Families with financial means often opt to send their kids to a private high school. But those ranks are diminishing in today’s economy. This may come as a surprise to some parents, but some studies — such as a report by the Center on Education Policy, an independent national education advocacy organization — show that students in both public and private schools tend to do equally well on school achievement tests.
That’s encouraging news for cash-strapped parents; so is the fact that more school options than ever are available these days. They range from private day and boarding schools, to neighborhood public schools, to charter schools (the latter are public schools that operate with fewer state regulations than do “regular” schools). Still other choices include magnet schools, which often focus on a particular subject area (such as art or technology), sometimes mix grade levels or operate year-round, and generally draw students from throughout a district. Also popular are alternative schools, an umbrella term for facilities with a teaching philosophy that may differ from traditional learning methods.
With so many factors influencing this important choice of the best school, what’s a parent to do? One key step: Research, then visit various schools to get a feel for which one seems best for your child’s academic needs and personality.
“Parents can ask themselves: ‘Would my child do better in a larger, more stimulating environment, or a smaller school?’ ” says Kim DeFonce, associate director of admission at Trinity-Pawling School, an independent boys school in Pawling that dates back to 1907. “Parents say they like that we’re a small, very traditional school — sort of an old-fashioned place, in a good sense,” she says. “We stress things like learning responsibility and accountability, and becoming an advocate for yourself.”
Trinity-Pawling, a combined day and boarding school with about 300 students in grades seven to 12, and a 7:1 student/faculty ratio, offers everything from AP courses to interscholastic sports ranging from football to wrestling. And while it’s an Episcopalian school, “we’re not like a traditional parochial school,” says DeFonce, who explains that the largest segment of students at Trinity-Pawling is actually Roman Catholic, followed by Jewish students, then Episcopalians. “We have students from all religions and from around the world,” DeFonce says. “It sort of throws the old cliché of a ‘religious school’ out the window. The church part is really about building a community.”
Another aspect that Trinity-Pawling is proud of: “All our teachers, our faculty, live here on campus,” says DeFonce. “Your math teacher might also be your hockey coach, and live in your dorm. We build a very close-knit family here.”
Trinity-Pawling students on the grounds of the school
Brian Romski, 17, is a senior at Trinity-Pawling; he began as a day student in eighth grade and later became a boarding student. Brian now commutes to school from his home in Mount Kisco; he plans to major in business management in college.
“I used to be a student at a public school, but things weren’t working out for me. My family and I decided to look at private schools and found Trinity-Pawling to be the best fit for me,” he says. “The biggest difference between public school and private school is structure. At Trinity-Pawling, no one judges you by the clothes you wear or the way you look, because we all dress the same and, somewhat, are just one big group of brothers living together. And the small class sizes, from about three to 15, have helped me so much. Teachers are always around for extra help if you’re struggling. Private school has given me a confidence I never would’ve gotten at public school. I wasn’t exactly the easiest and most mature kid in eighth grade, but if you ask the faculty, they would say how much I’ve grown as a student. At first I was a little reluctant to attend Trinity-Pawling and unsure of what to expect. But honestly, it has turned out to be the best decision of my life.”
Trinity-Pawling administrator Kim DeFonce says that, while costs rise every year, private school can still be a viable option for many families. Be sure to ask what a school can do to assist your child, she says. “For instance, at Trinity-Pawling, we have a $3.3 million budget for financial aid. About 35 percent of our students receive aid. Merit-based scholarships are available for day students, and some can receive $10,000 per year. So if you keep the merit award for six years here, that can be worth $60,000. Plus on top of that, eligible students can get financial aid. That’s how we help make it affordable for local families.”