Could an Independent School be an Option for Your Child?

With financial aid, community organizations and a support network, you may have more educational options than you think

Fox and her husband connected to Dalton through Early Steps, a unique program in New York that works with youngsters prior to their kindergarten or first-grade years. All the other programs (see Resources below) target children in middle school or even high school. By then, it’s often too late, says Early Steps Executive Director Jacqueline Pelzer. Early Steps supports families of color through the school selection and application process; it also assists with school tours and financial aid applications, and positions children to be accepted into the city’s top independent schools.

What does Pelzer look for in the preschoolers she works with? Not necessarily precocious reading—though she has known youngsters who were reading at age 3—but she expects them to recognize the difference between numbers and letters, to speak in coherent sentences, to know basic colors, and “to be open to wonder.”

An Education-focused Lifestyle

Independent schools differ from other learning institutions in that they require a commitment from families—they don’t support the drop-off-your-child-at-the-school-door lifestyle. “You may have to restructure your life to make this a priority,” notes Fox. Timmons discloses that the families are being interviewed just as much as the students are, and that parents are seen as “a volunteer corps.”

But the education the students receive is worth it, says Pelzer, who says graduates of independent schools make up 25% to 30% of students in the Ivy League. Fox, who calls her son’s teachers “amazing,” has been pleased. “They’ve surpassed my expectations. They understand who my son is and discipline him gently, in a way that allows him to maintain his sense of self. There’s no ‘bad child’ ethos.”

Pelzer encourages families of color to explore the independent school option. “These schools are sincere about diversity,” she says. “I tell [the parents I work with] to suspend doubt while maintaining a healthy skepticism.”

Unfortunately, doubt is easy to come by. African-Americans make up only 6% of the roughly 588,000 students in schools that are members of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), a membership organization that is the national voice of independent schools; nonmember NAIS schools have even fewer—only 5% of 52,000 students are African-American. This stark imbalance leaves some Black parents uneasy. Concerned that their child will merely serve as someone else’s cultural experience, or that their children will develop only a tenuous connection to their own community give them pause.

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  • http://www.4RIISE.org Gina Parker Collins

    Thank you Robin for sharing alternatives in qualilty education. There is nothing like an independent school education! Many families of color balance this quality education with racial, cultural, and socio-economic disparities. As a parent of two attending an independent school, navigating the dynamics is complex, but worth the effort. In support of the well-balanced retention of independent school ed among families of color, Resources In Independent School Education – RIISE, was founded. Our virtual an live community provides resources and research for families of color that encourage vested interest and well-balanced retention of an independent school education. RIISE also helps to further the diversity intiatives of member independent schools to protect, retain, and attract families of color. We encourage more families to learn about and experience the virtues of an independent school! Please visit us at http://www.4RIISE.org.

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  • http://innyasworld.blogspot.com Nya M.

    As an individual who attended a private school and public school I am both encouraged and discouraged by this article. While private schools do offer more to children I find it disheartening that a private school education may be perceived as the only option for a quality education. Parents of children who attend private schools are more involved with their child’s education than the children who attend public school.
    It seems as if the level of expectation is lower in public schools, especially urban schools. Communities have lost the sense of pride, involvement, and responsibility. The availability of a quality education should not be limited to the students of private/suburban schools. Should we, Blacks, be aware of the resources available to us? Yes. But we shouldn’t think that outside sources are the only options available to us. I even wrote about it http://innyasworld.blogspot.com/2010/12/nya-culture-community-long-way-to-go.html