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Parent interview on choosing a private school: Zoe Mitchell

Zoe Mitchell shares insights about choosing schools for her children

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Zoe Mitchell has three children. They are in Grades 2, 5, and 7.

We asked her several questions about the school-choice 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: How did schooling start for your kids?
A: When we were first looking at education for our kids before they started school, we did have the private school versus public school conversation. We felt like we wanted to go the public route because that's where the majority of children in our community were going. We also wanted them to learn to work with kids from all walks of life, not just privileged children, which you tend to think of in private school.

All our kids started off in the Catholic public system.

Q: When did you first start looking into private school?
A: At the beginning of Grade 5 we noticed that our daughter wasn't performing at the academic level that we had hoped for by this point in her education. And we had chosen not to go the French immersion route, which started in Grade 5 at her school. This created one classroom with 30 kids in the English stream: high-spirited children that probably wouldn't adapt to the French program. Her learning environment was distracting and loud, and there was an ineffective teacher. We thought we couldn't have another year of just getting by.

Q: How did your private school search begin?
A: We asked her if she would want to try out a private Christian school. We felt that we needed to get her out of the public system altogether, because these negative things she was experiencing were the trend across all the schools in the area. We were looking for a more focused education.

She was happy to go and try a private school for one day. I remember saying to the teacher, “I don't know if I can sell this change to her in one day.” And he said, “That's my job.” When I picked her up that day after school she said, “Can I come back tomorrow?” And she's never looked back.

Q: How did you make your final decision?
A: Her reaction was crucial in our decision. It’s pretty incredible at her age to leave kids that she's been with since kindergarten. She had wonderful friendships there. But she felt so invited and welcomed in the new school. Her response was impressive, which made me think it was probably worse than I knew at her old school.

We only looked at only one Christian school for a few reasons. First, it's so close to our house, like within four kilometers. But I also have three cousins who went there when it started. They went from kindergarten to Grade 8. And they're now adults. I was able to ask them what life was like at a small school and hear the pros and cons. I also asked about their transition from high school to university. I got first-hand feedback about two things: their experience in private school, and their experience at this school specifically.

I read a lot about the school’s mission and vision on their website and really liked it. My husband and I were really open to the Christian component because we were coming from a Catholic school, and we felt that the religion part was an asset. We were happy with the price point as well.

The night after my daughter had her visit there was an open house. That's when my husband and I went and had a good tour. We talked to the teacher who’d been with my daughter for the day. Then we went and talked to the teachers that would have our other kids if we transferred them over.

After we talked, I remember saying to the Grade 5 teacher who had my child for one day, “That was the best parent-teacher interview I've ever had. I couldn't believe how much he got in one day, and how well he understood her and her strengths and weaknesses.”

It was a pretty fast decision—literally overnight. She started the next day.

Sometimes it’s easier to make decisions that have to be made on the fly. I mean you do your best to pick the right one and you don't have time to doubt yourself too much.

A lot of thought had gone into the whole idea of getting out of the public system before that day, though. It started when she began complaining about her classroom situation and her general frustrations with her school. It was an evolution in a way, as we made the choice to move to a private school. It’s just that the final part of the decision was very quick. We were just so impressed after our visit that we were willing to send all our kids there overnight.

Q: How did you decide whether to send your other kids to this school?
A: I wanted the decision to be partly theirs, because I was not up for the battle of making them change. You've got to balance out the education with the social component and their comfort. My younger daughter was in SK at the time, and she was being exposed to this new school through her sister. The kindergarten teacher there kept coming to talk to her, and then eventually she said she wanted to go to the same school as her sister.

My son had established really good friendships at the public school and wasn't sold on changing to private. But we were also noticing that learning was a bit of a struggle for him and were looking at having an assessment done. We went down that road, and once we discovered the results and then saw the lack of support we got from his school we had to make a change. We'd been talking to him about the private school through that time and he actually said, “I think I would do better at this school.” It was a joint decision, and we weren't overwhelming him. We obviously wanted him to transfer, but we wanted him to do it on his own will.

Q: Has the school met your expectations?
A: There’s been a huge change in my son. I’m kicking myself for not forcing the move sooner. But he probably wouldn't have adjusted as well if he wasn't ready. He's had a great academic year. I’ve seen him grow as a person. His confidence grew. He's learning. He feels comfortable and well looked after.

I remember when I asked my daughter why she loves the school so much she said, “I finally feel like there's no competition.” She felt like she actually counted, and wasn't just another number in the classroom.

Q: What do you like about the school?
A: We loved that it was a smaller school in general. It's one floor and has smaller classroom sizes, which we valued, because the public education system was just getting way too big. We also felt that the environment was more positive. There was a feeling that the teachers enjoyed their jobs and wanted to be there, that they went above and beyond.

Plus we liked that there were opportunities for different types of education offered at the school. Based on their interests, they could choose programs that focus either on drama and the arts, sports—where kids could spend time learning how to golf, scuba dive, play tennis and more—or a more science-focused, hands-on, building and creating stream.

We knew our kids needed something more than they were getting at their public school. We not only wanted more for them academically, but also felt that their self-esteem could use some fostering at a private school.

Read the rest of our parent interviews on choosing a school

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