Some Decisions Can't Be Quantified, So Follow Your Instincts

(By Julie Zhu -- Montgomery Blair High School)
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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Dear Extra Credit:

I would never say that comparative statistics ["Comparative Statistics Needed to Assess Private Schools," Extra, Feb. 21; "Sorry for the Bickering: Let's Pick a Good School," Extra, Feb. 28] have no place in making school decisions, but they didn't play much of a role when we chose a high school for our four sons.

I grew up in the Catholic school system and wanted our boys to have the religious influence that public schools do not and should not provide. I also wanted them to attend an all-male school because I had a good experience at my all-girls school. Those criteria immediately narrowed the field.

When our oldest was in eighth grade, he spent a day at each school to which he was applying, following a freshman to classes to get a feel for the place. I had thought he would choose the high school my brothers had attended, but he preferred a different one. I had a few prejudices about that but I got over them and let him go where he wanted. After that, the choice for the other boys was to go to the school their brother attended, unless they would be completely miserable there.

I really wanted my sons to attend the same school -- easier for me, but I also thought it would be another bond for them -- and I think it was. For one thing, they had many of the same teachers; there was very little turnover in the upper-level courses during the 11 or so years they were there. And they often went to class with brothers of students in their brothers' classes.

In addition, as seems to be true of many of the local Catholic high schools, a number of their classmates had fathers who had also attended that school.

There was a strong sense of community and history, and I think my sons got a feeling of being part of something greater than them. And yes, they also got a good education, taking plenty of Advanced Placement classes and going on to highly selective colleges.

Ultimately, it's not the school but the student who determines how much learning happens. I think a happy kid who feels secure in his environment is more likely to learn than one who is unhappy or uncomfortable. I don't think statistics adequately address, or perhaps address at all, the question of whether a particular school will be a place where a particular child can thrive.

Sally MacKenzie


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