When raising children, perhaps no bigger decision will weigh on parents as education. The process can be overwhelming as parents consider the pros and cons of public vs. private schools. Among the most important factors are tuition rates and academic success, but much more plays into the experience of a private school environment. In an effort to shed light on some of these details, we spoke with those most familiar with these institutions, including leadership from some of our area’s leading private schools to ask them key questions about how students are challenged academically, engaged socially and developed into well-rounded individuals.
Finding the Right Fit
Despite New Jersey having some of the best public schools in the country, families have their own reasons to consider an independent school.
“Perhaps they are looking for smaller classes with more personal attention for their child. They seek to have their child challenged, engaged and happy, with dedicated teachers who care deeply about the success of each child. Others want the individual attention, amenities and contacts that the private schools can provide. Some may be looking for a teaching model for a child with a different learning style. Others want values and/or faith-based education,” says Carole Everett, executive director of New Jersey Association of Independent Schools (NJAIS), a nonprofit association whose mission is to foster the educational, ethical and professional excellence of its member schools.
While researching local schools, parents should think about their own preferences for the environment and structure in place, whether that’s dress code, costs and financial aid, athletics, transportation or discipline. A visit to the schools will allow families to witness the interactions among adults and children, says Everett. “You may want to ask questions about the school culture, curriculum, students, faculty, administration, guidance and the role of parents,” she says.
Some questions she suggests asking include: What do the classrooms look like; are they well equipped? What is the quality of the facility maintenance? What kind of academic support is provided for a child who encounters a difficulty? What is the level of competition/non-competition at the school? What is the role of the visual and performing arts at the school? Where do students typically go after attending this school?
“The bottom line: Trust your gut,” Everett says. “Families who place a high value on education should seriously consider an independent school. There are few things in life that we can give our children that will last forever. An education that creates a lifelong learner is certainly one of them. Truly fine independent school options exist in New Jersey. And, when you decide to choose, you will be stepping up to a key parental responsibility: to guide, support and encourage your child toward the very best that his or her life may offer.”
Q&A with local private school leaders
Do you find parents of private school students become a close-knit community, and how is that partnership beneficial for both parties?
While private school families represent many socioeconomic backgrounds, they share a common commitment to their child’s education, making it a top priority. They invest, not only financially, but personally by contributing their time and talent to the life of their child’s school. They chair committees, volunteer to help whenever needed, share their expertise and actively participate in school events and activities. This type of involvement naturally lends itself to a closer-knit community and a stronger, more vibrant school. At the same time, parents make new friends, open doors to new opportunities, and serve as valuable role models to their children. — Mary Jane Kinkade, director of marketing, admissions and development, Our Lady of Mercy Academy
In what ways can a private education help a student with not only academics, but also personal growth and development?
At Moorestown Friends School, we believe that a child’s moral, ethical, and spiritual growth are as important as academics. We live and practice this belief with every choice we make. It influences what we teach, how we teach, the training and experience of our teachers and coaches and staff, how we build and nurture community, what we emphasize and expect in the relationships we have with one another, what extracurricular opportunities we offer, what we value and hold up from the moment a child walks into a preschool class to the moment they are walking out as graduates, ready to transform the world. — Shu Shu Costa, director of admissions and financial aid, Moorestown Friends School
In your opinion, what is the biggest misconception about private school education?
My own experience, living in a very good public school district, is that there’s a sense that families who choose private school are rejecting the many good things that public schools have to offer. As a parent who chose private Catholic education, nothing could be further from the truth. The parents who choose Paul VI by and large are seeking the additional aspect of faith in education; their public schools are not permitted to provide that, and so they come to us. Public school has a big job to do; in my role at Paul VI, I’m aware that it’s as much a privilege to provide a Catholic education as it is to choose a Catholic education. — Kathleen Stewart, director of admissions, Paul VI High School
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Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 16, Issue 7 (October 2019).
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