As another school year begins and children head off to class or care, parents heave a sigh of relief — and almost immediately have to start thinking about where their charges will be attending school in the next year. Canada’s private and independent schools have already started hosting open houses and meetings with parents to discuss enrolment in the 2018–2019 school year.
When to start
The first question that might worry parents who see private education in their children’s future is which is the best year to make the move.
Should you start your child in the private system from the very beginning — in the first elementary school years? Is it a good strategy to make the transition for the senior public or junior high school grades? How about for the senior high-school years as university preparation?
Private school educators seem to agree that students can benefit from attending their schools for any period of time and at any level of education.
“A year of development in a system that values excellence and competition, engages current trends and pedagogy, and really pushes a student to maximize their achievements, I’d have to say any year in that respect — if that student was willing — would be a bonus for their own academic growth,” says Matt Pagano, department head, intermediate division, St. Michael’s College School.
“I find the Grade 7 and 8 years very formative. You can learn some basic skills at 12 and 13 that make high school a little easier. Those skills may be specific to some subjects. They may also be learning styles, like the best way in which a student learns. If he figures that out at 12 and 13, I think there’s been a positive growth.”
However, parents should be aware of the disruption to the child’s life that may be caused by a sudden change from one system to another and take into account whether their children can handle it.
The overwhelming majority of students adjust quickly — but the parents know their children best. For some, a move from one academic and social environment to another for just a year or two can be stressful. Students benefit most when they have time to become comfortable in the new setting with different learning approaches.
“It’s difficult to make a change for one year at any level. I think for us, we’d look at it more in the early years,” says Elena Holeton, director of admissions, St. Clement’s School. “Grade 12 is a tough year to make a change. We don’t, as a school system, admit a lot of new students in Grade 12 because it’s a lot of consolidation for graduation and preparation for post-secondary.”
Where to start
With so many private and independent schools to choose from in the Toronto area, parents sometimes think the best strategy is to apply to as many as they can — and then later try to sort out which of those would best suit the child.
Going though the application procedures for a large number of institutions however can be stressful for both parents and kids. And it can be expensive as most schools levy application fees.
Educational consultant Judy Winberg of Options Education says she understands parents thinking they shouldn’t put all their eggs in one basket. “It’s a great, great disappointment if students have only applied to one school and then they don’t get in.”
But rather than go to the other extreme of applying everywhere, she recommends starting the process only at those institutions that match the parents’ and children’s needs.
Check out prospective schools in person to determine whether you could envision your child in them. (See the Open House schedule in this publication.) During these visits, talking to some of the school’s current students is particularly helpful. At many private schools, tours of the school are led by students, because this system allows parents to understand the school through the student’s perspective and to receive balanced answers to their questions.
When you’re visiting a school, trying to visualize your child there next year, don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions of school staff.
For example, it can be good for parents to ask what happens when things don’t go right for the child at the school. The learning journey isn’t always a smooth path, so find out about the challenges that exist. Ask about bullying. Ask what happens when academic challenges arise.
Too often the focus is on academics or extracurriculars, and on the pros of a private school. Families can become focused on just one aspect of learning. But it’s also important that kids develop a toolkit to prepare themselves for the world today — the kit including critical thinking, creativity and the ability to collaborate and work with other people. Ask how the school equips them with those tools.
In the end, parents should understand their child’s weaknesses and strengths and play to that advantage.
What is it that makes them shine? What are their sparks? You’re trying to find out how the school is going to support and inspire your child in terms of their strengths, and if there are particular areas of need, what does that look like in the classroom?