With the new 2019-2020 school year upon us, it is already time for some parents to think about where their child will attend school next year. It’s no secret: Applying to private schools can be stressful. But it does not have to be if you go in with a plan that includes a well-defined set of core educational values, and a process-oriented viewpoint minimizing the value of actually being accepted to a school. By approaching the application process this way, you will not only find the right school … but you will also learn some valuable things about yourself, your child, your own educational philosophy along the way! 

Across the board, private schools reduce worries about safety, increase a child’s exposure to disciplined scholastics and environment, offer smaller class sizes, and offer optimal environments for high academic engagement and collaboration. It is no wonder that every year, more and more parents are finding ways to make sure their students receive the best quality education regardless of socioeconomic status and other factors that classically inhibited educational mobility in the United States. 

Yes, we still have a long way to go before we can claim educational equality, but scholarship opportunities and other forms of financial aid allow a more diverse group of learners than ever before to experience the benefits of small private schools everywhere.

Make it a Journey of Self-Discovery

Students, try to think of the private school application process as an exercise in self-discovery and friend-making —even if you are a long shot in getting into any particular school. When else will you have an opportunity to learn about all the different options for schooling, to reflect on your own educational values, and to express to someone what you are all about? 

Sure, visiting a new place formally can make some children anxious. So, here are some time-worn tips that work to turn a potentially precarious prep school visit into an exciting journey of self-discovery: 

  • Don’t overdress or over-prepare your child. Casual clothes are usually best, and you can emphasize that they are going to spend some time hanging out just like a tourist. 
  • Don’t put your child on the spot or speak for your child. When they feel comfortable, their personalities will shine through all on their own. 
  • No matter what the age of your child, don’t ask too many probing questions after the visit. Allow your child to initiate the conversation —see what percolates.

Of course, you are undertaking this entire process to get into a school. But just keep in mind that the way you look at the process itself will influence your mindset during and afterward, because mindset influences EVERYTHING all the time. This brings us to core values, which help create our mindsets.

Core Values in Education

grauer school students at the peak of mammoth mountain
Core values are the fundamental beliefs of a person or organization, like a parent or a school. They frame how a person views, influences and interacts with the world around them. Core values in education are important because they frame a school’s mission, as well as its cultural, social and academic values. For example, a private religious school will feature core values are aligned with the specific religion in question. Or, a school that serves children with a condition like autism will adopt a social value system that stresses dignified, accessible services for people who live with that condition. 

You, as a parent, have core values you wish your child to receive through the education process. And rest assured, there is a small school out there somewhere that has your core values in its curriculum. It is important to remain aware of your core values, both of their existence and even how they might end up evolving, during the selection process. Based on your core values, what do you want your child’s educational focus and context to be? 

  • Religious/Parochial
  • Humanitarian/Diverse
  • College Placement Oriented
  • Artistically Geared
  • Democratically Expressive
  • Curricular Structure (Expeditionary/Mastery/Discovery Learning, etc.)
  • Philosophical Orientation (Waldorf. Montessori, etc.)
  • Community Service Minded

Once you decide how core values in education should affect the selection process, you are ready to begin choosing the best school for your child!

Choosing the Best School for Your Child

phillips exeter academy building
Choosing the best school for your child is a lot like sightseeing.Think of schools like sights that dot the roadside. There are some fascinating places out there like Athenian School, Pasadena Polytechnic, Phillips Exeter Academy (pictured above), Maui Preparatory Academy, Stevenson School, and Nanjing Number 1 School. Each of these schools is a picturesque, eye-opening and unforgettable exercise in friend-making and educational reconnaissance. 

Think of a great admissions officer like a tour guide. Their job is to help you get to know the school’s cultural, social and academic core values, which ultimately help you choose the best school for your child. Here are some tips to help you choose the best school for your child….

  • Make sure the curricula matches your vision for education and/or your goals for your child’s educational journey. Criteria can include religious affiliation(s), college placement rates, course offerings and considerations influencing how learning occurs and to what end it is structured.
  • Make sure the social culture matches your child’s tastes and orientations. This includes schools with prominent sports programs, community service and/or diversity-based learning requirements, and of course specific religious clubs or affiliations. 
  • For primary aged students specifically, make sure there is a secondary offering available. It is always preferable to remain with one educational framework if a child is thriving, versus having to reinvent the wheel halfway through their formal adolescent educational journey.
  • Make sure the school itself is the right place for you. Look at the students and faculty. Do they enjoy being there? Are they relaxed, engaged? You can tell if the school is doing its job if the students and faculty look and act like they actually want to be there!

Or, as a parent of a student enrolled in a small private school in California said, “What is it about this place? Every time we are over there, we see kids actively engaging with each other one-on-one, in small groups, and with teachers; talking about their lessons, singing, laughing, hugging, running, playing. You feel it as you enter the space: love is all around! You read it in the body language of the teachers, giving them their full attention, with a smile and often a supportive hand on the shoulder or hug.”

Choosing the best school for your child can set them up for success in and out of the classroom for the rest of their lives. Just keep core value compatibility in mind, don’t lose sight of the larger learning experiences you all are having … and when the right fit occurs, you, your child and the school will all know it!

Join the Small Schools Coalition

The Small Schools Coalition is a global organization that celebrates the power and potential of small learning communities. Our member schools (link) serve very diverse populations and demographics, but we are all united in our shared belief that smaller equals greater in education. If you would like to learn more about how proper planning can take the stress out of applying to private school, or to inquire about free membership in the Small Schools Coalition, we welcome you to contact us.

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