Your child has been accepted at more than one of the private schools that you applied to. Fantastic news! However, with schools closing due to COVID-19, there are fewer opportunities to get that “final look, “ get your questions answered, or even have your child revisit the school to make that all important school choice. Not only is it difficult to narrow down your options to The One. How will you choose a school when it’s literally closed?
To help you along, here are some criteria to consider, plus some advice about what to do if your child has been wait-listed.
How to Approach Your Decision-Making Process
Trust the fact that you’ve already invested a lot of time learning about the schools. Luckily, you’ve toured a few schools, had many discussions, and spent a few late nights “Googling.” With all of the time you’ve spent learning about the school, however, the details can start to blur together. To make the right school choice, it’s helpful to think back about the schools with a fresh eye.
Try making a list of criteria; then, decide which matters most to you and rank each school based on how well they meet your expectations. The list will bring you clarity. And, if you jotted down notes from your tours, add that info to this list. Sometimes, these are the intangibles that really matter! And of course, the school’s websites and admissions offices are key to getting your questions answered.
Schools are in the courting mode. Even though campuses are closed, admissions directors are happy to answer your questions or connect you with current parents or teachers who can tell you more. All of the following considerations can be answered by scouring a website or talking with the admissions team.
Location—How important is it to you that the school is close to home or work for convenient pick-up and drop-off? Who will be doing most of the driving? Consider unusual circumstances like doctor visits or early closings due to weather: is the location a good fit for your family? Many schools have a bus service, so knowing the routes and fees associated will go a long way in helping you envision all of the options. Some schools help coordinate carpooling and provide online forums for searching for families who live near you and may want to help share the drop/off pick-up responsibilities. If your child is older, you might consider public transportation if it is convenient to the school.
Tuition and Other Costs—You’ve likely already considered the reality of private school tuition. Consider other possible expenses. Some schools have separate program or activity fees while other schools take an all-inclusive approach to tuition. Will you need after school care for your child? If so, how much does it cost at the schools you are considering? What about bus service? Is adequate tuition assistance available? What about tuition insurance? Is it available in case you need to move unexpectedly or make a change mid-year?
Private School Differentiators
School Size and Age Range—Consider the pros and cons of different school configurations. Getting into a K-12 school can be a big relief—you’ve navigated the admissions process once, and you don’t have to do it again. On the other hand, it is hard to know the best middle or high school for a child in Kindergarten—children change so much! That K-12 school that initially seemed perfect, may not be the best school for your child eight years later, so you might end up needing to make a switch anyway. PK-8 schools and 6-12 schools have their own advantages. Consider all your options.
Curriculum—One of the ways to discern the difference between independent schools—which can seem similar at first blush—is to look at their curricula. You’ve already listened to school staff explain their curriculum so use that information to gain insight. Also, schools can embrace a single approach or a combination of approaches, depending on the grade level and student needs. Make sure it is clear to you how the program evolves as your child advances through the grades.
Academic Reputation—Talk to other parents who send their children to independent schools. They likely have an understanding of the reputations of various independent schools in your area. You can also check out online reviews.
Quality of Attention to Children—Smaller class size usually means a higher level of attention given to individual students. Also important to consider is how adults in the school speak to the children. Do they have a school-wide approach that fosters open and constructive communication? Or, is the approach more dependent on individual teachers? Is the school able to tell you about their strategy for communicating with students and families?
After Care and Extracurricular Activities—This is another place where you can see differences in the offerings between independent schools. It’s convenient if your child’s after school activities happen at the school, but no school will offer it all. Don’t forget to consider that your sporty spice girl may become more interested in music than soccer in a couple of years or that your child may need some tutoring or enrichment that you can’t anticipate now.
School Community—A big factor in deciding which school to choose is the school community. Did you feel comfortable talking to teachers and administrators on your school tour? Did you meet any students who you thought would be good role models for your child? What does it feel like when you drive or walk up to the school? Does it feel like a place where you want to spend a lot of time? And, since your child will be spending far more time there than you, is this the place that you want to be their home away from home? Will your child thrive here?
