Starting high school is a milestone moment in life. Sandwiched between junior high and college, a student’s four years in secondary school mark the transition into young adulthood, the first time behind the wheel of a car, and the all-important standardized testing that leads to higher education.
When it comes to choosing the right school, immigrant parents have many options before them. Before investigating the individual programs in the area, however, parents should first seek to understand the unique needs and aptitudes of their child.
To get started, ask these five questions to help focus your high school search:
1. “How Does Your Child Like to Learn?”
You know your child better than anyone. Long before sizing up each high school, seek to determine your child’s learning style.
Are they a visual learner? Auditory? Do they have any learning disabilities? Do they prefer to work on projects alone or in larger groups?
While these can seem like rather technical questions, they will help identify how your child absorbs information and gets excited about education. And by determining your child’s learning style, you’ll be better equipped to choose between the available public and private schools in your area.
On the other hand, if your child shows notable independence, they may even thrive in a less traditional environment like homeschooling. Normalized by COVID-19, homeschooling has attracted many families over the last year.
2. “What’s The Average Class Size?”
The “student-to-teacher ratio” is a key metric for schools. As the name implies, it measures the total number of students in a school against the total number of teachers.
While there are some exceptions to the rule, lower numbers typically equal a greater degree of individual interaction with instructors. Though the importance of class size remains a hotly-contested subject, many studies affirm the benefits of small classes for students (particularly for low-income and minority children).
Smaller class sizes promote greater individual attention from teachers, create opportunities for hands-on learning, and encourage students to increase class engagement and contribution.
As you weigh your options, keep in mind that the average student-to-teacher ratio at private schools is 11.9, versus 16.2 at public schools.
3. “What’s the School’s Educational Philosophy?”
It’s important to identify a school’s educational philosophy early on.
The “Common Core” standard provides the educational philosophy for most public schools, ensuring “that all students graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, career, and life, regardless of where they live.”
While underpinned by Common Core, most public schools are largely performance-driven. In other words, their curricula are often targeted towards preparing for the coming SAT and ACT tests. After all, the “success” of a public school is often determined by its averages, both in grades and graduation rates.
Conversely, private schools are not beholden to the Common Core standard. As a result, they typically provide broader curriculums that give students increased latitude to explore liberal arts subjects, which may have less direct application to standardized testing.
While it’s easy to make generalizations, public and private schools have widely divergent ways of educating. Whichever route you choose, don’t hesitate to ask each school questions including:
- What subjects does your school excel in?
- What separates your school from competitors?
- What electives are available (if any)?
- Does the high school offer AP classes (or advanced classes of any kind)?
4. “What Extracurriculars and Clubs Are Available?”
Academics are important, but they only comprise one component of the high school experience. As you compare your available options, find out what kinds of clubs, teams, and communities are available at each school.
Beyond helping students cultivate broader interests, skills, and perspectives, extracurriculars are a crucial component for college applications.
While there are many places for your child to invest their time outside of school, make sure your top high school choices facilitate programs like debate teams, dance teams, student government, school newspapers, theatre, community volunteering, and more.
5. “How Well Does The School Support College?”
While it’s easy to fixate on high school, remind yourself (and your student) that the next four years are only part of the journey. College is on the horizon, and it’ll be here before you know it.
To that end, be sure to investigate the student outcomes of each school you attend. Find out what happens to students after they graduate. What kinds of colleges did they attend? Which careers did they pursue? Are there any notable success stories your child could emulate?
On a technical level, ask for specifics about each school’s college matriculation rates, and find out what percentage of graduating seniors got accepted to their top-choice colleges.
The answers to these questions reveal more than statistics alone. More importantly, they will tell you how much support the program (and its counselors) will provide throughout your college journey.
Don’t stress about picking the right high school! Just give your family plenty of time to prepare, and start the process as early as possible. Some schools, especially the more selective private programs, will assess students’ 7th grade performance, so be sure to initiate the conversation a few years in advance.
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