I have been the Director of Secondary School Placement at Rippowam Cisqua School for 17 years and throughout my tenure, I’ve had the great pleasure of watching hundreds of students find just the right school and return to Rippowam Cisqua to share their experiences. While the outcome is always a happy one, the process can be a bit daunting for some families. Admittedly, there are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to K–8/9 schools and secondary school placemen. These misconceptions are mostly
Myth #1: My child will have no day school option.
Some parents fear that boarding school will be the only option for students who attend a K-8/9 school. Not true. Here’s why:
- Schools are designed to grow enrollment in high school to add new people and fresh ideas to the cultural mix. This is especially true for independent schools who pride themselves on creating diverse environments and building strong communities.
- Not all students who attend a K-12 school in middle school stay for high school. It may be typical, but families are free to choose the right educational experience for their child. The need to switch schools may be driven by a family move, changes in the child’s social experience or a desire for a different or more challenging environment.
- The typical entry year for day schools is ninth grade although many day schools accept students in the tenth grade. The typical entry year for boarding schools is tenth grade although many boarding schools accept students in ninth. When applying in an atypical year, there may be less open seats, but there are also fewer applicants for the upper grades. But more often the driving factor for admission is what an individual school needs to complement its current student body.
Myth #2: I need to apply when my child is young so I can get in before the competition.
Some parents believe they should apply early and often to their day schools of choice to get ahead of the competition and secure their spot in high school. While I understand the rationale, you don’t need to, and it could hurt your chances in the long run. Here are three points to consider:
- Only leave a school if it is no longer the right fit for your child. Today’s environment offers parents many choices, but changing schools is a big deal if they are not prepped for the experience. First, explore all options. Is there something more the school can do to meet your needs? Talk to the administration and the teachers. Does your child need to be challenged more? Perhaps they can customize a program. Are they have social issues? Talk to the school counselor to reach a resolution. Leverage all the tools available to you at your current school. If you find that the school simply can’t meet your needs, then search one that can.
- Avoid applying year after year. You only get one chance to make a first impression. Therefore, apply to a school when your child is their “best self.” Should your child not be accepted, you will have to work harder the next time you apply to prove how your child has changed and why they should be accepted over another well-qualified candidate. If pursuing a school you’ve applied to before, it’s important to show growth, and that will be a challenge if you keep applying. Let time and space be your friend. Many students who were denied entry to a particular school in the elementary years find themselves admitted to high school.
- Kids change and so will their needs. The developmental milestones that children go through from age three to fifteen are monumental not to mention the educational milestones they must meet. The middle school years are the most tenuous, but it is within these critical tween years that children’s personalities start to emerge, interests start to shift, and value systems start to take hold. By the time they are 14 or 15 years old, the school they are now attending may not be the right place for them to grow into their full selves. By changing schools, they can choose the environment that will make the most sense for their teen self. This is evidenced by the many schools that Rippowam Cisqua students matriculate to after the eighth or ninth year. Very few students choose to attend the same school when they graduate.
Myth #3: My child will lose his friends and be shut out of new social circles.
When it comes to the child’s experience, parents have to consider all the angles. Without the benefit of a crystal ball, you are left to wonder: What will my child miss by changing schools after middle school? Don’t worry!
Teenagers are social by nature, and so forming relationships and building friend groups are of paramount importance. One of the benefits of – dare I say it – social media and gaming are that kids stay in touch with each other like no generation before them. When a child graduates from a K – 8/9 school, that child retains those early friendships, often checking in by Snapchat or Instagram daily. Our students remark that those early friends feel like a group of cousins, often becoming lifelong connections. Very much like college, RippKids return to our campus year after year, become active alumni and connect (in person) with their friends during the holidays and over the summer.
On the flip side, any worries that your child won’t be able to make new friends often go unfounded. Students who have been together since Kindergarten are generally eager and excited to welcome new kids to their circle. In fact, the new kids are often sought after, refreshing the peer group and adding character. Furthermore, nearly every high school class grows in its freshman year, and so students coming out of a K – 8/9 school enter high school with a cohort of other new students. The end result is that students who go through the secondary school placement greatly expand their social circle, not reduce it.
The Bottom Line
The choice to go to boarding or day school is a family one, but there is no reason to feel limited. Some parents prefer boarding school for its unique offerings, such as a global community and a residential academic experience while others prefer local options. Using Rippowam Cisqua School as an example, roughly 56% of our students go on to day school, and 44% go to boarding school. Looking at the data from the last five graduating classes, five of our top six destinations are local options. In fact, boarding school is the last on our top matriculation list:
In the end, secondary school placement is about finding the right fit for each student. That starts with the parents’ hopes, dreams, and visions and ends with the student’s ability to grow and develop their independence. Whatever you ultimately decide, the key is to apply when the child is ‘their best applicant self,’ not because of fear of missing out.