Diversity—How do you define diversity and how well do your values align with the school’s? How diverse is the school’s student population and staff? Consider the curriculum, too, and how diversity is reflected there.
Allow yourself to fall in love with the school that has accepted your child. In many cases, waitlists don’t move. Ask the admissions office to put you in touch with current parents who are enthusiastic about the school will help you appreciate the best the school has to offer.
Pay attention to the enrollment deadlines of the schools where your child has been accepted. You will need to put down a deposit before the deadline to secure your space. Be prepared to lose the deposit if your child does get off another’s school’s waitlist.
If your child has been waitlisted at your top choice, it doesn’t hurt to let the school know. Be clear about your interest, but don’t call every day or otherwise overdo it. Schools do have limits on numbers and cannot offer spaces they don’t have.
If you have more than one waitlist option, know which is your top choice. Be mentally prepared to accept an offer from that school, should they call, and to put down a deposit, usually within 24 hours. You won’t have time to think it all through on the spot.
Deciding which school to choose is not easy. Adding in coronavirus and the related uncertainty adds another layer of stress. The school that you were hoping for a yes from is tempting, but if you are lucky enough to have choices, you want to be sure to make the right one because this is a decision that will impact your family for many years to come. Your list will help you see it all more clearly!
Now that the 2019-2020 school year is — virtually — wrapping up, parents and students are wondering what lies ahead in the fall. While COVID-19 is ever-evolving, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released considerations — advice that’s meant to supplement state and local guidelines — for reopening schools in August or September.
While many students (and, let’s face it, parents) will be happy about the idea of schools reopening, there’s bound to be some apprehension about going back to something that, at this point, seems so nebulous. Here’s something that may offer comfort: Federal, state, local and school officials are working really hard to make schools as safe as possible. “One of the most important things is to recognize that officials aren’t going to [take reopening] schools lightly if they think it poses a threat to kids and society,” says Dr. Dipesh Navsaria, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. “Also, remember, overall, children haven’t been super hard hit by COVID and the closing of schools was mainly to prevent community spread.”
Wondering what back to school is going to look like this year? Here are a few things you can potentially expect.
How are schools preparing to reopen?
Recently, the CDC created a Schools Decision Tool, which all schools will likely reference before opening their doors in September. The tool is broken down into three questions, with the decision to start school — however that may look — being dependent on the criteria being met for each one. Here are the questions:
1. Should you consider opening?
- The decision should be consistent with local orders.
- The school should be prepared to protect higher risk children and employees.
- The school should be able to screen students and employees upon arrival for symptoms and history of exposure.
2. Are recommended health and safety actions in place?
- Healthy hygiene practices, such as hand-washing and employees wearing cloth face coverings, should be promoted.
- Cleaning, disinfection and ventilation should be intensified.
- Social distancing through increased spacing, small groups and limited mixing between groups should be promoted, if feasible.
- All employees should be trained on health and safety protocols.
3. Is ongoing monitoring in place?
- Procedures to check for signs and symptoms of students and employees daily should be developed and implemented.
- Anyone who is sick should be encouraged to stay home.
- A plan should be in place for if students or employees get sick.
- There should be regular communication with local authorities, employees and families regarding cases, exposures and updates to procedures.
- Student and employee absences should be monitored, and there should be flexible leave policies and practices.
- Schools should be ready to consult with local health authorities if there are cases in the school or an increase of COVID in the local area.
The CDC also laid out the following “guiding principles to keep in mind” for schools:
- Lowest risk: Students and teachers engage in virtual-only classes, activities and events.
- More risk: Small, in-person classes, activities and events. Groups of students stay together and with the same teacher throughout the days and groups do not mix. Students remain at least six feet apart and do not share objects.
- Highest risk: Full sized, in-person classes, activities and events. Students are not spaced apart, share classroom materials or supplies and mix between classes and activities.
