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carpe-diem.jpgIn a piece for SmartMoney (The Private School Pinch), Neil Parmer makes the case for the current private school admission cycle as a buyers opportunity. He doesn't sugar coat the costs but he makes the case for- and provides ideas and examples- of the negotiating and buying opportunities available to parents.

Boarding and private schools need to fill their seats and beds and are open to all sorts of considerations, strategies and questions from parents regarding tuition- ideas and discussions that schools wouldn't have entertained just a year ago.

Schools are doing their parts trimming and containing costs and tuition and they are willing to work with parents under the same pressures.

"...But look around the country these days and you'll see that admissions math is in flux...

Recession specials have also been cropping up at schools around the country, with tuition discounts reported as high as 20 percent...

And while you won't see "bartering" listed in any of its official financial-aid literature, the Westover School in Middlebury, Conn., has allowed a couple of folks to do just that. According to the school's head, Ann Pollina, several parents at the all-girls college prep have traded their professional services -- as technology and business-efficiency consultants -- for a little tuition relief...

In the past, of course, it's been the parents who have had to go to great lengths to get their children into the more elite schools. But since the economy went south, the game has changed; now it's the schools that are having to hustle -- and maybe even lower their standards. Instead of waiting for the applications to roll in, more are forced to actively beat the bushes, consultants say, to fill spots that have opened midyear. Even in the most competitive markets, there's talk of more "brokering" going on..." (SmartMoney)

If you're considering boarding or private school for student, an opportunity may be at hand.

Photo credit: Randy OHC

The deposit check has been mailed and the thank you notes sent. Our daughter is delighted with the outcome, and we are so grateful to our consultant who directed us to the school which has been our daughter's first choice all along and which we would never have found on our own.

The last step in the process was the school re-visits. Initially we planned to attend re-visit day at three schools just to be sure we were making the right decision. After two it was clear which school was the right one, and we canceled our third re-visit.

The first visit was to the school in California which we have all loved since our first visit. This school invites accepted students for an overnight, beginning with dinner. Our daughter was nervous but excited. From the moment we arrived our daughter was addressed by name. It was an impressive effort by the admissions office. She was quickly swept into a group of freshman girls with the other visitors and barely gave us a backward glance. The parents were invited to the headmaster's house for cocktails and a visit. While many of the other families were from California, we also met people from Chicago, Nevada, and New Jersey. The headmaster gave a powerful talk about what teenagers need from school and from adults to grow into responsible adults and about his vision for the school. As his views align with ours, we were very comfortable with all we heard. His wife, also an academic, was so welcoming and gracious and assured us that she would keep an eye on our daughter. The next day while our daughter shadowed her hostess, the parents were invited to attend classes, served lunch in the dining hall and met with the Dean of Studies and the Dean of Students then went to watch sports. While we may have been swayed by the sun, orange groves, and hibiscus, we remained as impressed with the school as we had been on our first visit. Once we were all together again, our daughter was ready to commit. The physics class had been "the coolest class" she had ever attended. The other students were wonderful, and the extra-curricular activities all met her interests.

We did re-visit another school the following Monday. This was a 9 to 2:30 visit which started with a panel discussion by some current students and faculty. The focus was much more on the day to day life of the school. Then our daughter attended a couple of classes while the parents heard more about the academics. At lunch the headmaster, a most impressive and humorous man spoke to the parents, and we had a chance to visit one-on-one with teachers.  We reconvened with our children for ice cream and meeting with the heads of various departments. While we were no longer seriously considering this school, the death knell was our daughter's report that students were playing video games during class and talking over the teachers. The second visit definitely gave us a clearer view of both schools.

It has been a fascinating process over the last nine months during which we have learned a lot about ourselves, our daughter and secondary schools. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to share our experience with you.

To maintain privacy and confidentiality, our author writes under the pen name "Boarding School Mom" and all family, child consultant, and school names will be changed or omitted. You can reach AQ's Boarding School Mom at [email protected]. 
Jim Wickenden, principal of his eponymous firm, Wickenden Associates called out school heads in the name of shared sacrifice in his blog post titled "Setting an Example." Citing school cost cutting efforts, Jim notes the symbolic importance of school heads sharing in communal sacrifice and the message that a school heads public sacrifice would send.

"...And speaking of symbolism, I think this is a great time for independent school leaders to consider making a personal sacrifice as well. If, for example, the Head of School were to publicly reduce his or her own salary by an amount sufficient to fund one child's attendance or to save a position or program that would otherwise be on the chopping block, that would send a powerful message indeed. Furthermore, it would give the school's leadership more credibility when communicating with the school family about the "hard decisions" that have to be made."

