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Our Kids interview: Get to know Excellence in Education better

Our Kids speaks to Barbara Salamon, education consultant and director of Excellence in Education

Excellence in Education (EiE) is an educational consulting agency established in 2013 that offers help to families looking for schools abroad. Thanks to this EiE, over 200 students have found the right school abroad.

Our Kids speaks to Barbara Salamon, founder and director of EiE and certified educational advisor of the British Council, CCEA, and IATC.  continue reading...

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Working with families, she helps guide them through the complicated process of choosing the best study abroad program or boarding school for their kids.

Here’s a video of the conversation (in Polish), illustrated with photos (you can read the transcript below):

Our Kids: Why is it a good idea for kids to study in a boarding school abroad? What do such schools offer that other schools don't?

Barbara Salamon: There are many advantages, but the most important ones are: shaping the child’s independence, learning, and their development, as well as exposing them to the international environment where there are young people from all over the world, Those schools offer comprehensive development, i.e., not just cramming (in fact, little cramming, because boarding schools usually promote independent learning), but also sports, art classes, involvement in local communities, i.e., the holistic development of a young person.

Our Kids: What are the most important tips you could offer parents who are considering this option?

Barbara Salamon: First of all, I would make sure that the child is ready for it and really wants to go abroad. Quite often, I’m contacted by parents who really want their child to go, but the teenager does not want to. They already have their social life where they live and they feel comfortable and safe where they are. In such cases, I advise parents to give up this idea. I then suggest that the kids go for a shorter period (maybe a semester), or—if schools offer such an opportunity—for a week or two, staying at the school to see what it’s like and getting used to the place and the idea. There are very few boarding schools in Poland, so young people are not familiar with this option. And while in big cities there are more and more teenagers who have studied abroad, so kids often have a friend they can talk to about it, in smaller towns it's something completely new. So, for teenagers it's a pretty scary perspective at first glance.

But after getting used to the idea, after checking out such a place, the kids are happy and I love watching them grow and mature, because in addition to helping with the choice of school and application, I meet with each student several times during the school year. I love observing, especially at the end of the first school year, how such a young person developed, how they gained self-confidence, and how their self-esteem grew.

Our Kids: There are various programs—summer courses, one-semester, or one-year stays. Can students stay longer?

Barbara Salamon: Yes, certainly. And the vast majority of parents in fact want their kids to stay in a boarding school until they graduate from high school in order to prepare for university and to develop the skills that the child is good at and has talent for. For instance, there are students who practice some sport, for example, horse riding, and it is difficult for parents to organize transport to their horse-riding training. So when parents look for a school, they already have specific expectations, what classes they expect and what facilities the school should offer. I simply guide them through this maze of hundreds of offers and opportunities and suggest which schools will be the best to achieve their goals.

Our Kids: What does your work with those families look like, from beginning to end?

Barbara Salamon: At the beginning, parents book one consultation and sometimes, although rarely, it happens that this one consultation is the end, because I am able to advise which school is the best for them in just one conversation. And if the parents don’t need further help, they handle the preparation of the application themselves. However, the vast majority of parents decide to cooperate for a longer time, so I also consult with the student in order to get to know the young person, their personality and character. Later, I prepare suggestions for several schools that, in my opinion, will best meet the expectations of the student and parents. And often it has to be a compromise between these expectations. Then I do an assessment of the student to see what level they are at.

As school entrance tests can be demanding, especially in more selective schools, I conduct tests which are looked at by foreign teachers who write reports on the students’ English and math skills. Sometimes there are also intelligence tests, logical tasks and, if a student needs additional support, preparation for tests. I organize preparatory tutoring.

Later, we arrange tests that students can write in my office or at their prospective school. Since the beginning of the pandemic, more and more schools have given students an option to write these tests remotely. Or, if parents at this stage want to visit the school, the child can write tests on the school site. This happens very rarely, because it’s an additional stress for the student to write tests in a new place.

We usually apply to two, maximum three schools the student is interested in, and after writing the tests and passing the interview, the student receives offers from the schools. I organize their visits to these schools. I try to coordinate it so that it's day by day, or if the schools aren't too far apart, two schools on the same day. The point is to ensure that parents and students can see these schools. Some parents want to rely entirely on me and don't want to take the time to go abroad and see the school. But if these schools are in Europe or Great Britain, I always encourage them to actually see the school because it’s important to feel its atmosphere, meet students and teachers, and see if there is chemistry between the visiting families and those they meet at school.