It’s also worth noting that, while ultimately the opening of schools will be decided by each state, on a federal level, the government has advised the reopening of schools and day cares during phase 2 of their 3-part plan for reopening the country, which is when regions satisfy a number of criteria, including a downward trajectory of cases, ample hospital room, robust testing and “no evidence of a rebound.”
What new safety practices may kids see at school?
While things are changing daily with coronavirus, one thing everyone can bank on is schools operating in a way they never have previously. “While a lot will depend on the prevalence in a particular community, all schools will be doing things differently, and parents and students should expect changes,” says Navsaria.
While each school will come up with their own plan, here are a few potential changes:
Face masks. In the CDC’s considerations, they recommend the use of cloth face coverings for teachers and students when feasible, especially when social distancing is difficult. “Kids will need to be prepped for the possibility of wearing masks,” says Navsaria. “And for parents who are worried that their child will have a hard time keeping a mask on, keep in mind that teachers of young kids will likely know what to expect and will be able to act accordingly with calm and patient reminders.”
Daily health checks. The CDC also suggests “daily health checks,” which may include taking staff and students’ temperatures, as well as monitoring symptoms regularly. However, as Education Dive pointed out, this isn’t financially or logistically feasible for every district. Again, every area will be making individual decisions, but in Ohio’s draft plan for reopening schools, the state notes that students and faculty may be required to take their own temperature before school everyday. That said, the plan notes that this may not be feasible for everyone. “Schools should also consider the reality that all students will not be equally supported in a self-assessment and should be aware of those students with higher needs (single-parent, both parents working, etc.),” the draft says.
Modified layouts. In addition to suggesting all desks are spaced six feet apart, the CDC is also recommending all desks face the same direction, or if students sit at tables, that they all sit on the same side. It’s also advised that, when possible, kids should sit one person per row on buses, as well as skipping every other row. If possible, it’s also recommended schools install plexiglass barriers for spaces where maintaining a safe distance isn’t possible, such as reception desks and in between bathroom sinks.
Promoting social distancing. Outside the classroom, such as in hallways and on sidewalks, schools may install markers with tape as a reminder to stay six feet apart. Also, students may not get to interact with friends in other classes, being asked to stay only with their particular class throughout the day. Another possibility, according to Navsaria, is being “released class by class at the end of day.”
Lunchtime and recess. Instead of having lunch in a communal space, such as a cafeteria, kids may eat at their desks. The CDC’s consideration layout notes that “children bring their own meals as feasible, or [that schools] serve individually plated meals in classrooms.” While the CDC doesn’t make specific mention to recess, it does note that schools should consider closing playgrounds or “stagger use and clean and disinfect between use.”
Increased hand-washing. Come fall, there will be a big emphasis in schools on practicing good hygiene, such as washing hands for at least 20 seconds and sneezing and coughing into a tissue and then throwing the tissue out.
Schedule changes. Perhaps the biggest question mark right now is how a typical school week will look for students come fall, schedule-wise. According to Christy Haven, an independent education consultant and owner of Mindful Education Consulting in Seattle, there are a number of potential scenarios being put forward, with nothing being set in stone just yet.
“One option could be that there are varying student schedules that could be based on age or an entire school,” Haven says. “For example, for kindergarten, maybe half of the students come on Monday, Wednesday and half of Friday, and the other set will come on Tuesday, Thursday and half of Friday. Or it’s possible that younger children do all virtual learning and older students, who are more capable of social distancing, are in school full or part time.”
Haven notes that another option could be that a group of students start in September and then the next group is “phased in” to help with social distancing.
“Ultimately, it will most likely be different from area to area,” says Haven. “Places with lower case rates might not have to make drastic changes while others will. There’s also the possibility of schools starting with in-person learning, and then if there’s another outbreak, they’ll go back to virtual.”
It’s also worth noting that any schedule changes to the typical school day has potential to become a logistical nightmare for working parents who rely on kids being in school for a set amount of hours each day. While, again, nothing is a guarantee at this point, parents may want to start researching child care options, such as nannies or after-school programs, which according to the Afterschool Alliance, may be making changes to work with any school day modifications.
