You've made the decision to begin searching for a private school for your child. With 25 percent of all the elementary and secondary schools in the nation listed as private or independent, where do you begin? A good place to start is understanding the different types of private schools.
Independent vs Private Schools
Although "private school" and "independent school" are often used interchangeably the two are different. Usually a private school is part of a larger organization such as a church or religious community. In contrast an independent school is just that, independent of other organizations with its own board of governors or trustees. What they have in common, is that both are funded with tuition, fees and donations.
Private School Grade Levels
Most private schools are divided by grade levels. Students in kindergarten through grade five attend an elementary school, while those in grades six through eight go to a middle school. Junior high is a variation of that idea since is serves students in grades seven through nine. Private high schools are for students in grades nine through 12 or freshmen through seniors. College Prep are just that: schools with a heavy emphasis on academics which prepare a student to go to college.
Day Schools/Country Day Schools
Day or Country Day schools are private schools which students attend during the day and then go home at night. Usually Country Day Schools are located in the country or suburbs.
When many people think of a private school, they think of boarding schools. Although only one type of private school, boarding schools where students live in dorms or halls on campus, are the stereotypical independent school portrayed in movies or books. A residential school, where students live on campus Monday through Friday or all week long, these institutions offer students a highly structured day with set times for classes meals, athletics, study and recreation. Most American boarding schools are for students in high school. The con of going to a boarding school is being away from home and having the faculty and advisers making some daily decisions usually left to parents. Being away from home is also an argument for boarding school since it allows students to exert their independence and build confidence. Some parents also like the daily supervision their child will receive.
Special Needs Schools
Special needs private schools serve a wide range of students. Some are geared for those with learning or physical disabilities, while others focus on those with emotional needs. Still others offer students who are extremely bright an atmosphere where they can blossom or those who want to focus on one talent - a place where they can hone their ability. Searches for these types of institutions are very specific and should be done with the needs of your child in mind.
Single Sex / Coeducational Schools
At one time most private schools were single sex schools where boys went to school with boys girls went to school with girls. That has all changed. Most private schools are now co-educational with boys and girls going to school together. Some single sex schools remain and many parents and educators are again interested in this type of program, especially for older students. According to some educational experts the single sex school create opportunities that don't exist in the coed classrooms as long as teachers are trained to capitalize on the difference by employing strategies geared for girls in an all-girls school and those for boys in an all-boys school. Administrators and teachers both believe the major benefit of single sex schools is decreasing the distractions to learning with a corresponding increase in student achievement. Educational research has shown the benefits of single sex schools are greatest for at-risk students and some ethnic minorities. More modest benefits are realized for other students. In contrast many educators believe we live in a coed society and students need to learn how to interact with each other.
Is your child dreaming of a military career? Then one of the 30 military schools in the United States might be the perfect fit. This type of private school, which are primarily boarding schools for those in grades nine and up, focus on personal and team discipline along with academic curriculum and technology. Leadership and patriotism are emphasized at these selective private schools. Many include a JROTC or Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps and are a path to the country's military academies.
Religious or Parochial Private Schools
If you have a strong faith or want your child to receive religious instruction, a religious school might be the right choice. Religious schools are supported by one faith and usually teach the tenets, philosophy and practices of that religion. Generally they also offer a strong academic curriculum. Some religious schools are more relaxed, providing classes in world religion or philosophy instead of those about their faith. Others are stricter, requiring students and families to be members of the religion, signing a profession of faith and adherence to its religious practices and beliefs. Catholic schools are sometimes called parochial schools and are the most common type of religious school in the United States. But almost every faith has religious schools in this country.
Based on the philosophy of Dr. Maria Montessori, a medical doctor and educator, this type of private school works to teach the whole child in classrooms filled with hands-on materials that stimulate students' senses and motor skills. Emphasizing multiple-intelligences, Montessori schools promote self-directed learning, independence and individuality. Students of various ages are mixed in classrooms with flexible, non-competitive environments and a lack of grades, rewards or punishments. Most Montessori programs in the U.S. are for elementary age children.
Emphasizing discovery and imagination as a basis of learning, Waldorf schools were created by Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher and writer. Steiner's philosophy, anthroposophy, states that to understand the universe an individual must understand humanity first. Stressing music, art and language along with traditional subjects, Waldorf teachers encourage students' creativity in learning. Based in a roomy, homelike classroom with a teacher who has progressed through the grades with them, students may focus on one subject for as long as a month as they slowly learn all about it. Students often create their own toys and learning objects in this type of private school and are not graded on their work. Waldorf schools go from preschool through grade 12.