Jim's argument echoes calls regarding shared sacrifice that we've written and highlighted:

Piney Woods School Faculty Practice Common Sacrifice

Some Thoughts As Boarding School Layoffs Mount

Photo credit: Wickenden Associates
Learned about this one via AQ's Twitter.

Working to re-forest coal mining lands in the surrounding area, Olney Friends School faculty and students- working together with BARK (Barnesville Area Reforestation Kommittee)- have participated in the planting of more than 30,000 trees over the past six years.

Learn more about their commitment on the school's blog, Olney Students Encourage Trees to Grow.

Photo credit: page_eliz

Organization, routines, how to organize one's day- these are all fundamental parts of the boarding school experience. Current research tells us that they may be even more important that we think. 

I've been telling families for years, that there's nothing magic about going to boarding school. It's a different way of going to school with one of its foundations being a structured, organized, routine day that students internalize and carry with them.

David Brooks highlights two new books in his May 1st column- The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle and Talent Is Overrated by Geoff Colvin- both of which make the case for practice, discipline, and routine as the root of genius. Americans like to believe in the myth of genius as the root of great success, but it turns out that that most mundane of duties- practice- might actually be the root of achievement.

"The latest research suggests a more prosaic, democratic, even puritanical view of the world. The key factor separating geniuses from the merely accomplished is not a divine spark. It's not I.Q., a generally bad predictor of success, even in realms like chess. Instead, it's deliberate practice. Top performers spend more hours (many more hours) rigorously practicing their craft...

The primary trait she (the developing genius) possesses is not some mysterious genius. It's the ability to develop a deliberate, strenuous and boring practice routine.

Coyle and Colvin describe dozens of experiments fleshing out this process. This research takes some of the magic out of great achievement. But it underlines a fact that is often neglected. Public discussion is smitten by genetics and what we're "hard-wired" to do. And it's true that genes place a leash on our capacities. But the brain is also phenomenally plastic. We construct ourselves through behavior. As Coyle observes, it's not who you are, it's what you do." (NYT)
It turns out that my long-time colleague and friend, academic dean (at Wolfeboro,The Summer Boarding School), Joyce Ferris has been right all along. For years she's given what's known has her "P- Speech" before final exams- an exhortation to pick-up your pencil and actively practice, practice, practice. She's been right all along.

Photo credit: Mani 's lounging world

Good Teaching is Committed Work

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chalkboard.jpgThe New York Times ran a conversation (Teaching: No 'Fallback' Career) covering a subject that regularly comes up at our house and, currently seems to be on many peoples' minds as they consider the stability of civil/public service careers- "maybe I'll go into teaching?" In the framework of a struggling private sector, it's a nice sentiment; it sounds good; people think the schedule is good; it's indoor work and, for some reason, people perceive at as an easy, second-tier profession that anyone can practice without too much difficulty.

After all, we don't pay teachers particularly well and they certainly aren't accorded much social status. But with the collapse of finance and the contractions of other industries, 'maybe I'll teach?"

My wife and I shake our heads in wonderment. "Do these people have any idea what a classroom is like? I'm dumbfounded by how little people seem to know about classrooms and, sometimes, irritated by the opposite side of the same coin, how much they think they know about a profession that they've never pursued.

I have been a high school teacher and administrator and my wife still is a high school math teacher and has been an administrator. My argument against such sentiment usually begins something like- "X has no idea what's it's like to live and function among high school students for your entire work day. There's no way he/she can spend their day not speaking adult." Or, my other primary observation on the topic- "So-and-so finds no amusement or joy in kids being kids. The first time that a student responds like a teenager instead of an adult so-and-so will explode."

Most adults aren't built for teaching based on the basics of the situation- being an adult in the student or kid world all day. I haven't even needed to address teaching practice and thinking to get most adults to think twice about their teaching sentiments.

To teach well, one has to love being among kids- all day. Be professionally adaptive and adept. And, operate with a heightened sensibility of service. It's not about you.

In "Teaching: No 'Fallback' Career" The New York Times collected the thoughts of five education professionals on the subject of moving into the classroom.

Their observations should prompt our thanks for those who make the classroom their profession and give pause to those who believe the classroom easy.

Pam Grossman professor of education at Stanford University:

"...Because all of us have spent thousands of hours in classroom observing teachers, we may underestimate the skill required to engage a group of children or adolescents and ensure that they are learning. Much of the teaching we do in everyday life, as parents or employers, involves telling or tutoring. As parents, we help children with math homework, test them on their vocabulary words, answer their questions. But teaching is much more than telling, and teachers have to know more than right answers.

