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Decisions, Decisions

Picking a School for Your Child

September 2012

When you find out you're expecting, you're hit with a number of decisions: hospital or home birth? Epidural or natural labor? OB or midwife?

The decisions keep coming after Baby's born: Breastfeeding or formula? Cloth diapers or disposable? Staying at home or day care?

Unfortunately, as your child grows, the decisions become arguably more difficult; and, around their forth or fifth birthday, you'll be making a decision about something with the potential to shape their whole life: schooling.

With seemingly endless public, private, and religious options from which to choose, choosing a school can seem like a very daunting task! If you've been leaning toward private schools, this article should help answer some of the common questions surrounding this decision.

Public Options

Before looking into private schooling, it's important to know a few, basic details about public Education. Public schools are the most popular school choice -- they exist in every district and are paid for by local taxes.

In addition, public schools offer a wide variety of educational methods, an array of after-school/technical programs, and a great diversity of students. For example, Indianapolis' Broad Ripple Magnet High School specializes in the arts, while Arsenal Technical High School provides career-based education for students.

Finally, due to the popularity of public schools, there is an inherent diversity to this educational system. Students with all different backgrounds, strengths, and interests attend public schools – diversity which can enhance kids' educational experience.

Independent Schools

However, for parents wanting to send their kids to private schools, there are perhaps even more options than with public: independent, religious, international/multilingual, Montessori, and Technical – just to name a few. For the sake of simplicity, we'll take a broad look at some independent and religious options.

Independent schools generally specialize in some sort of focus (i.e., the arts or music) or educational approach (such as Montessori, international, or college preparatory). These schools operate independent of larger (state) guidelines, and have more direct control over decision-making.

As a result, private schools are also able to cater to each student's specific needs. According to Edy Stoughton, Head of the Midwest Academy of Indiana, "Private schools have the ability to serve students with certain specific learning and social issues, and therefore they can focus on that area and do it well." Stoughton says that, for this reason, many parents turn to private schools if their child's needs are not being met at public schools.

Similarly, one of the most talked-about perks of private schools is class size. These schools generally sport low student-to-teacher ratios, and therefore offer more personalized, focused education for your child. Explains Shants Hart, Director of Park Tudor Middle School, "Class size is one of the most important advantages to attending a private school. The individual attention and personal relationships that students can build with teachers and one another is priceless," she says.

Low student-to-teacher ratios means that students at private schools get more individualized attention, which can result in higher standardized test scores. Additionally, students get the support they need to explore their passions and interests. As a result, Hart says that students at Park Tudor "have good character, love learning, and are active participants in a vibrant and flourishing community."

With the extra support and individualized attention that is available at private schools, expectations of the students are typically higher than at a public school. According to Toni Kanzler, Director of Admissions at Traders Point Christian Academy, "Students are motivated to achieve at this higher level because they feel valued and are led toward a clear vision of their future."

However, all of these perks come at a cost – which, compared to public schools, can seem a bit steep. In fact, tuition is the number one deterrent for parents wanting to send their kids to private schools, explains Kate Lock, Admissions Director at the International School of Indiana. However, Lock says that cost should not be an obstacle, adding that many private schools offer financial assistance, as well as substantial grants and scholarships.

The Religious Route

For parents wanting to add a spiritual element to their child's education, there are private schools that specialize in virtually every branch of religion. As with other types of independent schools, religious schools generally offer more personalized attention and lower class sizes.

In addition to a rigorous education, Christie Hampton, Director of Admissions at Indianapolis' Lutheran High School, says that religious schools foster personal, spiritual growth. "Parents choose [religious schooling] for the Christian foundation for their faith life," she explains. "They appreciate an educational atmosphere where faculty and students have such a strong personal faith."

However, the decisions don't stop once you've decided to send Junior to a religious school: do you want to send him to a co-ed or single-sex school? There are benefits to both: proponents of single-sex schools maintain that these schools lack many of the distractions of co-ed schools. Conversely, a co-ed environment is arguably more diverse and representative of "real life." In the end, it comes down to the family's personality and the way a school "fits" the child, says Hampton.

Do Your Homework

With so many options, picking a school for your child may seem like an impossible task! However, as long as you do your homework, you'll be in good shape to make the best decision for your family: go to open houses, set up meetings, and ask lots of questions. In the end, though, the best school is the one that suits your child's personality and needs.

Tags: Education, In This Issue

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