Important questions to ask before deciding if a school may be the right fit for your child
By Becky Grappo
When considering boarding school for their child, many parents are thinking about the issues of academic quality and environments, but good boarding schools should also provide safe, nurturing, personalized learning communities with strong residential support systems in place. I’ve visited more than 200 boarding school campuses in order to see first hand the culture and setting of a various educational institutions. My objective is to understand how schools are alike and different so that it is ultimately a good fit for the student.
When advising parents who are considering boarding school for a student, I encourage parents to first focus on the needs and aspirations of the individual student, and then go looking for a school to match the student – because there is a huge range of options out there and each student is unique. Consider the following:
Is the culture and value-set of the school compatible with yours? In a lot of ways a boarding school becomes a second home to your child. It’s important that the school’s values align with your own. You will find school mission statements online and in the school’s recruiting materials. Speaking to school leadership and alumni and their families is another way to get a sense of the values and culture of the school.
Will your child fit in with the other students at the school? What image do students on campus project? Do they look happy and relaxed? Are they friendly? Stressed? If you have the chance to speak directly with current students, ask about how the students feel about their instructors, professors, projects, availability of classes, class size, advising, where to go for help, college guidance, presence of international students on campus, the food, activities, weekends, what kind of student would be happiest there, who would not be happy there, what they like best, what they would change, and so on.
Are there sufficient numbers of boarders to run a top-flight boarding program? Ask how many students live on campus as boarders compared to the number of day students. If there are boarders, are they five-day boarders who go home on weekends, or full-term boarders who only go home for term breaks?
What kinds of extra-curricular activities are offered that encourage the development of your child’s interests? What kind of support is available for students with tutoring, writing and math centers, and more formalized support for kids with learning differences? Again, in the absence of a personal visit, explore the relevant college websites and learn as much as you can.
How does the location of the school address your needs? Is there access to a major airport? Is it rural or urban? Do the surrounding neighborhoods have things of interest for the student? Campus safety is also extremely important, learn what kind of neighborhood it is in and what the student will pass through to get to and from campus. One excellent website devoted to American college/university campus safety is http://ope.ed.gov/security/.
If you live abroad, is there overseas support staff? How strong is the institution’s commitment to helping international students adjust? What countries are the international students coming from? How are they recruited? This may be perhaps the hardest quality to quantify. Try searching the international student pages. Search the terms “Third Culture Kid” or “Global Nomad” by using the search box on the school’s website. Ask for statistics from the school/college, and if you visit, take note of what level of diversity (or lack thereof) you see on the actual campus itself.
No matter how resilient and independent your child, a supportive and engaging community is going to be critical for your child to make good friends and do well in school. Without new friends and activities to engage them, some children may become lonely and isolated, which can lead to emotional and behavioral issues like depression, acting out, withdrawing, regression, anger and even physical ailments.
Take the time to understand the school’s culture and listen to how your child feels. With your support, your child will identify the right fit.