Time to transition: How can parents find the best school?

As students move from elementary school into middle and high school, parents turn their thoughts to preparing for the future. And there’s plenty for parents – and their children – to consider in those all-important transition years.

Middle school is a big step for children – especially when it comes to their social and emotional development so parents need to find a school that places as much emphasis on that social development as it does academic success, said Steve Mandell, head of school for Pinewood Preparatory School in Summerville.

“Knowing how critical a time this is for social and emotional growth, selecting a school that is safe in all ways is critical,” Mandell said. “Make sure teachers and administrators are accessible. Kids are going to go through some challenges, and you want to make sure you have a true partnership with the school you choose – whether it’s public or private.”

Mandell recommends parents look closely at the educators, including their experience teaching middle school students and the stability of the faculty. “How long have they taught in that environment? That’s a really good sign if they understand that age group,” he said.

When it comes time to transition to high school, the considerations are less about social development and small class size and more about the available opportunities and extracurricular offerings.

A college education today is what a high school education was 50 years ago, Mandell said. Pinewood is very college focused. “It’s not high pressure, but that expectation that everyone is going to college has a positive effect,” he added.

That means a dedicated guidance office that can focus on helping students in that exploration and application process is key.

“When you’re starting high school with an intent for a certain college, you need the roadmap for success,” he said. “You need to start preparing in ninth grade. In the fall of your senior year, if you start to figure that out, it’s too late. We’re in those conversations early and often.”

Hacker Burr, Head of School at Charleston Collegiate School on Johns Island, said he encourages parents and students to spend time at schools they may be considering. At Charleston Collegiate, students are on campus one or two days shadowing the school to get a feel for the academics and opportunities.

“Get on campus, talk to families at the school and not just the admission office,” he said. “Connect students with students.”

Helping greatly in the decision process is for parents to know their child’s learning style and how that meshes with a school, Burr said. Some students thrive in an environment with direct instruction and memorization while other children learn best visually or through hands-on, tactile learning.

For example, Charleston Collegiate focuses on project-based learning. If a student is good at memorizing but not a good collaborator, this might not be the best environment, he said.
“It’s us knowing who we are, and the students knowing who they are,” Burr said.

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