In search of the per­fect fit

Five easy steps that will walk you through the process and help you per­son­al­ize it, too

The Kids Post - - Education Planning - by Mira Saraf

Choos­ing the right pri­vate school can seem a daunt­ing task — so much so, that the ee­nie, mee­nie, miney, moe ap­proach be­gins to look bet­ter and bet­ter to over­whelmed par­ents with a bad case of the pri­vate-school blues. For­tu­nately for those floun­der­ing few, we’ve com­prised a spe­cial step-by-step guide that will walk you through the 123s and ABCs of choos­ing a pri­vate school that’s just the right fit for your child.

Step one: dis­cuss

As the old say­ing goes, “Ev­ery child is unique” — and while it may be a bit of a cliché, there is truth at the root of it. Ev­ery child has his or her own unique learn­ing pat­terns and, as such, will have dif­fer­ent needs both in and out­side the class­room. For those who have more than one child, re­mem­ber: what works for one does not nec­es­sar­ily work for the other.

Par­ents should take the time to as­sess their child’s weak­nesses and strengths, likes and dis­likes. Talk to their teach­ers (if they have any) and ob­serve your chil­dren when they’re with friends.

“The big-pic­ture ques­tion par­ents should be ask­ing is ‘Does the school of­fer what we (as a fam­ily) want and what we need?’ ” says Chan­tal Kenny, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of ad­mis­sions at Up­per Canada Col­lege.

Of­ten­times, kids aren’t given enough credit. Anne-Marie Kee, the ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of Cana­dian Ac­cred­ited In­de­pen­dent Schools (CAIS), in­sists that to­day’s tech-savvy and in­quis­i­tive youth are play­ing a more in­te­gral role in the de­ci­sion process.

“Typ­i­cally, with stu­dents who are ap­ply­ing to Grade 5 and be­low, par­ents make the de­ci­sion. But for Grade 6 and up, the stu­dent should be ac­tively in­volved in the process,” says Kenny.

“Kids are savvy shop­pers,” says Kee. “My niece just chose Trin­ity Col­lege School. She watched ev­ery sin­gle video [and looked at] ev­ery pub­licly avail­able pic­ture.” To­day’s kids are en­gaged and in­volved — as they should be: it’s their future.

Step two: re­search

A school en­vi­ron­ment can have last­ing ef­fects on a child’s devel­op­ment, both so­cially and aca­dem­i­cally, so you want to make an in­formed de­ci­sion when pe­rus­ing the mar­ket. Re­search is the name of game — start early, ask around, go on­line — do the work.

Ac­cord­ing to Kenny, the amount of time spent on re­search varies from home to home, but it can be a lengthy and some­what time­con­sum­ing en­deav­our.

“Par­ents should plan a cou­ple of months in ad­vance, prior to Septem­ber. The get­ting- to-know-you part of the process typ­i­cally starts in Oc­to­ber and runs un­til the end of Jan­uary,” says Kenny. “And then of­fers tend to go out around the mid­dle of Fe­bru­ary.” So, it’s best to start early.

For­tu­nately, in this day and age, there is a vast amount of in­for­ma­tion wait­ing within just a few clicks of your favourite search en­gine. A school web­site is an in­for­ma­tive and in­ter­ac­tive re­source — don’t hes­i­tate to check each one out thor­oughly.

Step three: in­ves­ti­gate

With so many dif­fer­ent ed­u­ca­tional op­tions out there, it can be rather dif­fi­cult nar­row­ing down the field. What are the pros and cons of send­ing your child to a board­ing school? What does the Waldorf sys­tem have to of­fer? For­tu­nately for you, we’ve asked the very same ques­tions.

Board­ing schools of­fer stu­dents the op­por­tu­nity to have a 24-hour ed­u­ca­tional ex­pe­ri­ence and en­joy a rich ex­tracur­ric­u­lar life with­out any lo­gis­ti­cal com­mit­ment from you, which is ideal for par­ents with hec­tic work sched­ules. Of course, the right day school will be more eco­nom­i­cal and al­low you more di­rect con­trol over your child’s devel­op­ment.

The Montes­sori sys­tem al­lows chil­dren to have an ac­tive role in de­ter­min­ing what and how they learn. The teacher fa­cil­i­tates but doesn’t im­pose, and when the child is ready for some­thing new, the teacher guides the child. Per­for­mance eval­u­a­tions are not con­sid­ered im­por­tant.

In the Waldorf sys­tem, stu­dents work on pro­jects that en­gage mind and body to­gether, to fa­cil­i­tate learn­ing and build self­con­fi­dence, rather than sit­ting at their desks and lis­ten­ing to lec­ture-style lessons.

The age-old ques­tion of sin­gle-sex vs. coed is an­other im­por­tant de­ci­sion you will need to make. The ar­gu­ment for sin­gle-sex ed­u­ca­tion is that girls and boys learn dif­fer­ently, so schools have the op­por­tu­nity to tai­lor their teach­ing to one gen­der. How­ever, sup­port­ers of coed ed­u­ca­tion point out that the out­side world is coed, so from a so­cial and ad­just­ment per­spec­tive coed may be bet­ter.

Step four: as­sess

Par­ents should also pay spe­cial at­ten­tion to how ro­bust the cur­ricu­lum is at each school. Does the school of­fer In­ter­na­tional Bac­calau­re­ate and Ad­vanced Place­ment pro­grams (i.e., col­lege-level cur­ric­ula to bet­ter pre­pare your child for univer­sity)? Are they up to date on all the lat­est tech-savvy teach­ing meth­ods? Do they have art, mu­sic, drama and sports pro­grams? Do they pro­vide am­ple op­por­tu­nity for ser­vice pro­jects and travel? Kee sug­gests that you look closely at each school and re­ally ask your­self, “Where is my money go­ing?”

“Needs-based or merit-based fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance and schol­ar­ships are of­fered at nu­mer­ous in­de­pen­dent schools,” says Kenny. “At UCC, we rec­og­nize that less than two per cent of Cana­dian families can af­ford the full cost of at­tend­ing, so we want to en­sure that the col­lege re­mains af­ford­able and ac­ces­si­ble. In our case, UCC has com­mit­ted over $4 mil­lion in fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance for the 2015–2016 school year.”

Step five: visit

Once you’ve nar­rowed it down to only a few schools, you and your child must visit them. This is the most im­por­tant step of the process and of­ten the thing that clinches the deal. Test out the en­vi­ron­ment: talk with teach­ers, par­ents and prin­ci­pals and find out if their at­ti­tudes and goals suit your own.

When Anne-Marie Kee and her hus­band de­cided to move their chil­dren from public to pri­vate school, they went on a few tours. One of the schools pro­vided a sep­a­rate stu­dent-guided tour for her son and daugh­ter. While on the tour, a ran­dom stu­dent ap­proached one of them and en­cour­aged him to at­tend.

“It was a very nat­u­ral in­vi­ta­tion to come to the school,” says Kee. “I think when you can give kids the op­por­tu­nity to have those in­ter­ac­tions, which are un­scripted, then that gives them a real sense of the school.” As a re­sult, that is the school her son now at­tends.

Many schools even al­low the child to spend a day at the school to get a feel for it. This is a great thing to take ad­van­tage of and lets you gauge your child’s own nat­u­ral re­ac­tion to the school. Re­mem­ber: their opin­ion is im­por­tant!

Make sure your checklist in­cludes cur­ricu­lum, sports fa­cil­i­ties, teacher-stu­dent ra­tio and a phys­i­cal school visit dur­ing a reg­u­lar day

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