This school year has just begun, but some families are looking ahead to next school year, signing up for open houses and evaluating the right learning environment and school community for their child. Here’s a primer on some differences between public and private middle school for families considering those grade levels.
A private middle school typically has a smaller number of students in each class. This allows for more one-on-one instruction and learning time and helps students develop strong relationships with classmates and teachers. Pat Wolf, High Meadows Middle Years principal, notes that the smaller overall size of a grade level in a private middle school helps nurture a sense of community, belonging and learning.
Approach to Learning
Smaller classes also influence how a school approaches learning.
“We make a personal investment in each child and work as a team to help them grow and have a positive school experience,” Wolf said. “We look at the whole person and are sensitive to the social, emotional and physical growth taking place in adolescents. We consider those when planning academic inquiries, allowing space for social connections and letting students make decisions about their learning.”
There is also more time for exploration and discussion about a subject, she said. This helps teachers coordinate lessons to build learning connections across classes.
“We want students to learn how to think abstractly and problem solve,” Wolf said. “The language our teachers use is different than the approach in public school. Our teachers ask: ‘What are you thinking about that topic or problem? How would you break it down? How can you learn more about that?”
Communication between administrators, teachers, students and parents is often different at public and private middle schools. Bonnie Braine’s son is in eighth grade at High Meadows now but attended a public middle school last year. She shared differences she sees between the two types of schools.
“We have much more access to and communication with teachers and administrators now,” she shared. “In public school, there is a lot of focus on rules, documentation and processes. At High Meadows, my son regularly talks with his teachers which helps him set goals for his learning. The school also has conferences regularly with teachers, parents and students, which we find very valuable.”
Another key difference is how much time students spend outside each day.
“It’s a long day in public middle school with little time outdoors,” Braine said. “Children start school early and come home late. If they participate in after-school activities, they often wind up starting homework around 8 at night. That’s a tough schedule to keep day after day.”
Other Factors to Consider
Determining what type of school and learning environment is best for your child and your family is a big decision. Check out this list of 6 Key Factors to Consider When Visiting a Private School by High Meadows Director of Admission Laura Nicholson for helpful information that may make the process easier.
6 Key Factors to Consider When Visiting a Private School
By Laura Nicholson, Director of Admission at High Meadows School
- How do a school’s values match those of your family?
Look to a school’s mission statement to help you understand what matters most to them and evaluate how that fits with your family’s priorities and beliefs. Consider a school’s environmental emphasis, academic focus, religious curriculum (or lack thereof), diversity and inclusion programs, and global view, among other factors.
- What indicates to you that your child is successful? Does that match the proposed “outcomes” of the schools you’re exploring?
Think about what makes you feel your child is successful. Do you want your child to focus on academics, social-emotional growth or both? Do you want him or her to be curious intellectually as well as confident, compassionate and academically prepared? Evaluate what a school focuses on in its curriculum and overall program to determine if the proposed outcomes of an education there match your hopes expectations for your child.
- If you’re making a school change, think carefully about what dissatisfactions or disappointments drove your decision to look elsewhere.
If you are considering changing schools, evaluate WHY you are doing so and envision what you want your child’s day to look like from an experiential standpoint. Do you want your child to have time outdoors each day? Is an art or music program important to your child? Do you want your child to learn to collaborate and problem-solve? As you explore schools, initiate conversations to clarify what to expect in the areas you deem important for you and your child.
- Imagine how you would like to be involved at your child’s school.
Do you want to volunteer in classrooms or share your talents in some way with the school? Make sure your expectations align with how prospective schools like to engage parents. Some schools encourage parents to be involved more than others do. Ask the Admission team about that and, as you tour, look around to see how parents are involved.
- A school can feel perfect to you but, not be a right fit for your child.
You may love a school for many reasons, but how it suits your child’s learning style and how your child feels about it matter most. Think about your child as an individual and as a learner, what he or she finds motivating, his or her areas for growth and the kind of environment he or she feels most successful in typically. You might feel drawn to a quiet, orderly classroom when your child thrives most in a program with more stimulation and movement (or vice versa). After all, your child is the person going to the school every day. Talk with your child how s/he felt about the school. Were children and teachers welcoming? Did they include your child in activities? Can your child imagine him/herself at the school?
- What does your gut tell you?
The way you feel on a school campus as you interact with people and places is important. Your child’s school is going to be a significant place for you as parents, too. Look at the relationships you observe during your visit. How are teachers and students interacting? How are administrators working with parents? Make sure the school is a place that feels comfortable and is somewhere you and your child can call home.