Before being accepted to a private school, establish with your child how the choice will be made.
The role of the student in selecting a school is a complicated one because it generally reflects parenting styles, family values, and priorities. The range goes from the parent making the decision, to collaborative decision making between parents and student, to the student choosing from among parent-approved options, to the student independently making the decision. What’s most important among those options is deciding in advance which one to choose.
The question is often asked, at what age should a child have a role. Again, there’s no easy answer and it reflects how each family is run. Educational decisions have lifetime implications and independent school decisions have significant costs associated with them. That said, this is an incredible learning opportunity for growth and maturity. Bringing your child along on this journey, inviting them to participate and giving them insight to your own thinking can be an incredible family experience.
The degree to which you engage your child should reflect the degree to which you think they are ready for mature thinking and reasoning. There are a lot of very mature fifth graders out there; there are a lot of very immature ninth graders out there. Start by looking at other decisions you let your child make: how they spend free time, what they choose to eat, who they consider friends, what they want to wear, etc. Given a choice, would your child choose chocolate cake and ice cream for breakfast or oatmeal and a pear? If the former, you may need to take more of a role in the final decision!
One exercise is to ask your child to determine their criteria for deciding. You do the same. And then compare. This is a good way for your child to see what is important to you. If your son has put lunches and number of gym classes on his list or your daughter prioritizes where her friends are going or if there’s a uniform, then it would be helpful for them to see that your list includes class sizes, curricular offerings, and school values. Let them know that their role will be determined by the maturity, thoughtfulness and seriousness of purpose they demonstrate in this process. If they want a strong say then they need to be a strong partner with you.
No matter the degree of partnership with or input you invite from your child, don’t abandon your responsibility as parent. Most students can’t conceive what life will look like past next Tuesday. They’re counting on you to at least guide them if not decide for them the decisions that will impact their life and education for decades to come. Values and education are two of the greatest gifts a parent can give their child. Don’t be too quick to abdicate that profound privilege.