What if someone gets COVID-19 at school?
Regardless of local prevalence, each school will have a protocol in place for when a student or faculty member contracts the novel coronavirus. In addition to individual plans, here’s what the CDC recommends for schools:
- Make sure all students and staff are aware that no one with symptoms should come to school.
- If symptoms occur at school, immediately separate the person and place them in an “isolation room” designated for people with COVID-19 or COVID-19 symptoms.
- Wait 24 hours, then properly clean and disinfect any areas that may be contaminated.
- Notify local health officials, along with anyone in which the infected person may have come in contact.
- Make sure no one who has displayed symptoms returns to school until they’ve met the CDC’s criteria for discontinuing home isolation.
How will kids feel about going back to school?
Regardless of how a child has coped during the pandemic, going back to school is likely going to feel strange. “Kids will vary in how they feel about returning to school,” says Navsaria. “For some, school is a refuge and they’ll be happy to return, but others will feel worried and anxious.” For kids in the latter camp, Navsaria recommends taking the Mr. Rogers approach by reminding them to “look for the helpers.”
“For kids who are worried about getting sick upon returning to school or their parents getting sick, remind them that there are helpers everywhere,” notes Navsaria. “Point out all the things that have remained constant throughout the last few months, such as food and electricity and garbage pickup, and remind them that there are many people — including their teachers and principals — who are working to make sure everything is safe for them.”
What safety precautions can parents take at home?
While you may have a nagging urge to hose your child off with Lysol everyday when they get off the bus, it’s probably not necessary. “While parents can certainly sterilize objects their child brings home from school, such as lunchboxes, the item that matters the most is their child,” explains Navsaria. “So while there could be the SARS-CoV-2 virus on lunchboxes or jackets, the reality is that if it’s on their child’s personal effects, there’s a decent chance their child is infected, given the propensity of most children to not be super diligent about hand hygiene and not touching their face.” (That said, Navsaria does note that if there’s a family member at home who is in a genuinely high-risk category, extra precautions can always be taken.)
According to Navsaria, the No. 1 thing parents should do when kids get home from school — or even a walk for that matter — is have them wash their hands. “If it makes parents feel better to have their child change when they get home, that’s fine, but keep in mind more fear and anxiety may be created while not changing a whole lot.”
“Ultimately, we all need to accept that there’s a lot we don’t know about COVID still,” Navsaria notes. “People want a magic protocol that’s 100% effective, but that doesn’t exist. That said, no human activity is ever safe 100% of the time — even sending our kids to school under normal circumstances. In this new world, parents should trust that health officials are ensuring students’ safety.”
“Best decision ever to work with Christy and Mindful Education Consulting throughout this process! Christy made the middle school application process feel so much more manageable for our family (twice!). From helping us explore the many area schools and narrowing them down to the best fits to tracking application timelines, to suggesting fabulous prep resources and finally helping to make the right/best school choice, she was beyond helpful and such a pleasure to work with. Christy’s extensive knowledge of schools and the entire admissions process, along with the time she took to get to know our family as well as our two kids as individuals, resulted in both of our children getting into amazing, top choice schools where they are thriving and SO happy!”
Last week I spoke on a panel at IECA–Independent Educational Consultants Association(http://iecaonline.com) in Chicago. Such a great experience and important topic.
Mindfulness in Action
Will White, Summit Achievement…
As a Seattle area Educational Consultant, I’m often asked by parents which standardized their child should take for admission to independent schools. This is a great article about the differences and similarities.
Although private and boarding schools offer families compelling programs and advantages, the admissions process — which can begin a year or more ahead of the entry year — can seem daunting.
The first hurdle many families encounter in the application process is unfamiliar standardized admissions exams: the Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE) and Secondary School Admissions Exam (SSAT). Most private, independent, and boarding schools require one of these tests for admission. Research your schools to determine which test they accept (some accept both!) and prepare accordingly.
As you go into the preparation process, keep in mind that scores on the ISEE and SSAT do not necessarily correlate with class performance. The ISEE and SSAT measure how students compare to thousands of the top students around the country, and therefore your student’s initial scores may not be as high as you anticipate.
