Many parents ask us for guidance on what kind of school would be best for their child. The answers are as different as the students we see, but there are some basic principles that apply to all students and may be helpful for families thinking about schools.
The threshold question we always need to consider is what level of academic support does a particular student require. Some students will do well in a competitive academic environment and will need only to apply some basic strategies at home and at school to manage a complex curriculum. Other students will definitely need to be in a school that offers significant supports for students who learn differently. These students may need specialized reading programs, and a wide array of supportive services, and would be overwhelmed in a setting where other students are moving at a much faster pace. There are both public and private schools that serve both of these populations, although outside of the New York Metro region, it becomes harder to find private schools that support struggling learners.
The most challenging placement situation arises when a student needs more than minimal support but does not require the more restrictive setting of a specialized school. Some of these students may do best in a public school, where there can be sufficient supports for academic difficulties yet the student can be in a class with learners of all levels. Of course, that option is not always available in places where the public schools are underfunded or not responsive to student needs.
One thing we urge parents to consider is to make sure your child's school deals with all of his needs, including those outside the academic realm. If your son loves to swim, he will be happier in a school with a pool and a swim team, where he can excel outside the classroom. If your daughter loves to act, she will be able to be a star outside the classroom --even if she struggles with her schoolwork -- but only if her school has an active theatre program.
Parents tell us that the most helpful step they took in deciding where to enroll their child was to visit several schools. Nothing takes the place of seeing a school and getting a "gut" feeling as to whether your child will be a good match for what it has to offer.