The Right Fit
Some people regard private schools as the elixir for America’s ailing educational system. They assume that if everyone could afford to go private—either with their own money or via school vouchers—they’d automatically shun the public route. Parents who have navigated this dilemma know it’s not that simple. Among the factors they typically consider:
DISTANCE Some private school students come from as far as 90 minutes away each day, and a 30-minute commute isn’t uncommon. This can create issues beyond the daily traffic hassle. “If your school is far away, your kids might become friends with kids whose families we don’t even know,” says Elizabeth Melton*, whose older child recently switched from a well-known private school after eighth grade to the public East High School.
DIVERSITY The higher-income status of most private school families can also mean more homogeneous student populations, which might be appealing to some, not so much to others. It also can be difficult to find private schools that aren’t built around some kind of religion. “We wanted a combined middle and high school that’s nondenominational, and there aren’t a lot of private schools like that,” says Karen Baum, whose older son will attend the independent Kent Denver for middle school after graduating from a “fabulous” public elementary school in Littleton.
ASSETS AND AMENITIES One quality all great schools share is personalized attention to their students, usually through smaller classes, dedicated counselors, and high parental involvement. “We wanted our son to be challenged, and we were worried that he wouldn’t get that in a public middle school, primarily because of the larger class sizes,” Baum says. It’s all about trade-offs; for example, a public school may offer more diversity, while a private one might require community service to earn a degree. The point is, children have a wide variety of learning styles, personalities, and interests, which is why the most important aspect of school choice might just be…
FIT Melton’s son, who’s “smart but shy,” felt completely at home at his private middle school thanks to its cozy, nurturing environment. But when the family’s younger daughter attended, she wasn’t as comfortable. “She’s very confident and outgoing, and we thought the school could rein that in, in a positive way,” Melton says. “It turned out to be not at all what resonated with her,” and she “begged” her parents to let her attend the much larger public middle school in their neighborhood. She thrived in eighth grade and is looking forward to the busier high school experience as she enters ninth. “We were nervous that she wouldn’t get the attention she needed, or she’d hang out with the wrong crowd,” Melton says. “But it turned out to be perfect for her.”