What are the levels of each test?
The level of the test a student will take is determined by the grade to which you’re applying. Here’s the breakdown:
Elementary Level: students applying to grades 4-5
Primary Level: students applying to grades 3-4
Middle Level: students applying to grades 6-8
Lower Level: students applying to grades 5-6
Upper Level: students applying to grades 9-12
Middle Level: students applying to grades 7-8
Upper Level: students applying to grades 9-12
Major Differences Between the ISEE and SSAT
If you have the option of taking either test, it’s important to know the differences between the two so you can make an informed choice. One of the most significant differences between the ISEE and the SSAT is the score report. The ISEE presents four section scores, while the SSAT shows only three. Although both tests have four multiple choice sections (two math, one verbal, and one reading), the SSAT combines the two math section scores into one number on the final report, while the ISEE keeps the two separate. Thus, students hoping to highlight their abilities in math should aim to take the ISEE if possible.
Other differences between the ISEE and SSAT include:
- Guessing strategy: The Middle and Upper Level SSAT have a guessing penalty: students receive one point for each correct answer, zero points for questions left blank, and lose ¼ point for each wrong answer. This scoring model can sometimes increase feelings of anxiety for nervous test takers. The ISEE does not remove points for incorrect answers.
- Writing sample: As part of both the ISEE and the SSAT, students complete an unscored writing sample. This piece of writing is sent to schools along with scores on the multiple-choice sections of the test, and admissions departments consider it as part of a student’s application. On the ISEE, students are prompted to write an expository essay, while the SSAT provides Middle Level testers the choice between two creative writing prompts, and Upper Level testers the choice between a creative prompt and an expository prompt.
- Verbal section: Both the ISEE and SSAT ask students to answer synonym questions. In addition to these, the ISEE features sentence completions, while the SSAT has analogy questions. A student should try each of these types of questions and see which is more intuitive.
When can you take the test?
The SSAT offers test dates every month, while the ISEE can be taken once in each of its testing seasons. The ISEE seasons are fall (August–November), winter (December–March), and spring/summer (April–July).
Since students can take the SSAT and the ISEE more than once, it’s a good idea to be strategic about when they first take the test. Don’t sign up for the last available test day before applications are due. Give yourself time so that your child can take the test again if the first test does not go as well as you had hoped.
View registration information and test dates for the SSAT here: EMA
View registration information and test dates for the ISEE here: ERB
How should students prepare for the test?
- Start early – even six months before the test date. Begin with a full-length practice test, which will serve as a diagnostic. (Here’s where to find one for the ISEE and SSAT.) This will give your student a deeper understanding of the exam’s specific format and level of difficulty. Don’t expect your child to know everything right off the bat: the exams are challenging and will often delve into above-grade-level content.
- Pinpoint strengths and weaknesses. Use full-length practice tests to identify areas that need work and focus study on those areas. Learn the relevant concepts and skills, and then apply those through targeted practice. To improve performance on the verbal section, students should study 20 or so vocabulary words every week. Consider hiring a test-prep tutor if your student has some catching up to do!
- Encourage your child to practice essay writing with different essay prompts and topics about once per week.
- Learn test-taking skills. Quickly eliminating wrong answers and managing time efficiently will maximize your child’s performance on test day.
While certainly not the only criteria for admission, the SSAT and ISEE play an important role in creating a more complete picture for school admissions staff, helping to choose between potential students.
The Role of the ISEE and SSAT and Why Practice Nets Tangible Results
The purpose of the ISEE and SSAT is clear: to provide a standardized metric by which to compare students. Other possible metrics, such as grades or teacher evaluations, can vary significantly between schools, making them less helpful to admissions committees.
While certainly not the only criteria for admission, these exams play an important role in creating a more complete picture for school admissions staff, helping to choose between potential students. The importance of scoring well on these exams cannot be understated.
