You’ve received and accepted a private school admission offer—congratulations! Like many families in your situation, you’re probably experiencing a mix of emotions.
Relief that the application process is over and your child will soon attend a school of your choice.
Excitement about what this means. Students who graduate from private schools receive the highest quality of secondary school education and personal attention that enables them to excel in college and throughout their adult life.
But you might be feeling a tinge (maybe a flood) of anxiety, too. Was this the right decision? Will my child be safe, happy, and successful? What do we do next? What if we miss an email or fail to meet a deadline, or the transition gets fumbled in one way or another?
Trust your decision.
Drew Miller, director of admissions at Cranbrook Schools, encourages parents to trust their schools. “You’ve researched it—you’ve decided it’s a good match for your child,” he said, explaining that while each school has a different way of doing things, they've had years of experience welcoming students and handling a wide range of scenarios. Whatever your situation is, you can be confident that they’ve seen it before and have a contingency.
You likely chose your school because you felt they were fully aware of the weight of responsibility of providing the best education while properly caring for your child and keeping you adequately informed in the process.
Action items to address.
Now that your child is enrolled, the next step is onboarding. “Onboarding” is an umbrella term for what schools do to get families settled into the new environment. The process looks different from school to school, but some fundamentals are the same. Here’s what you’ll want to attend to right away.
Get familiar with the technology used by your child’s school to communicate and manage information. While some schools still rely heavily on paper, most have software to manage their operations.
Log in and keep your contact information updated. If you change your address or telephone number, tell the school right away so that you don’t miss important communication. If you aren’t receiving emails, check to make sure they’re not landing in your spam box.
Pay attention to deadlines for completing and submitting forms. The health form is a big one. You will receive it early in July since it requires input from your medical professional; the deadline is usually early August. If you will be away on vacation and this will affect your ability to receive communication and meet deadlines, the school would love to know ahead of time and will make accommodations for you.
Many schools, like Cranbrook, release information in increments in a timely manner to avoid overwhelming families with too much information at once. In July, expect communication about summer reading lists, health forms, and other things to do over the summer. August will likely bring more frequent emails with information such as who to call if your child is absent, nurses’ numbers, and drop-off and pick-up details.
At this point, you will interact less with the admissions team and more with the administrative staff and faculty.
Until now, most or all your interactions were with the admissions team. It might feel jarring to now deal with a whole new set of people, namely the administrative staff and faculty. But according to Miller, whether your school does a gradual or sudden hand-off, “These are the folks who are really going to engage with your child during his or her time at the school.”
“The hand-off is done in a very intentional way,” said Angelita Castanon, the former dean of upper school students at Cranbrook Schools. Everything from the pace at which information is released, the process by which students are matched with advisors, and the timing of welcoming events, is designed to make the onboarding experience as stress-free as possible.
There are systems in place to acclimate your child (and you) into the school community.
“Building relationships is key,” said Castanon. Joined by Laura Carl, dean of lower school enrollment at Cranbrook, the two outlined several strategies they deploy to build relationships and help families transition into the new school.
They started by pointing out that your child will need to know the different adults in their school life and what they do. Most schools provide a “Who is Who” directory to help them (and you) learn who to go to with different questions and issues.
Most private schools also have a system to connect new students with current students. Programs such as “Summer Buddies” or “Summer Friends” are typically available at least once during the summer to show your child around campus. Getting a personal tour from a current student helps your child gain a sense of belonging.
Peer programs also give new students a chance to have someone they already know at school when they arrive on the first day. This interaction is particularly important for younger children since the first day of school can be especially nerve-wracking for them.
At Cranbrook, they ask new students to fill out a questionnaire with specific questions like “Do you sleep with the lights on?” or “Do you like music when you study?” The information collected helps them make good roommate pairings and connect students with the right advisors. These questions may seem funny at first glance, but it’s all intended to care for your child's social and emotional needs by fostering good relationships.
Private schools also welcome and nurture parent associations. Your mothers’ council or dads’ club is a great way to stay in the loop, meet other parents, and be active in your child’s school. Families who participate tend to feel more connected and have less anxiety about their child’s experience in school.
Orientation is a big item in getting acclimatized. Time is built into the schedule for you to speak to your child’s advisor and begin to form that relationship with your primary point of contact. Make good use of the time, as the advisor is the person most involved in your child’s school life.
Schools are deliberate about setting students up for academic success.
Some schools ask your child to complete a placement test at home. While they may look to you for help, your child should complete this assessment independently. It will save a world of pain later by placing them in courses that challenge them appropriately and are right for their current needs.
Private schools have a reputation for producing graduates with a high level of independence and autonomy. They achieve this by offering lots of scaffolding and support early on and gradually removing them as students develop.
Supports are age-appropriate. For example, the ninth-grade advisory program typically involves lots of handholding to help students with the challenges of high school. Students receive direct instruction and reminders on how to use study hall, how to write emails to their teacher, how to ask for an extension on a deadline, the proper way to be excused from classes, and how to handle themselves at the nurses’ office.
Miller gave the example of how students are taught to write a history paper. In ninth grade, the process might involve frequent check-ins over their choice of topic and other minor details. By grade 12, the handholding is gone, and the teacher simply announces, “Make sure the paper is on my desk by this date.”
But that moment right there is probably part of why you took the private school route. You’re looking to raise a highly confident, capable person ready for the rigors of higher education who is poised for success in all areas of life.
To sum it all up…
Dropping your child off the first day doesn’t have to be nerve-wracking. Minimize the jitters and make it a joyful experience by being informed, proactive, and by keeping on top of the to-do items. Your number one action item is to make sure the school has your current contact information. Number two—trust your decision and, as Miller said, know that it’s all going to come together.