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A Quality Education is a Matter of Choice

For many parents and families, the assumption is that our child or children will simply go to public school. We make public education our 'default' setting and, in many ways, it should be. We have a right to expect the best of our public education system but for a variety of reasons, public schools are struggling to provide a quality education to all or even most of their students. Still, for many, public education remains the best and/or only option.

Today, many families and students are increasingly exploring alternatives to public secondary education, and they are finding a wide array of options. At the end of the exploration process, some conclude that public education remains the best choice. Others decide that attending a private school is best; still others a boarding school; and still others home schooling. Knowing which solution is the right fit for our child depends on a number of factors, not the least of which is our ability to afford the alternative.

IT ALL STARTS WITH A PLAN

Effective decision making requires that we evaluate among a number of options in terms of their strengths and weaknesses. A key component in determining strengths and weaknesses is assessing each option against our intended goals or desired outcomes. This truism applies especially to educational options.

The first step in deciding what educational solution will be best for our child is to define the outcomes we (and he or she) seek to achieve. There are times when we certainly wonder whether such weighty matters should complicate our child 's life but the earlier we begin to map out our child 's future, the better for him or her.

Clearly by the time our child is a high school freshman, thinking seriously about college and career choices becomes imperative. Higher education is becoming increasingly competitive and expensive, even among public institutions. Students who wait until their junior or senior year to consider what comes next are setting themselves up for severe disappointment, especially if they aspire to attend their first-choice college or university.

For many, the route to success lies through alternative educational options, such as private or boarding schools, special needs schools or home schools. However, such programs can also be competitive, so the earlier a decision is made to pursue them, the better.

One of the most interesting contestants to appear on the reality series Survivor was Paschal English, a judge from the Atlanta, Georgia area. Prior to appearing on the series, he and his wife sat down one evening and created a list of the things each wanted to do before he or she departed this life. Almost as a lark, Judge English wrote down that he wanted to be on Survivor. In short, he created a list of goals or outcomes and then proceeded to make those goals reality.

In similar fashion, we can and should create a 'Vision Sheet' with our child(ren), only it 's not about wishful thinking - it 's about shaping a reality that will meet our collective goals. Some of the questions we might ask as we create this list are:

        What are my child 's career aspirations at this time? What are his or her strongest aptitudes? Is there something about which your child is already passionate? If so, how do you continue to fuel that passion?

        How strong is my child 's potential, and is it being fulfilled at this point in time? If it isn 't, what will allow him or her to fulfill it more completely?

        If in high school and considering college, what college or university seems to be an attractive choice at this moment? Why?

        What life qualities do you and your child feel are essential to success and happiness? Among those to consider are leadership, self-discipline, bearing, honesty and moral courage. What options or programs can enhance the attainment of these qualities?

        Does my child have unique needs that require unique solutions not currently provided? How can I best discover the solutions that will help best?

With this list in hand, we can then compare the educational options available and weigh their advantages and disadvantages in terms of how well they fulfill our aspirations. If greater structure and self-discipline are desired outcomes, then perhaps a military school is the best option. If reinforcing religious beliefs and mores is the goal, then a faith-based school might be our top choice. Collectively, we can use this 'vision sheet' to narrow the options and identify the one that best achieves our goals.

OTHER FACTORS TO CONSIDER

Choosing an option based on how well it conforms to our goals or aspirations is really the easy part. We also have to consider some of the following factors before a final verdict can be rendered.

        Time. Do I have the time to support this option fully? If home schooling is chosen, for example, am I prepared for the commitment of time and energy this solution requires?

        Money. Can I afford this option? If I 'm really serious, do I have the financial wherewithal to make it a reality? Am I prepared to sacrifice some of my own dreams to support this option?

        Fairness. If I have more than one child, can I provide each of them the option they want and need or will I be I forced to sacrifice the goals of one for the other?

        Altered relationships. Am I prepared to accept what this option might mean in terms of my relationship with my child? For example, am I ready to send him or her away to a boarding school if this is indeed the best option?

        Stress. Can I handle the stress that will undoubtedly arise from implementing this decision? Can I handle the doubts? Will I cave in on executing this solution if the stress gets too great?

SOME OF THE AVAILABLE OPTIONS & WHERE YOU CAN LEARN MORE

Charter and Magnet Schools

According to U.S. Department of Education 's website (www.ed.gov), Charter Schools are 'public schools that operate with freedom from many of the local and state regulations that apply to traditional public schools. Charter schools allow parents, community leaders, educational entrepreneurs, and others the flexibility to innovate and provide students with increased educational options within the public school system. Charter schools are sponsored by local, state, or other organizations that monitor their quality while holding them accountable for academic results and responsible fiscal practices. As of 2004, 40 states and D.C. have charter school laws. Nationally, there are about 3,000 charter schools, serving over 750,000 students.' A good overview of their chief characteristics can be found at www.ncrel.org/sdrs/pbriefs/93/93-2what.htm.