When a school receives hundreds or thousands of applications every year for only a few spots, it is highly unlikely that the admissions staff will have time to fully consider every aspect of every application. At such times, the only applications that get evaluated have standardized test scores above a certain threshold.
A lower score on standardized tests can help to identify students who may have fallen behind the expected curriculum. In this case, a lower score indicates that a student may require additional resources and assistance from the school in order to succeed.
Though standardized tests are only one aspect of a holistic application process, it is important that test scores are high enough to be consistent with the rest of the application and to represent the true capacity of the student.
Test-taking is a Teachable Skill
Like any performance-based activity, test-taking is a skill that can be learned. The ISEE and SSAT are challenging exams that intentionally expose test-takers to material and question types not covered in a standard curriculum. Research indicates that beyond content knowledge, test-taking behavior is important for optimum test performance. Exposure and consistent practice have proven to be the most efficient method to tame both tough questions and test-related stress.
Understanding Strengths and Weaknesses
To expediently determine how much prior study will be required, take a practice test as early as possible. This serves as a diagnostic: It indicates how the student would score if taking the test today, and provides a practice roadmap, pinpointing strengths and weaknesses. This gives the student realistic, data-driven feedback on where there may be knowledge gaps, and where to focus attention and effort.
About the authors: Test Innovators offers an advanced online test prep solution that leverages aspects of machine learning, AI, and big data to improve test scores and help students gain acceptance into schools with selective admissions processes. Test Innovators proprietary practice tests are an accurate reflection of the official tests. Practice exercises, scoring results, and related information are used to help students understand the gap between their existing scores and what they need to get accepted at their school of choice.
We reached out to Christy to help us navigate the middle school process. After various meetings with us and our son, she was able to determine the “right fit schools” for him. We did some ISEE test Prep on her recommendation, met a handful of times after we went to visit a school, and had her review our essays. She was always available via email and/or phone and it never took her long to respond which kept us calm throughout the process.
We are happy to say our son is going to his top choice school in the fall. I highly recommend Christy to anyone who is looking for help with the school process in the Seattle area.
From the moment we met Christy we felt at ease. We felt comfortable sharing all of our hopes and dreams for our child’s educational journey as we contemplated kindergarten. Christy’s ability to deeply listen to our family’s particular needs and her wise responses to our many questions greatly helped us to stay focused on the process and stay in touch with what we wanted in a school for our child. In retrospect, it’s clear to us how well she understood what we were looking for in a school, by virtue that our top choice was not on our initial list of schools and was presented by her as a gentle “you might want to think about this school” suggestion. Christy’s guidance from start to finish was expertly!
We are so incredibly grateful on a multitude of levels. Her responsive, insightful and generous demeanor were impressive. Christy’s warm and sun-infused presence clearly shone throughout the process!
Are the schools you are interested in teaching Character Education?
The admissions season has begun! One aspect of the independent school admissions application process is the Parent Essay. This can be a daunting experience for parents but it doesn’t need to be. Here are some tips for writing an essay that really illustrates why the particular school is the best fit for your child and for your family.
- Many schools will ask why you are applying to their particular school. You will have visited the school in some capacity (Open House, tour, etc.) so show them what about the school makes it a perfect fit for your child. Is it the academic program? Is it their arts program? Is it the community? If possible, include thoughts about how the school’s mission aligns with what you are looking for in a school.
- When describing your child, be honest. Schools don’t expect a “perfect” child. They expect a child who has strengths and weaknesses and since you are the one that knows your child best, you should talk about these honestly. How does your child shine? What are some areas of growth? Give a particular example of something that uniquely describes him/her. Illustrate things that will help your child stand out and make the school want him/her to be a part of their community. Maybe tell a story that will be a window into your child.
- Volunteerism and fundraising is a part of being in an independent school. Describe how you and your family will be a part of the school. Have you volunteered at your child’s current school? Do you enjoy being involved in the life of the school? Have you served on a Board?
The Parent Essay is one piece of the application but it’s an important one because it’s your chance to tell the school about your child and your family. Admissions Committees want to make sure their school is the right “match” for your child so being honest and transparent is important.