Private School for 2e Learners? Admissions Process & Tips
Updated: Dec 3, 2020
REEL recently hosted a private school panel featuring three parents, Abby Kirigin, Carmen O’Shea, and Callie Turk, who shared their journeys to find a good educational fit for their twice-exceptional (2e) children and families. The event also featured new resources from REEL on private schools in Silicon Valley. We present below the second of three blog posts that summarize the key takeaways from the session. The first blog post offered advice on key considerations when thinking about private schools for your 2e learner.
Essays. Recommendations. Tests. Shadow Days. Interviews. Projects. The Silicon Valley private school admissions process can be daunting. REEL’s private school parent panelists have applied to many schools over the years and offer these key pieces of advice.
Talk to multiple people. Don’t rely on just one person’s experience or perspective to make your decisions. Conduct thorough due diligence because every child and family will have different needs. The information people share about their experiences with schools is personal. Plus, schools change over time, and it’s important to get up to date information. If you read online reviews, keep in mind that it is usually the most vocal and unhappy parents who post and, again, complaints from several years back may have been addressed—ask the admissions officer and parents currently at the school about past issues and how they’ve been resolved.
Trust your gut. You are the expert in your child, your family and what will work for you. If your current situation isn’t a good fit, trust your instincts to look for a better solution for your child. Although Callie’s daughter started elementary school at a lovely, neighborhood school in the respected Palo Alto Unified School District, it was obvious by the end of second grade that her daughter wasn’t thriving. Most of Callie’s friends didn’t understand why they would consider leaving the school. But, as Callie shared, “We had to consider our options; our daughter was picking at her skin out of anxiety and was late to school at least 40 days in third grade—she just didn’t have an interest in going.” After exploring private school options, her daughter was offered a spot at a small private school with a mission to serve gifted and creative children. The school had smaller classroom sizes, opportunities to accelerate in areas where her daughter had strengths, and a more flexible and engaging curriculum; Callie and her husband knew it would be a better environment for their daughter, despite the tug to keep her at the local school with her siblings.
Don’t wait to get evaluations. If you feel that your child is having challenges with learning, the panelists recommended having your child evaluated. Callie observed, “The more you know about your child, the better it is in terms of being able to understand what their true needs are.” If your local public school drags its feet and you can afford a private evaluation, the panelists encouraged moving forward, because the information from a comprehensive evaluation can reveal your child’s strengths, weaknesses, and needs—and may also be requested as part of a school application process.
To disclose or not to disclose. Attendees asked if they should disclose their children’s learning differences as part of the admissions process. The panelists concur on the answer: “Yes.” As Carmen noted, “Disclosure is tricky. And I will definitely say we have been burned. But, I have always felt that the best way to go was to be pretty open about disclosing all aspects of our kids, their learning styles, abilities, and challenges. I have always disclosed my son’s ADHD diagnosis because I felt that it’s important for the school to understand. I’d rather they turn down our application than accept him and then ask him to leave a few months later because they say it’s not a good fit.” Abby echoed this same view: “Be upfront about your child and what their strengths are, but also all the other issues, so that both sides can evaluate appropriately whether this is going to be a good fit.”
Ask if a school has openings—any time. Most schools in the Bay Area follow a standard admissions cycle, with applications due in early January and decisions posted by mid-March. However, schools can have openings outside of this cycle, and there is no harm in asking if you decide in April or May that you’d like to make a change for the coming school year. This has been even more true during the pandemic, when families have made last minute decisions to move or pull their children from private schools, leaving open spots for schools to fill. And even though the two most common “entry points” for private school once your child is past the elementary years are the sixth grade and ninth grades, schools often accept children at other grade levels. It never hurts to ask.
Learn about financial aid. Many parents won’t pursue private school options because of the expense, but most private schools offer financial aid packages to families in need. It often is a core part of their mission and also required by their accrediting agencies. Callie observed, “if that’s your only barrier, it’s worth asking.”
Inquire about flexible options. Panelists noted that some private schools are flexible about addressing a child’s discrepant strengths and weaknesses. For example, some will accelerate a child in math or let a child complete math elsewhere, such as a one-on-one school. Don’t hesitate to ask schools about the options for this type of flexibility.
While the typical private school application process follows a few core steps—open house, shadow day, testing, recommendations, essays, and interviews—several changes are on tap this year because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Plus, some schools follow a different path or require additional submission materials. The best advice is for parents to check the individual websites of the schools to learn more about their admissions processes. Most Bay Area schools also use an online system called Ravenna (www.ravenna-hub.com) to manage the admissions process. Each school may alter their “normal” admissions process this year, including making tests (such as the ISEE) optional and requiring recommendations from your child’s teachers from last year as well as this year.
One parent who attended asked about ways to manage the stress and confusion of the application process for her child. Abby advised that it is stressful, but that it helps to “Involve them, let them know that they have agency in the decisions, and that you are not going to make a decision without them. They’ll have the chance, even at the younger grades, to shadow and try schools out and then let you know what they think of them. We use a lot of calendars and spreadsheets, especially when they’re older, to keep them on track with where we are with each school, what’s coming next. If your child is feeling especially overwhelmed by the process, a good option might be to set a specific time during the week, say on Sundays, when you’ll talk about applications, and avoid talking about it the rest of the week.” Callie observed “So much of this is based on your child’s temperament. If you have a child who is more anxious, then maybe think about what the process is that you’re asking them to go through, because that’s a reflection of the school. We opted out of any school that had testing, high pressure interviews, or things that were going to spike my daughter’s anxiety.” Even in a test-optional year such as this one, consider how having standardized testing requirements in “normal” times is a reflection of the school and its culture.
When thinking about the best school fit for your child, Carmen summarized: “It’s been a little bit exhausting and challenging at times. But on the other hand, I’m very grateful for the places we've gone to that have been able to work with our kids in positive ways. And I would say all of them have had their good sides and their downsides. It’s really about talking to the school, talking to parents, looking at multiple perspectives, and really using that information to make your decisions about schools.”
Learn about specific private schools in Silicon Valley and beyond in our third post.