Applying for private schools
BY WENDY ALTSCHULER For Sun-Times Media
Baker Demonstration School
Applying to a private school doesn’t have to be difficult. Experts and education professionals have weighed in and offered up their tips and sage advice on a silver platter, with the hopes of helping parents sail through the ins and outs of the application process.
Visit, observe, ask questions
Lake Forest Country Day School (LFCDS) director of admission and financial aid, Judith Foley Arnstein, said, “At many schools, the admission process is as much about a ‘family fit’ as it is about a ‘student fit.’ Families considering an independent school education should start by evaluating their own values regarding education.”
Bob Whelan, head of school at LFCDS, said that parents should seek out environments that closely match their expectations while keeping in mind that children are the best barometers of school culture. Parents should observe a classroom to gauge the match.
“Look for teaching that feels like more of a calling than a job,” Whelan said. “Teaching is not about pouring information into a mind but about developing a mindset that encourages one to own, understand and utilize knowledge.”
He continued to say: “Children flourish in an atmosphere of enlightened learning and they thrive in an environment where they are known and understood: where every teacher knows their learning styles and each student is considered a unique individual.”
Attend an open house
Arnstein said that parents should find out if prospective schools are focused on a traditional educational experience or if they are more interested in a school that focuses on innovation and cutting edge instruction. Arnstein and Whelan both suggested that parents learn about the specific curriculum that is being taught-world languages, fine arts, music, sports, etc.
“In order to answer some of these questions, attend open houses and assess whether you feel comfortable at the school,” Arnstein said. “Look inside the classrooms. Speak with teachers.”
Ann Jordahl, executive director at Montessori School of Lake Forest (MSLF) said, “It’s our job to be as transparent as possible. We want families to choose Montessori education and MSLF because they understand our philosophy and value it.”
In addition, parents should compare programs, speak with current parents to share notes and learn as much as possible about the school’s ethos.
The parent community is stalwart at MSLF.
“It is supported by ongoing communication with teachers and staff, a parent information series, volunteer service and social opportunities,” said Sarah Cassidy, admission director at Montessori School of Lake Forest.
Dot the Is and cross the Ts
If you find a school that does fit what you’re looking for, assiduously follow the steps that are specific to the school and required for admission.
“If a school requires records and recommendations from an existing school, follow-up with the school to ensure that the forms have been completed and forwarded to the school your child is applying to,” said Arnstein. “Be honest about your child with the admission team. Every admission officer wants your child to be successful – if you withhold information about your child, chances are she won’t be as successful as she could be and you may not find the best fit for her.”
What if your child is not admitted?
Try not to take the news personally, advises Hillary Holder, director of admissions at Baker Demonstration School.
“Ideally an admissions director is looking to build well-balanced classrooms,” she said. “Every child has something special to offer; the challenge of the admissions director is to think bigger than any one child. Sometimes an admissions decision simply boils down to finding the best fit for an already existing cohort of students.”
Montessori schools are known for serving a diverse population and for fostering characteristics of responsibility and a strong sense of respect for oneself, others and the environment.
“The intent of our admission process is not to decide if students are good enough for us. It’s quite the opposite; it’s to decide if we can serve a child and his or her family,” Jordahl said.
Who should be a part of the process?
Conduct as much research as possible before visiting the school and only involve young children once you’ve narrowed your search.
“There’s no reason a three or four year old should experience school fatigue or anxiety,” Holder said. “On the other hand, an older more mature applicant can and should be part of the exploration process. He has a voice, and it should be honored.”
Most importantly, relax
The more relaxed you are, according to Arnstein, the more relaxed your child will be and the greater the probability that you will find just the right fit.