If it is in Canada or the United States, the trip is much more time-consuming, so parents rarely decide to go. Then we just rely on talking to school staff online. Increasingly, school representatives come to Poland for various events that I organize, so then parents can meet them and talk to them. After these visits to the school, a decision is usually made about which school to choose, and then there are a whole lot of other formalities. For example, in Great Britain you have to get a legal guardian. Some schools offer this as part of their job, but in most cases it has to be arranged independently. Then there is also the visa application process and a lot of other formalities that I guide the parents through. What I do is not something they couldn't do without. All information today can be found online. But I have a lot of experience and know what to do and when, so it's just a lot more convenient for parents to use my help.

Our Kids: How do you find schools?

Barbara Salamon: I visit many schools. For instance, the day after tomorrow I'm flying to London and then to Scotland to visit a number of schools. I also get to know schools at various conferences and fairs. I organize my own trips from time to time, make appointments and visit schools. Schools also often organize such visits for counsellors and consultants. Sometimes there are unusual inquiries, unusual needs. And then I find these schools online. I also ask my colleagues from other countries. I ask if they have already cooperated with a given school and what their experiences were, because everything can look nice online and can be different in reality. So all the contacts I have gained over these 13 years are also a great support for me. I even have a Whatsapp group with a dozen of my colleagues from different countries—Nigeria, Turkey, Ukraine, Russia—where we post questions: "Have you already had a student at this school? How was it? I have a problem, don't you know what to do?” Our mutual support is also very important to us.

Our Kids: How do Polish children educated in Poland manage in these schools? Do they have a good reputation?

Barbara Salamon: Polish youth is very well brought up and there are practically no educational problems with Polish teenagers. When it comes to their academic abilities, they also usually do better than young people from many other countries. The teenagers who study abroad are very ambitious and are taught to work hard. What is often new for these young people from Poland and what do they have to learn? To ask for help, because in Polish public schools, students are not encouraged to ask questions, to ask for support from their teachers, so it’s difficult for them to learn this in the beginning. And this is probably their greatest difficulty, because in terms of language, Polish students are usually also great, which I know, because I conduct initial interviews with them before the actual one with the headmaster. Very often, these teenagers speak better English than I do. Often, since childhood, they have learned English privately, attended language courses, and sometimes attended bilingual schools.

Our Kids: Tell us a success story—something that you thought was fantastic, that worked out great.

Barbara Salamon: There are a lot of these stories, but the coolest ones for me are when a parent comes with a child who has big problems in their current school and is also afraid to go abroad, but also treats this trip as their last resort. For example, I now have a girl who will be writing her final IB exams this year. She went to school in England a few years ago. In Poland, she had big problems with anorexia. Before leaving for England, she had very poor grades in school and was very stressed out. I was so worried about her. She was in regular contact with a psychologist and with her psychiatrist, because she continued to take treatments for these eating disorders. After a year in a boarding school, she no longer needed any external support. At school, she developed so much that she is one of the most outstanding students and even in her dormitory room, she has the logos of the best American universities on the wall, because she is applying to study at the best universities right now. Four years ago, when we started our cooperation, it would have been completely unthinkable for her parents and for her that she could even dream of studying at those best universities.

And such stories inspire me and motivate me to work, and also show that you can never write off a student at the very start. Because I believe that there are no incapable children. Everyone has a talent, everyone is good at something. And it is the role of educators and schools to discover these talents and enable the teenager to develop their talents. I complain a bit about the Polish school, because although there are more and more good schools in our country, in traditional schools, everyone is supposed to be the same. There are memes circulating online that, for example, an elephant will not learn to fly. And it's the same with teenagers. And with us adults, too. Everyone has some predispositions, some talents, and it is important to develop them. For example, I can't play the piano. I've tried a couple of times and I'd love to learn, but I don't have the talent for it. And there's no point in me wasting years of my life learning it; since I'm good at something else, it's worth spending my energy on what I'm talented at.

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