of the traditional glob of “mystery meat” and vending machine sodas or chips available in many public schools.
7. First-Rate Facilities
A good private school will have large, modern, well-lit and clean gymnasia, swimming pools, ice rinks, boathouses, tracks, theaters, workout rooms, dark rooms, wood shops, tennis courts, science labs, dance studios, computer rooms, art studios, classrooms, lounges, and all the other complex facilities that make up a fine school.
8. In-School Activities
Private schools often host a variety of activities for students, from martial arts classes to morning Pilates workouts, from guest lecturers to art exhibitions.
9. Extra Sports
Private schools can offer sports that many students will want to try or that they are already quite good at, like fencing, rugby, rowing, squash, lacrosse, skiing, ultimate frisbee, and sailing.
10. Accountable College Counseling
Whereas many public school college counseling departments serve hundreds of students per counselor, a good private school will feature a counselor to student ratio of at most 50:1. Counselors will meet with students and families frequently during the process and can provide personalized advice in college selection and application strategies.
11. Alumni Networks
A private school alumni association gives you, as a graduate, access to thousands of successful professionals all over the world. Many private schools have annual alumni association meetings in larger American cities like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Annual reunions can be major social events, with parties and sports contests, performances, and guest speakers.
12. Personal Relationships with Faculty
Many private school graduates I have known cite their close interaction with talented and caring teachers as the best part of their high school experience. For many alumni, those connections can last a lifetime.
A private school can accommodate the particular needs of your family in ways that many public schools cannot. For instance, if a child contracts an illness like mononucleosis in May and cannot complete final exams, a school might allow that student to take the exams over the summer under the supervision of a teacher. If a family wants to spend a year abroad, the student might be granted a leave of absence and permitted to return for the following academic year.
14. Paying Customer Status
Because you pay tuition every year, a private school must treat you, to some extent, as a customer. If something goes wrong, or you have a serious concern, you should be able to get a meeting quickly with a teacher or administrator. You may not always get what you want out of that meeting, but your concerns should be heard and responded to with respect.
15. Travel Programs
A good private school will send groups of students on education and service trips to places like Italy, Guatemala, or China. For example, an orchestra might perform in Vienna and Budapest, or students might paint a school building in rural Tanzania.
16. Frequent Needs Assessments
Many of the better independent schools administer the ERB (or similar) assessment tests each year and share these results with parents. Unlike with some “high-stakes” public school tests, ERB results do not, in one year, lead to drastic consequences. That is, test results are used as an indicator of need and typically not as a reason to promote or hold back a student.
17. Networking for Parents
At many private schools, parents can make valuable social and professional contacts. Field trips, fundraisers, and school social activities can allow parents to meet other successful people in business, law, entertainment, and other lucrative and high-profile fields.
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