Monday, March 4, 2024

How to choose the right private school school for your child

Experts offer tips on what to consider

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Between bullying, uncomfortably high teacher-child ratios and an over-reliance on technology in the classroom, Rahim and Shainoor Daredia had had enough.

While they both attended public schools growing up, it became clear they needed to seek other options when it came to educating their four young children.

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After attending an open house, talking to other parents and hearing from family members whose children attended Calgary Waldorf School, the Daredias took the plunge and haven’t looked back.

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While the school ticked off all their boxes for what they were looking for in a learning environ-ment, it was Waldorf’s focus on community that sealed the deal for them.

“They teach kids how to respect the earth and what we’ve been granted and (to) simply be good humans,” says Rahim. “Each class moves together with their teacher from first grade to ninth, so you’re not starting from scratch every September with a new teacher getting to know your child.

“Connections are incredibly strong and everyone rallies together to support the child in times of stress. Our decision wasn’t about elitism — this was a system offering us things we couldn’t find anywhere else, so we felt it was worth the investment.”

The Daredias fit the profile of most Alberta families who seek out independent schools. A 2020 paper by independent think-tank Cardus found 85 per cent of parents who have children attending non-religious independent schools went themselves to government-funded public schools when they were children. As well, 88 per cent of parents had to make financial sacrifices to afford the extra expense for their children to attend an independent school.

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“The notions of elitism and stone buildings are applicable to less than five per cent of inde-pendent schools in Alberta,” says Cardus senior fellow Deani Van Pelt, an educational re-searcher in Burlington, Ont. “Many schools have been established to serve a special need and are attracting hundreds or thousands of families. It’s not about one-size-fits-all anymore and both parents and providers are realizing this.”

Ultimately, parents are looking for a supportive, nurturing, safe environment that instils confi-dence and character in their child, she says.

“Since COVID-19, enrolments are up (at independent schools), waitlists are up and demand and attendance have increased. We redefined the workplace and the same thing has happened for schools, too.”

So how does one identify the right school for their child? It should be a seamless fit with your child’s interests, abilities and personality, says Claude Oppenheim, founder of Oppenheim Edu-cation Consultants in Calgary. Good schools also genuinely respect parents as partners in educating their children.

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Private Schools Claude Oppenheim
Claude Oppenheim, founder of Oppenheim Education Consultants in Calgary, says a private school should match a child’s interests, abilities and personality. WIL ANDRUSCHAK

“This doesn’t mean the school should do whatever the parent wants, but their views should be very carefully considered as they know their children best,” says Oppenheim, who frequently advises parents on the school selection process.

Other things to consider: assessment and reporting practices should be transparent and frank; co-curricular offerings should be rich and varied; and bullying should be clearly defined and dealt with constructively and effectively.

Parents should find out as much as possible about the school’s missions, values and achieve-ments, and how it will help their children overcome difficulties in the future. Speaking with other parents of students at the school can help as well.

Oppenheim also suggests parents attend open houses to get a sense of the school community and other prospective parents, while also booking private tours to discuss matters directly per-tinent to their children. Make sure to schedule the private visit when the school is in session, he points out.

“One will learn much about the atmosphere of a school and the ways the students interact with peers and teachers.”

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The older the child, the more involved they should be in the decision on where they will attend. If there’s an interview process, the child should know as much as possible about the school and be ready to explain why they want to go there.

“It’s helpful to give your child practice in answering such questions honestly and in sufficient detail to allow the interviewer to feel they are getting to know them,” says Oppenheim.

“But don’t over-prepare, either. Answers should not appear canned or rehearsed. Also, spend-ing too much time preparing may make your child too anxious about the interview. They should go into the interview not feeling that it would be a catastrophe if they are not accepted.”

It’s also important for parents to look at costs and consider how the additional (often sizable) expense fits into the family budget. It may not be worth it if it creates too much financial pres-sure or both parents are not equally convinced of its value, says Oppenheim.

“Not only will it cause tension between the parents, but it will place unhealthy pressure on the child who may feel guilt and too much pressure to excel.

“Parents often want their children to have a school experience similar to their own — or very different if they were unhappy. But it’s important to remember, a child or teenager is not a clone of their parent.”

This story was written for Private Schools, a special feature created by Content Works, Postmedia’s commercial content division.

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