Good teachers must also be connoisseurs of error. Over time, good teachers can anticipate predictable errors and misconceptions, understand the logic behind the error, and help move students toward a deeper understanding. Work on the teaching of mathematics at the University of Michigan has demonstrated that what they term "mathematical knowledge for teaching" distinguishes teachers from mathematicians and more effective teachers from less effective ones..." (NYT)

Patrick Welsh English teacher at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, VA:

"...The notion that anyone can teach is pure myth. No matter how much one may know or how altruistic one may be, some people are just temperamentally unsuited to teach and are toxic for kids. The problem is that it is difficult to identify those types.

....It won't take you long to know whether you love teaching. As nervous as I was, it took me about 10 minutes after first walking into my first class some 40 years ago to realize that for me the classroom is a magical place where I wanted to work. At the same time if you realize you don't love it, do your students a favor: get out and look for another line of work..." (NYT)

Kenneth J. Bernstein teaches social studies at Eleanor Roosevelt High School, Greenbelt, MD. He blogs about education and other subjects as teacherken at Daily Kos:

"...it took me until my third year before I was fully competent, even though the students, parents, fellow teachers and administrators were all pleased with what I was doing. I learned to rethink each lesson, from class to class as well as from year to year, and to adjust my lesson plans according to the students in each class.

That's the hard part, thinking more about the students than about the content. It is probably the biggest challenge for many career switchers. One doesn't have to be their buddy, but one has to build relationships of trust..." (NYT)

I asked my accomplished math-teacher wife to chime on this post and she adds this series of thoughts:

"Manager. Entertainer. Mathematician. Care. Performance. Preparation. Knowledge. Teaching always appears easy to the outsider. Poor teachers make it seem easy because they do nothing. Effective teachers make it seem easy because they make teaching seem effortless. Either way, the public is duped. The only way to understand the level of commitment and expertise necessary to be a good teacher is to do it yourself. Do it for a minimum of three years. Then, decide if A.) it's the place for you and B.) if it's easy."
Photo credit: Bright_Star
Admission professionals have been telling us the same story throughout the school year. Applications and inquiries are steady. Financial aid requests are up.

Using interviews at a few schools and with the National Association of Independent Schools, the New York Daily News ran a piece (Private schools see more financial aid requests during recession - but applications hold steady) documenting this exact situation.

Families are making tuition a priority and schools are increasing their fund raising efforts and aid budgets. Everyone in the school business seems to be exhaling deeply that we've made it though this year. But, if things say like they are next year, too, will be tough.

Chris Seeley, upper school admissions director at the Trevor School in Manhattan told the Daily News:

"We are tightening the belt...We are bracing for the possibility that we may have fewer students next year. But we are trying to cut the budget without affecting programs, and we haven't been forced to do any major tightening yet."
If you believe in a boarding or independent school and you can afford to make a financial contribution, give now. Independent schools- just as colleges and universities- are working through endowment decreases and pressure. With increased financial aid demand, creating an even greater strain on institutional savings and finances.

If independent school is part of your or your family's nature and you can do it, make sure to make any gift possible this year.

The New York Times recently ran a piece titled "Colleges Ask Donors to Help Meet Demand for Aid." The higher ed situation and independent school situations are similar.

"Faced with one of the most challenging fund-raising environments anyone can remember, colleges and universities are appealing to donors to help meet the swelling demand for financial aid...

The incoming student body for the fall of 2009 will have higher financial needs than in the past," said Clay Ballantine, Hampshire's chief advancement officer. "I tell donors these are excellent students and we want to take financial concerns out of their decision-making process, and we're looking to you to provide a gift that will help us do that."

Photo credit: vanhookc

Some Interesting Good News: Knox and St. Bede working to grow

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We realized that we've published two posts last week about schools that are building dormitories and/or working to expand their boarding populations this week. While not a silver lining, nor confirmation that everything is rosy, it's great to find two schools well positioned and so dedicated to boarding that they're building dorms and working to expand opportunities for families and students seeking boarding school.

St. Bede Academy Returns To Boarding Roots: A commitment to build two new dormitories


Knox School Wakes From Slumber with Ambition and a Plan

Ross School Offers Merit Scholarships

File this under the 'fantastic opportunity' category.

Ross School in Bridgehampton, NY "is offering $20,000 annual Merit Scholarships for students in grades 5-11 who demonstrate academic achievement and exceptional promise" in a number of areas.

Have a demonstrated talent for the Arts, Athletics, Community Service, Math, Media, Music (Jazz), Science, or Theater? This may be an opportunity to explore if you answered yes to any one of these categories.

I heard about this a bit late in the day (I read about it in the Independent Educational Consultants Association April/May Insights newsletter)- the deadline is May 1 and applications received post-May 1 will be reviewed on a rolling basis.

If you're interested, you can learn more on the school's site or submit an inquiry to school's admission office through their AQ admission inquiry form.

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AdmissionsQuest's blog dedicated to boarding school admission & schools.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries in the High School category.

Green Campuses is the previous category.

International Baccalaureate is the next category.

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