I am going to assume you’ve already made the decision that homeschooling, alternative schooling, charter schools, online schools, magnet schools or your zoned school are education choices that aren’t the best fit for your family or your child. You have now started considering independent, or private, schools for any number of particular reasons. Or, alternatively, maybe you’ve always planned to send your child to an independent school or a faith-based private school.
When my daughter’s preschool ended at PreK-4, we had to choose a new school for her. There are many things we as a family looked at, discussed, argued about, sweated over, and thought of at 2 a.m., while we were going through the process of picking a new school. We considered many options and finally decided upon independent schooling. (I know we were fortunate this was an option for us–and we also made a lot of really hard choices about our household budget to make it work.)
First off I’ll just throw out there why we chose to go the independent school route for our daughter, so you know where I’m coming from. For our family, we wanted a faith-based education at a school that had a solid aftercare program full of activity options until 6 p.m. Both my husband and I work and need reliable child care that can’t get sick or quit and that offers care even on the days school is closed. I filled out magnet school paperwork for our daughter at the school’s tour, and also toured (and really liked!) our zoned school. But in the end, the peace of mind that a strong aftercare program offered, as well as faith-based instruction, were the deciding factors for us to choose an independent school. Every family is different, and your reasons for choosing an independent school (or not choosing one) may be completely different than mine.
Things to Think About When Considering Private School
Religious affiliation – Do you want one? Is religious affiliation something you want to steer clear of completely or does a religious affiliation not matter to you if the academic programs or environment is a good fit for your family? Some independent schools in Jacksonville are affiliated with a particular faith. If you know right away that is not for you, you’ll narrow down your independent school list from the beginning, which will help make the decision process a little easier. Having said that, if a faith-based education is something you’ll consider, look carefully at the ways the school practices that faith and how it affects their curriculum and school culture. It will not follow the stereotypes you’ve always heard!
Single Sex Education – Would your child do better in an all girls or all boys school? Does the school you are considering separate out boys and girls for certain classes, like math, PE or other courses? How do you feel about that?
Location – How far are you willing to drive each day, can you make the pickup and drop off times? Or is there a bus or carpool you can take advantage of?
Aftercare – Do you need aftercare? Is it available early and how late? Is there a fee associated with it on top of tuition? Is the program one that your child will enjoy if they will be there five days a week for three hours after school ends? Are there activities or sports they can sign up for at aftercare that they would like? Are there costs associated with those activities?
Uniforms – Does the school have one? Do they have a uniform exchange to help with costs? Are you ok with your child wearing one every day? (I personally LOVE uniforms. Morning is SO easy with uniforms!!!)
Academic Programs – What is the school’s teaching philosophy or pedagogy? How is technology used in the classroom? What about art, music, languages, STEM or STEAM, theology classes, PE, learning differences support, gifted programs, homework help? How does that match with the learning style of your child?
Environment – Independent schools can be smaller than public, charter or magnet schools. What works for your kid? Small classes or a larger independent school environment? Is the community welcoming? Are there opportunities for parents to get involved in the classroom? Look at the socioeconomic, religious and racial diversity–are all essential to consider for a healthy school environment.
Tuition – Don’t just consider the tuition for one child–consider it for all the kids you may be sending there and how many years you will be paying it and how that might affect your household budgets. Are there additional fees that are one-time or recurring? Ask about enrollment fees, application fees, cafeteria fees, book fees, activity fees, facility fees, required technology, annual deposit fees (some may or may not apply depending on your child’s grade level). Also, does the school request an annual fund gift? (Many do. Tuition does not always cover the full cost to educate a student, and most independent schools are federally registered not-for-profit institutions. When independent schools apply for funding or grants, high parent participation in the annual fund is a vital statistic for reporting purposes that shows the parents believe in the school and its mission and helps the school to win grants.)
Finally, are there financial aid or scholarship options, tuition reductions for “in parish” families (you attend the associated place of worship) or multi-child discounts? Keep a spreadsheet of the total cost to attend each school you are considering.
Weigh Your Deciding Factors– which of all these factors are most important to your family? Prioritize them. Are there some you can concede on because the school just feels right? Can you live with a uniform even if you don’t want one because you like the academic programs at a particular school the best for your child? Is there a particular mission or philosophy of one school that stood out to you? Does one provide services another does not particularly needed by your student? Where did you feel at home? Where did your child feel at home? Where will your child thrive, love learning, grow and be their best selves?
Making a Decision
Here’s the most important thing about choosing a school for your child–every family is different, and every child is different. There is no one size fits all. I know one family with three kids and all three are at different schools! The most important thing is that you make the best decision for your child. Jacksonville has many great schools, and some of them are independent or private.
Things to Do
Independent Schools generally start the admissions process in the late fall or early winter of the year prior to enrollment. So right now schools are beginning the admissions process for the 2016-2017 school year. Do yourself a favor and start looking now–especially if you will be applying for financial aid or scholarships (usually an early winter deadline), and especially if you are looking at more than one school. Where you think you’ll want to go might be completely different than where you actually end up! And some schools or grades within those schools may have waiting lists, so make sure you don’t miss any application deadlines.
- Online research–many schools have great websites to start your basic search for a school’s mission, philosophy, tuition, academic programs and culture as well as admissions deadlines and fees.
- Call the admissions office or fill out an online form to get on their email list and mailing list. Read the school newsletter, alumni magazine and other publications to get a feel for the culture and community.
- Attend open houses, coffees, tours, and sign your child up for a visit day and any required evaluation. Go more than once. (We ended up doing nine tours by the time we had finished looking at schools, the decision was such a hard one for us.)
- Talk to friends, neighbors, relatives about their experiences at the schools you are considering.