The decision to transfer your child to a private school is not a small one. While the benefits of a private education may seem obvious, there’s no denying this can be a big upheaval for even the most resilient kids. Christen Jones, MPA, Director of Institutional Advancement at Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart, an all-girls Catholic school in Princeton, says there are things parents can do to make the transition easier.
“Encourage developmentally appropriate executive functioning skills in your child around time management, organization and independent work,” says Jones. “Strong executive functioning skills combined with healthy lifestyle habits including eating well, sleep and exercise support their academic success.”
CONNECT WITH THE SCHOOL BEFORE YOU START
Many schools like Stuart will facilitate a buddy family to help welcome you to the community. Take advantage of the opportunity to connect in-person or virtually so that your student has a friend the first day. “Encourage your child to participate in co-curricular activities outside the classroom including theater, athletics, clubs or academic teams,” says Jones.
Stacey Peralta from Perth Amboy helped her daughter, Kacey, make the transition to Wardlaw + Hartridge, a private coed day school in Edison this past year when she began 9th grade. “My daughter transitioned from public to private at the age of 14,” says Peralta. Initially, Kacey faced some challenges with organizing her assignments.
“If she forgets to hand in an assignment, the teacher does not constantly remind you because they are focused on building independence,” she says. “It’s each child’s responsibility to remember what is due and when.” Peralta says her daughter’s previous school would constantly remind kids when things were due, and parents would also be made aware. “Numerous chances were also given to hand in assignments or make corrections which I do not always believe is the best strategy.”
Her best advice to parents making the switch to private school is to take the time and visit the school with their child prior to making the transition. “Meeting the advisor, counselor and members from the admissions office definitely helped build our level of comfort and confidence that we were making the correct choice,” she says. So far, they have been very happy with the switch to private school. “I have also met many of the parents because everyone is so involved and such a close-knit community,” she says. “The staff is always available to help with an issue or concern and with so much support around each child I believe that children will thrive.”
Amy and Dan Goodman of Morganville both attended public school and never expected to send their boys to private school. But three years ago, the youngest of their three boys, Ethan, made the switch to the Ranney School, a coed college preparatory school in Tinton Falls to begin 6th grade. A year later, his older brother Noah joined him at private school, starting in 9th grade. (Their eldest son, Josh, was thriving in public school and remained there until he graduated.)
SUPPORT THEIR SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS
Amy says it was challenging for her boys to start in a new school not knowing anybody, but there were activities designed to help new students meet people.
“It took a while before our kids really found a group of friends they connected with,” she says. “One continuing challenge to social relationships is that the students live in geographically disperse areas, making getting together a little more complicated than if they all lived in the same town.” Goodman advises parents to encourage and support the relationships their children develop at school, even if it means a lot of driving! “We are extremely happy with our switch to private school,” she says. “The individual attention given to each student and family is the biggest benefit we have seen.” She loves that the focus there is on developing independent, confident young people rather than focusing on grades as the singular measure of success.
When it comes to making the transition, Jones from Stuart says the most important thing a parent can do is to partner with the school and keep the lines of communication open. Says Jones: “I encourage new families to take advantage of every opportunity to engage with faculty, administrators and fellow parents in how the entire community can ensure your child has an incredible experience.”
A Student’s Perspective
Leila, a sophomore at Stuart from Old Bridge shares her tips to help other kids who are making the switch! When it comes to academics, she says students should not get discouraged and ask for help when they need it. “If you give your best effort in every class, you will be on the right path to success,” she says. “Another tip I would give is to always ask questions. You are never judged in this environment so don’t be afraid that you are going to ask a dumb question.”
As for how to make friends in a new environment, Leila says it’s about being a joiner. “The best thing you can do to make the transition socially is to join clubs, sports or any activities that may interest you,” she says. “It is a great way to meet new people and friends that can support you inside and outside of school.”