Grade Expectations: The Pull Of Private Schools Is The Community

private schoolsGrade Expectations is a weekly look at education from a parent’s perspective. We’ll talk special needs, gifted & talented, and everything in between. 

My former employers were a brother-sister pair who owned a family business, in every sense of the term. No only was it built by their grandfather and passed down the generations, their company behaved like a family. There were lots of company outings to baseball games and golf tournaments. They were extremely understanding of time off to take care of family. They even let those of us in the office bring our kids to work when someone was sick or school was closed. They were amazingly supportive of working parents. And I suppose that’s why everyone felt more than comfortable talking to me about my school choices for my daughter, and why I should enter her into the local Catholic school network.

My daughter was just three, but I had mentioned picking out her first pre-school. That’s when the lobbying effort started. One by one, colleagues came down to talk to me about their experiences, their trepidations, and their children’s successes. My co-workers and I rarely discussed religion, though they all knew that my husband has graduated from a local Catholic high school. But their support of private schools had very little to do with faith or spirituality. They weren’t talking to me about attending Mass on Sundays. They were talking about the schools and why they were important. And in their own way, each and every person brought up the support, kindness and community, not just of the schools themselves, but of the families that attended them.

The most influential person to have this discussion with me is named Walter. He and I worked side-by-side for almost a year. We got along, and spent many a happy hour making fun of our other co-workers. But what Walter and I talked about the most were our two young daughters. His little girl is just a couple years older than mine, but we had plenty of relatable situations and adorable stories to brighten long days at work.

Walter was talking to me about his choice to send his daughter to private school, and he explained it like this. “It has nothing to do with her learning about religion in school. We can go to Church for that. We can talk at home about it. We want her to go to this school because there’s a community of students and parents that are really dedicated to education. These are parents who are willing to invest in their kids learning. They’re parents who are involved and active in the school. And I think that when kids feel like the whole school is a big community, they feel more confident and they can concentrate on learning.”

It was the most straight-forward, and probably the most honest, pitch I could have ever received. Others had tiptoed around this idea, obviously worried about sounding elitist or stuck-up. But I don’t think it was necessarily about money. The money really seemed to be a way to separate out those who considered the education to be a priority and those who didn’t. It was a level of commitment, not of socioeconomic status.

Now, the homogeneity of parochial schools has often been seen as part of the downfall. Some believe that students need to be aware of kids who don’t grow up just like them. Students need to see that there are all sorts of families, not just ones who would consider putting their money into private schools. I can understand the value there. But I don’t think that’s fair to completely brush aside the security and support that these often like-minded student bodies foster.

Public schools are begging for parents to be more involved. They’re trying to do everything they can to foster a sense of community within their schools. Private schools have that from the very start. They have families who feel invested in the school from the beginning. And whether you agree with everything about private schools are not, I think that community is a definite advantage for the students experience it.

(Photo: bikeriderlondon/Shutterstock)

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