Parent interview on choosing a private school: Shanti

Shanti shares insights about choosing schools for her children

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Shanti has two children, Isabelle and Walter. She was looking for a private school for both of them.

We asked her several questions about this process. We covered topics such as her goals, research methods used, challenges faced, and plans for the future. Here’s what she had to say.

If you’re interested, read the rest of our parent interviews on choosing a school. You can also read our comprehensive education expert advice guides on choosing a school and getting into a school.

Q: When did you first consider private school for Isabelle?
A: I first considered private schools for our oldest daughter Isabelle, who is really bright but who learns somewhat differently than other students. I went online to look at a few of the popular private schools but when I looked at the academic curriculum, I honestly wasn’t that impressed. They go on some great field trips, but you’re paying a lot of money to learn essentially the same things you do in public schools, and some of the private schools that I saw informally had pretty run-down buildings with no gymnasiums. Our public school had just got this fabulous playground and its facilities were outstanding in comparison.

Q: When did you first consider a private school for Walter?
A: Our son Walter struggled through elementary school with a learning disability, and in Grade 7 I informally brought up the idea that maybe he should go to a private school with one of his teachers. She, actually, did all of the research based on her experiences teaching Walter and finally said “I think I have the perfect school for his learning style.” Walter and I looked at their website and it did look promising, but it was much too expensive for us.

Walter’s academic challenges became more acute in Grades 8 and 9. He found it very challenging to even take one full day of school, so he had a very high absentee rate, and by this time he was self-medicating through marijuana. We thought he was on the road to a very dark place.

Q: How did you begin to choose a school for Walter?
At one point, Walter finally said, “mom, we should take a look at that school again.” He knew he had to make some changes.

We arranged an interview with the principal and Walter and I agreed to meet at her office. He arrived half an hour before the prescribed time, taking public transit from our house to the school, and went and got his hair cut before attending the interview. All of this from a kid who found it challenging to even get to school on time, even though it’s less than a five minute walk from our house

Q: What were your impressions of the school?
A: The school is located in this beautiful Victorian home in a gorgeous neighbourhood. You could tell from her office that the principal was well-travelled and widely educated. Her office was cluttered with books and photos from her travels.

Q: What was the interview process like?
A: We sat down on the couch and she went straight to my son, asking him all of the questions—what was he interested in, what would he change about public school, how could the school support his style of learning. Actually, the interview process was surreal. I was literally just a fifth wheel in the room. They bonded in a way I couldn’t understand, Walter was just able to comfortably open up to her. I paid for the tuition that very afternoon. From my standpoint, I told the principal that I didn’t care about academic progress, I just wanted him to develop a love of learning.

Q: What were your family dynamics around the decision?
A: I did not tell my husband that we had enrolled, initially. My husband had a hard time accepting the situation, because he had to rise up from challenging family circumstances. He had grown up and gone to school in a tough neighbourhood but he had excelled. He’s thinking, “I had to work hard to succeed, why can’t you?” Our kids had way more than he ever did growing up, and now they were doing poorly. I had no idea how I was going to pay this.

Q: Do you have any advice for families searching for private schools?
A: My advice to families is that if you’re frustrated with the public system and feel that your child’s needs aren’t being met then you have to consider private school. Trust your child to know their own needs and make them full partners in the decision-making process, because it’s their experiences that will be most important. If they’re not going to click in their environment, then what’s the point? Sometimes, eclectic kids require an eclectic environment in which to flourish.

Q: Have you been happy with your decision?
A: By the end of October, we couldn’t recognize our son. He takes the bus and subway for over an hour each way and never misses class. He is articulate, has improved his grades, and will be attending the University of Toronto in the summer.

Our two youngest kids are enrolled at the same school as well, even though their academic challenges are not nearly as great. They are both thriving, although it puts huge financial pressure on us. My husband was won over and is a huge supporter of the school now; it really is near and dear to his heart and he has re-prioritized his life to make it work. He sits on the school’s teacher’s guild; sort of a parent advisory committee that collaborates with the teachers. We’ll make whatever financial sacrifices we need to in order make it work out.

Child-specific advice on school choice
For child-specific insights on choosing a school, read our guide. We explore how school choices crucially depend on kids' unique traits, such as their mental and academic focussocial tendenciesactivity level, academic interests (such as art and STEM), and other attributes (such as giftednessspecial needslearning disabilities, and social issues).

To get school-choice advice customized to your child's unique traits, create a child profile through your user account and read our seven ways to choose a school based on your child's needs (i.e., overall fitmore academic challengesocial strugglesacademic strugglesintensive learning interestsuniversity preparation, and special needs.).

Read the rest of our parent interviews on choosing a school: Catherine MauleJennifer ReynoldsLisa McCabeCaitlin O’LearyKarim and ShafreenCatherine WangHolly WykesSabine KussmanFelix WongKim BridgemanNicole MorellZoe Mitchell, Shemin Jaffer

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