Parents in the Chicago area have a lot of options when it comes to sending their kids to school. One of the first things moms and dads must decide: Public or independent?
Local experts shared their reasons why they think parents should consider independent schools.
1 THE POWER TO CHOOSE A SCHOOL THAT SHARES YOUR VALUES
Many families are drawn to an independent school because they find one that matches their values and is a good fit for their family.
“Making sure you have a good fit with mission, philosophy, and size is such a neat ability that is sometimes denied students in a public school. Go to a neighborhood school and you don’t have a lot of choices,” explains Michael Roberts, president of the Lake Michigan Association of Independent Schools and head of school at The Catherine Cook School in Chicago.
“We enroll families, not just children,” Roberts says.
Parents should make sure any independent school on their list is a good fit not just for their child but the entire family, especially given that families enter into long-term relationships with schools.
Catherine Cook enrolls students from preschool through eighth grade, meaning families could be there for a decade or longer, especially if they have multiple children, he says.
2 THE ABILITY TO APPROACH EDUCATION FROM A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE
Independent schools often have flexibility in their approach to learning that other schools do not.
“A lot of parents are drawn to us because we are student-driven and student-paced, and not all schools have the luxury of enjoying creativity and collaboration in the classroom experience that we have,” says Beth Caldwell, director of communications at Chiaravalle Montessori in Evanston. “Our students have the opportunity to think outside the box and to be more entrepreneurial.”
3 SMALL CLASS SIZES
Roberts says independent schools often have smaller classrooms than public schools.
“Smaller classes allow for individualized attention, certainly when trying to do more hands-on learning. Working in smaller groups means more opportunity for rich learning experiences,” he says.
4 TEACHER TRAINING
Independent schools often devote a large portion of their resources to teacher training.
“Typically independent schools have well-prepared teachers and strong professional development budgets,” Roberts says. “We put money where our mouth is so our faculty is up to speed on the latest knowledge of what they’re teaching.”
Some schools also require additional training. Montessori certification for upper grade teachers, for example, requires two additional years of training with an experienced teacher, which leads to additional peer mentoring.
“We welcome interns and see it as a win-win. There’s nothing like the energy of a young teacher and when you pair them with the wise mentors, you get a magical combination of skill and savvy with energy and enthusiasm,” Caldwell says.
5 HIGHER LEVEL OF ATTENTION TO DIFFERENT KINDS OF LEARNING
Caldwell says that because independent schools are mission-driven institutions, they focus more on the social-emotional learning. “It’s very clear when a student is working inside their comfort zone and the teacher can invite them to move outside of it and guide the student to stretch themselves. We want them to work at a level where they are challenged but not overwhelmed.”
Roberts agrees, noting that the development of the whole child and life skills extend beyond the classroom.
“Students at our school have opportunities to experience outside the classroom. We bring the world into the school and also take the kids out into the world,” he says.
“Whether it’s a study on the city or neighborhood, we believe it is important to get kids out doing authentic activities that interest them and make them better people.”
That focus allows independent schools to help students build good character and prepare to be good leaders.
6 FINANCIAL AID IS AVAILABLE
“Our goal is to get families into our school that will thrive and be successful, not just those with discretionary income,” Roberts says. “Access is the greatest challenge for parochial and private schools. Most private schools
have a need-based financial assistance program because we want socio-economically diverse student bodies and group of families.”
“If you are a family in love with a school, but need help to make it happen, don’t be shy. The need-based financial aid programs are administered blindly by an outside company,” says Roberts. “If you’re willing to take the risk, the outcome could be really beneficial for you and your children.”