Finding the Right Academic Environment

09/03/2009  |  MARK H. SKLAROW
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Too many parents think the search for the perfect environment starts with the school. I made this mistake when I first moved into a new community many states away from my home. On our first trip down to Virginia to begin the process of what would be a move, my wife and I set out in our car visiting schools. As we looked, some emphasized parent involvement and others spoke of student responsibility, some were warm and embracing while others talked of the value of a competitive environment. We soon realized that every approach, as different as they were, sounded good in theory and each administrator shared compelling stories of success.

We quickly understood that what was good for one child, may not be helpful for all children, or frankly (what really mattered to us) what would be good for OUR children. We contemplated how different our daughters were from each other and how we parented them differently based on these needs. Given this, we recognized the importance of putting our CHILD first in the school search.

Ultimately, there is no such thing as a “good” or “bad” school, rather each need to be evaluated in terms of what it brings to each child that enters its doors. Determining what that child needs is where the search begins. This is exactly what a member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association does.

A family examining schools just 20 years ago may have had two choices: the local public school or the exclusive prep. Today, a parent may need to explore more choices as they evaluate their child’s learning style, personality, academic strengths and weaknesses, interest in athletics, art and music, as well as a school’s philosophical focus: experiential opportunities or teaching to a state’s strictly-tested standards of learning. It is here, in this evaluation process, that an educational consultant — an expert on matching students needs and interests along with family expectations — can help find a school environment where success seems more likely.

Even this is not easy, as never in history have our educational systems faced more challenges than they do today: Huge budget shortfalls, stagnated graduation rates surpassed by many nations around the globe, unfunded government mandates, and an increasing numbers of students identified for individualized educational plans, are just a handful of the issues local school districts face.

Luckily for families this is also an unprecedented time of options and opportunities. Traditional independent day and boarding schools, once an option only for the wealthiest in society, have become more affordable through financial aid and with a greater commitment to meritocracy over legacy or social status. Public charter schools have evolved, providing good alternatives to public schools, and also pressuring the publics to become stronger. Religious schools, home-schooling, and military academies provide other avenues for parents. While choice is a good thing, such an extensive list of possibilities — and multiple choices within each category — can easily lead to fatigue and confusion.

As I discovered many years with my own daughters, with or without a consultant, the game plan starts as parents think about their child as an individual and determine what serves them best: small classes of seven or eight students? Do they demonstrate independent initiative or need someone to gently (or not so gently) watch over them as they learn? Are they easily distracted by the opposite gender or need lots of activities where sociability and creativity are welcomed? Do they require a learning lab where those with special needs — from ADHD to gifted abilities — can be served? Will they go on their own, or do they need to be supervised? Does your child live to read and learn, or will they need a required homework period late in the afternoon before free time? Is home an oasis or might they benefit from an academically focused environment away from home? Does the family seek grounding in religious principle or a curriculum that emphasizes getting out and DOING rather than just studying?

These and scores of additional questions are what a consultant would ask.

Based on family responses, testing and past results, a consultant then uses the greatest tool in their arsenal: a personal knowledge of a multitude of schools to help design a list of great matches. This list might run the gamut from a single-gender boarding school or a local charter school. While additional exploration is still required of the family, and a school prerogative is still very much in play, a family can at least look down a list of appropriate schools chosen, not because they are well known or convenient or where a cousin went to play ball, but because the school will help a child thrive and mature academically and socially.

For more than 30 years, families have relied on IECA member educational consultants to provide unbiased, personalized help in the school search.  Through this process, the only goal is a child that thrives and succeeds, living up to his or her full potential.  With the highest standards for membership and strictest code of ethics, IECA membership is a family’s assurance that their child come first when exploring educational alternatives.

Mark H. Sklarow is Executive Director of the Independent Educational
Consultants Association IECA Member Educational Consultants are professionals who assist students and families with educational decision-making. To find a consultant, go to www.IECAonline.com.
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