By Guest Blogger Elisa Lellios, Director of Admissions
As parents, we agree that we want our children to have the best possible education available to them. Since every student is an individual, with unique strengths, challenges, passions, and goals, where this “best possible education” can be found may also vary. Finding the right fit can be daunting, but when the “right fit” comes with a tuition fee, it is always good to be reminded about why that investment delivers such incredible dividends for students and for parents. While public schools offer many advantages, such as no-cost, supports for students who may need an IEP, and connection to peers in one’s neighborhood or town, private schools can be an investment that pays off exponentially for many students. Students are encouraged by small class sizes and individual attention to push themselves to become the best version of themselves. This culture of learning can cultivate an environment for success both in school and into their college years and beyond. Private schools have some distinct advantages which yield incredible results for students.
❖ They are Mission Driven
Independent schools live and breathe mission. Finding a school that is driven by a mission you value helps families understand what is at the core of the curriculum, the school culture, and the desired outcomes for your child. Look for the mission as a prominent part of the marketing of the school. Read it, seek evidence of it in the way the handbook is written, classes are designed, and the students interact with one another. Choosing a values-based education is a gift to your child, but be sure to research the mission of the school, so that you can feel confident that your values align with the school mission.
❖ Small class sizes
One cannot say enough about the benefit of small class sizes. Independent schools offer smaller classes, and this directly impacts student experience and success. Smaller classes mean that your child is known and valued, and that the teachers can recognize when a specific student may need a little more encouragement or praise for a job well-done. Research suggests that, “Students are engaged in active interactions with their teachers two to three times more often in a class of 15 compared to class of 30, and for low achievers at the secondary level there is more than twice as much off task behavior in classes of 30 compared to 15. A five student increase in class size is associated with the odds of off task behavior increasing by 40% for this group” (Blatchford et al, 2011). When students are individually known and valued due to small class sizes, they are more connected to teachers and more motivated to engage fully in curriculum, homework, and school life. In fact, one study demonstrated that, “…ample research has indicated that children in smaller classes achieve better outcomes, both academic and otherwise” (Baker et al, 2016).
❖ Innovative teaching methods
Since private schools are not bound to standardized test scores, teachers are freed from the pressure of “teaching to the test.” The benefits of this from a teacher’s perspective are manifold. One of the most significant is being allowed the time and space in the classroom to allow for innovative projects that may be collaborative, inquiry based, and interdisciplinary. To learn some of the basics about collaborative learning check out this informative Blog by Eduhup. One example of this great work at NDA can be seen in the Moving Masterpieces project recently completed by some of our talented middle schoolers. The more time students have to investigate, work together, and collaborate, the better for their future success in college and the workforce.
❖ Parent Involvement
Private school have a long standing tradition of inviting parents to work in partnership with the school. They are invited to volunteer, maintain open lines of communication with teachers and administrators, and be ambassadors for the school in activities and fundraising. Having an active parent base adds significantly to the community, but also strengthens student connection by keeping everyone on the same page.
❖ Arts, Music, and Drama
At a time when so many public schools are cutting arts programs, it is important to recognize the value of arts education and the role it plays in child development. Researchers at the National Endowment for the Arts have indicated that arts exposure through creative pursuits such as dance, painting, drawing and music have a positive impact on social skills, creativity, and emotional regulation (Menzer 2015). Having the opportunity to take arts classes in schools is an essential part of our youth developing the skills they need to work together and manage the stresses of our modern world. Independent schools are heavily committed to arts programs, and one will find that having the “specials” classes is integral to the curriculum.
The long-term benefits of these cornerstones of independent school education cannot be overstated. Having a values-based education where students are known and cherished and a curriculum designed and implemented to nurture the whole child produce engaged, inquisitive, and confident children who are ready to tackle what high school, college, and the workforce throw at them. Tuition dollars spent in primary and secondary schools will continue to show results long after the cap and gown have been retired.
Baker, B. D., Farrie, D. and Sciarra, D. G. (2016), Mind the Gap: 20 Years of Progress and Retrenchment in School Funding and Achievement Gaps. ETS Research Report Series, 2016: 1–37.
Blatchford, P., Bassett, P., Brown P. (2011), Learning and Instruction. Vol. 21, 2011: 715-730.
Menzer, Melissa. The Arts in Early Childhood: Social and Emotional Benefits of Arts Participation: A Literature Review and Gap-Analysis (2000-2015)