Magnet Schools 'are designed to attract students from diverse social, economic, ethnic, and racial backgrounds. They focus on a specific subject, such as science or the arts; follow specific themes, such as business/technology or communications/humanities/law; or operate according to certain models, such as career academies or a school-within-a-school. Some magnet schools require students to take an exam or demonstrate knowledge or skill in the specialty to qualify to go to the school, while others are open to students who express an interest in that area' (www.ed.gov). Further information can be found at www.magnet.edu.

Home Schooling

Over the past 20 years, homeschooling has exploded in the United States and globally. Most parents choose it specifically to ensure greater control of the quality of their child 's education. Improved resources, curriculum, standards and support have turned a grass-roots phenomenon into a highly organized and effective educational option. Today between 1.5 to 2 million children are homeschooled in the U.S. alone. On the whole, parents who homeschool have proven themselves highly effective educators. One of the downsides of homeschooling is the lack of opportunity to participate in school-based athletics, activities and other forms of socialization. However, networks of homeschool parents have organized to help provide these collaborative pursuits. For more information, visit the National Home Education Network website at www.nhen.org.

Private / Independent Day Schools

According to the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), independent schools are distinct from other schools in that they are primarily supported by tuition, charitable contributions, and endowment income, rather than by tax or church funds.

There are thousands of independent schools in the U.S. alone, with most falling into one or several sub-categories: boarding, faith-based, military, college-preparatory, special needs and unique curriculum (art, science, etc.). Membership in the NAIS is just over 1,000 schools, both day and boarding, with day schools outnumbering boarding schools 9:1. Total enrollment for the 2004-2005 academic year for NAIS member schools was just over 500,000 students. Most parents look to independent schools for their ability to fulfill specific needs and do so in an environment where the norm is greater individual attention, smaller class sizes and enhanced or specialized programs. For more information about these schools, visit www.nais.org.

Private / Independent Boarding Schools

According to The Association of Boarding Schools (TABS), 'boarding schools are independent, college preparatory schools that provide housing facilities for students and faculty. Boarding schools are sometimes referred to as 'intentional communities' because the faculty and staff at boarding schools work very hard to create an environment for students that is safe, academically challenging, active, and fun. Boarding schools are well known for their academic excellence. With small class sizes, diverse curricula, and individual attention from teachers and advisors, the boarding school experience gives students many distinct advantages. Boarding school students acquire the abilities that help ensure success in college and in life. During the academic year, boarding schools become extended families where teachers and students live and learn together. The 24-hour community of a boarding school environment allows the faculty to seize every teachable moment whether in the classroom, on the playing field, or in the dormitory.' To learn more about boarding schools, visit www.schools.com and www.boardingschoolreview.com.

Military Schools

Most military schools are private boarding academies, although increasingly public school systems, especially in larger metropolitan areas, are creating public military academies. George Washington Carver Military Academy in Chicago, for example, is the largest public, secondary military academy in the U.S.

Private military boarding academies have distinguished histories as college-preparatory schools and are some of the oldest private schools in the nation. In their heyday, they numbered in the hundreds. Today they selectively number around 50. In addition to providing a first-class education, they are designed to promote self-discipline, develop leadership and character and improve confidence and self-image.

There are a number of myths surrounding military schools, most if not all unfounded. For a better perspective on the value they can bring students and families, see the article 'Is a College Preparatory Military School the Right Choice?' below.

Almost all private military academies belong to the Association of Military Colleges and Schools of the United States (AMCSUS), whose website is www.amcsus.org.

Faith-based schools

Faith-based schools can either be supported by their respective faiths or independent, which means they derive their funding from sources other than the church although they may still have an affiliation with that church or faith. The appeal of faith-based schools is their ability to enhance and deepen a child 's spiritual, as well as academic growth.

The challenge with providing an information resource is the tremendous diversity of such schools. Parents interested in learning more about faith-based education are encouraged to visit their local church, parish, synagogue, mosque or temple or the central website of their denomination or faith.

Special Needs Schools or programs

For certain students, traditional educational options don 't provide the type of educational setting needed to achieve success. For some students, there can 't be academic success unless they first learn to master other challenges such as physical, emotional or learning disabilities; addictions or dependencies; and self-control or self-management issues.

For these students, there is a surprisingly large array of educational, developmental and therapeutic options. Because they are often referred by professionals, they tend to be less advertised and well-known. For more information about these schools and/or programs visit the National Association of Private Special Education Centers website, www.napsec.org.

The preceding information was compiled and edited by Robert M. Hill, VP Enrollment Management, Wentworth Military Academy & Junior College, Lexington, MO. www.wma1880.org.


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