Stressed About Your child’s education? You Are Not Alone.

By: Bobbi Eggers 

COVID has turned education upside down. We have to do the very best we can do, all hands on deck, power through every day, and ask for help wherever we can.

It can feel overwhelming to make the right choices for your child. But you are not alone. There’s plenty of help out there.

To Zoom or not to Zoom?

Let’s start with the obvious. Families have had to decide whether or not to home school with Zoom sessions or send their child to attend classes. Some schools are managing the pivot well, others not so much, which creates anxiety that some children are falling behind, especially without personal student-teacher relationships. Parents have become full-time, hands-on co-teachers and tutors, not what was in the job description when they gave birth.

Is Boarding School a good option?

Some parents would prefer to have their children at boarding schools, in a controlled, safe environment. Those admissions offices are overwhelmed with applicants. But if you cannot visit schools, and get a sense of student life, how do you make a life-altering decision? How does an Admissions Officer get to know the character of a young student? Jim and Robin Brown, Founders of Browns Educational Consultants, have vast experience working with families. Jim as a placement advisor, Dean of Students at Hackley School and Assistant Head at Stanwich School, and Robin, as a Learning Specialist at Rye Country Day and assisted with admissions at Stanwich School. They now work one-on-one with families to place students into the right school, college or university. “Every school is different, appealing to some children and not others. Be thoughtful, ask questions, and don’t just listen to your friends’ opinions. If you choose a Boarding School, your child is going to be there for long stretches of time, in an effort to maintain a healthy campus. You want to make sure the teachers and staff value an educational style that is appropriate for your child’s learning style. Some students need more diligence, others cannot handle too much pressure, and others may need a supportive environment in order for students to grow into themselves more. This is a decision that can impact them in important years of growth. Consider several options and ask how they’re managing campus life.” If Day or Boarding Schools are an option, it’s a good idea to invest in professionals who are most familiar with the schools, especially during this pandemic.

Try to stay positive.

My friends who have children in local schools are impressed with most of the teachers, especially now that they have seen them in action, teaching in a Zoom session. Elizabeth has two children who are attending private school on campus. “In many ways, it feels like an ‘almost normal’ school year, with a few extra steps (i.e. doing a daily health screening before leaving the house, packing extra masks, that sort of thing). Of course, there are challenges and changes – certain traditions and events have been cancelled or modified, and we feel a sense of loss and disappointment there. But we are hoping to be in a different situation next year or the year after when we can enjoy those things again.”

It’s hard to know how your student is really doing.

For high school kids, their world has been rocked in many ways. Another friend, Nancy, has three children in three different levels of the Greenwich Public School System. “For the most part, I’m impressed with how the district has adapted and is meeting the needs of our students. “This morning, I asked my high school daughter what she thought about the hybrid scheduling,” Nancy said. “She says she’d much rather be at school, seeing her friends in the hall and experiencing the community. It’s isolating watching a class on-line from one’s bedroom.” School staff and teachers are working more hours, learning new skills, being flexible, creative and patient. It’s difficult for the teachers to teach both the students in the classroom and at home at the same time. Some of them are better at this than others. Nancy feels badly for her daughter, “Imagine watching a boring high school chemistry class from your bedroom! But they have terrific teachers and they are doing their best.”

When your teenager doesn’t share their laptop with you, how do you know if classes are going well? Sometimes we find out a little late in the school year. Lynn Carnegie, Founder and CEO of Carnegie Prep, has over three decades of experience in standardized testing and academic tutoring, with a roster of tutors, working day and night throughout this pandemic. “Communicate with your child to figure out where the weaknesses are. As teenagers, they may not want to be tutored by a parent. I think most kids are like that. If they cannot ask their teacher for extra help, find an experienced tutor who not only knows the course and the content, but who has a style and personality your child will connect with. You know you’ve found the right tutor when your child actually looks forward to each meeting.”

Another emotional hurdle: some schools are cutting sports

…and not just for safe-distancing. We keep reading about the on-and-off again seasons for team sports, but here’s another seismic change that will have a lasting impact on students’ activities and scholarships. Universities and colleges all over the country are making budget cuts, starting with athletic programs including men’s volleyball, golf, wrestling, soccer, squash, synchronized swimming, men’s rowing, co-ed and women’s sailing, fencing, field hockey and lightweight rowing. and diving, equestrian, squash and skiing programs. The most widely cut sport so far was tennis, with 48 programs across the country scrapped. Schools say they are striving to balance diversity, but additionally, maintaining teams is expensive, factoring in coaching salaries, recruiting expenses with air travel and dinners, team travel during the season and other costs. This is a game changer for many families, with the ultimate goal of being recruited, and perhaps getting an athletic scholarship. If you are one of those families, now what? And what will this mean for some high school and lower school competitive sports? Will they become less important?

Applying to Colleges has changed, too.

Here’s something else to consider. Because of the pandemic, some colleges are now foregoing SATs and ACTs. But the test-optional process can be a silver lining for some students because admissions officers must consider applications more carefully, and value the quality of the essay to reflect the depth of thinking and resiliency of its author. It’s is a good time to rely on the advice of professionals. They have tremendous experience with essays, applications, and they know the schools. They are familiar with their values and can help find the right fit for your child.

Elizabeth sums it up, “This is a marathon, not a sprint.” Don’t take on too much, for yourself and for them. Ask for help. You are not alone in this.