Here are some considerations to ponder whilst choosing schools and when your child is actually away at school.
DO: Visit schools.
Visiting schools takes a lot of time and effort. It is, however, one of the most important parts of the school selection process. Use the search tools on this site to develop a preliminary list of schools that interest you and your child. If you are located overseas, be sure to research flights to major ports of entry such as Seattle and Los Angeles on the west coast and Boston, New York, Atlanta, and Miami on the east coast and Denver and Chicago in the western and mid-western parts of the country. If you ever have to make an emergency trip to your child's school, you will understand why this step is so important.
Once you have developed your preliminary list, refine it to a shortlist of 3-5 schools. Then visit these schools to determine if they are indeed a good fit for your child's needs and your requirements.
While this video outlines college visits, the concepts are the same and more than applicable to visiting boarding schools.
Many schools have open houses. These offer you a wonderful opportunity to visit the school, see classrooms, listen to the school's 'story,' and meet admissions staff. How do you figure out which schools have open houses in your area? You can look at the school's website. And, you can do a search on this site. Here's how:
Go to find private schools. Choose your state and click on the link for open houses in that state. The number of open houses will vary according to the time of year and the type of school. If the school in which you are interested is not on the list produced by our search engine, then go to the school's website and see when it is having an open house.
An open house generally attracts a large group of parents. So, set your expectations realistically. You will most likely not have time for in-depth discussions with admissions staffers. Go to an open house with one purpose: to get an impression of the school. If you like what you see, then schedule a formal meeting with the admissions staff. At that time you can ask the questions you need to ask and expect to receive the attention and time you deserve as a potential parent.
Before you go to an open house, take time to review the school's website. That online presence will tell you a lot about the school, its history, philosophy, and programs. Compare that very positive image with whatever you have heard about the school from friends, family, and community leaders. Then attend the open house as an informed potential parent.
Lists of open houses can be found on most state and regional private school association websites.
DON'T: Ignore your child's reactions.
The older your child is, the more you have to involve her in the whole process. The only obvious exception would be if you are dealing with other issues such as a learning difficulty or a behavioral syndrome. In those cases your parental instincts as to what's best for your child trump everything else.
This video shows how to evaluate an academic curriculum.
It is very important for you to discuss the reasons why you want your daughter to go off to boarding school. Listen carefully to her input. Factor her requirements into the selection process. If she insists on visiting a school which you don't think is suitable, be patient with her. Visit it anyway. She may have discovered something about the school which you have overlooked or perhaps have placed less importance on. It may well be that she is right.
DO: Budget for the unexpected.
Because boarding schools are usually located some distance from your place of residence, always build some flexibility into your budget for your child's schooling as well as extra expenses. In addition to the usual lessons, boarding for her horse and so on, there will be opportunities for side trips and events which she simply cannot miss. If she has to make a sudden trip home for an emergency situation such as an illness or death in the family, she will need to act quickly. Make sure her debit card and credit card have plenty of room to handle that sort of expense. Add at least another 10% to the school's monthly bill for contingencies.
DON'T: Be a helicopter parent.
Being concerned about your child is perfectly normal. Preventing her from accepting responsibility for her own actions is not. Hovering over a child or over-parenting is something some 21st-century parents seem to do. Hence the term 'helicopter' parent. Use her boarding school years as a time for her to use her wings and make short flights from the nest. The confidence which she builds from being allowed to take some acceptable risks will pay off handsomely in later life.
This video from CBS News looks at the issue of helicopter parents.
On the other hand, your child's education has to be a partnership. It's you the parent, your child, and the school in this together. For the long term too. That means you need to monitor your child's progress from afar. Fortunately, email and cell phones make this easy to do. Most boarding schools will have a parents' portal which you can use to check on academic progress. It's not a matter of snooping. Be sure your child understands that.
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