In October 2021, REEL hosted a private school panel to address questions parents often have about private schools for 2e students. Twice exceptional, or 2e, students have both high ability and potential as well as complex challenges such as learning differences, autism, ADHD, and anxiety. Dr. Lisa White of Summit Center, Abby Kirigin of REEL, and Carmen O’Shea of Parent Resource Advisors, discussed the signs it's time to make a change, the process of finding a right-fit school for your 2e child, and the application process. The chat brimmed with activity, providing a lot of wonderful support. While the session was not recorded (to protect the privacy of our panelists and attendees), this blog post highlights some of the rich takeaways from the evening.
Interested in a private consultation on school fit, as well as evaluations? Contact Dr. White at the Summit Center (https://summitcenter.us/about/team/drlisawhite/). Looking for more info on schools and other 2e parenting resources? Check out Carmen O’Shea at Parent Resource Advisors (https://parentresourceadvisors.com/).
Please visit our list of local private schools here: https://tinyurl.com/REELPrivateSchoolsList
Why People Consider Private School
Our panelists discussed the various events that lead parents to research new school options. Many parents consider private schools at natural transition points such as kindergarten, middle school, or high school. Parents may be concerned about their child’s fit in a traditional public school classroom from the beginning of elementary school, or a child may have found success at their current school, but their needs have changed as they’ve grown. Some parents find that their current school is not a fit - the child complains they are bored or misunderstood - or the school may not serve one or both of the child’s“e”s (exceptionalities) well enough. Children may also receive a new diagnosis that requires specific support that their school is not able to provide. And sadly, there are many times where children face a crisis, and behaviors such as school refusal begin; their intense, negative feelings about school may necessitate a change.
How to Gauge School Culture
One of the main topics discussed was how to gauge school culture. Is there a strong SEL focus - both for the students and for the teachers? Do they spend money on SEL professional development? Do they teach mindfulness? Does the school have a learning center and if so, what types of students do they support and how prominent is support for learning differences featured? Are the teachers trained about neurodiversity or open to learning about it? How accessible are the teachers ?
Beyond the formal SEL curriculum and organized tours, panelists encouraged parents to try to observe the school informally, watching what happens when a child falls on the playground, doesn’t have a friend to sit with, or is new to the school. During Covid, it is more difficult to see these things firsthand, so connecting with parents who have children at the school is useful. Also, observe or ask about the following: Does the school shut down questions when kids ask, or engage with the child to learn more? How does the school work with a child who is being disruptive? How do they repair arguments and handle harsh words? How secure do the kids feel? Do the kids appear engaged?
Accommodations, Remediations, and Strengths
Keep in mind accommodations, remediations, and strengths when looking at schools. At a younger age, kids may need remediation, even 1:1 remediation. As they grow, kids may only need accommodations, which could change the kind of school they need. In addition to remediation and accommodation, consider how the school weaves strengths into their curriculum so students can feel successful and enjoy their passions. Consider which services are integrated during the day, removing the need for after school tutors. For specific learning differences such as dyslexia, families may also need to determine whether the methodology the school uses for literacy support is a fit for their specific child.
No School Is Perfect
Panelists and chat participants noted that no school can cover everything a 2e child needs. They encouraged parents to optimize what they’d rather support outside of school hours and what they’d prefer the school to support.
For example, progressive schools can offer a more hands-on curriculum than traditional schools, but may not offer as much support for executive functioning. A small school may provide more attention or flexibility, while a large school may provide more options for electives and friendships. Some schools will offer subject acceleration, but limited support for learning challenges, while others may provide substantial learning challenge support but limited acceleration. For newer schools, you will also need to determine the longer term viability of the school.
Be prepared that you may need a different school for each of your children, and that any one child may need different schools at different times throughout their academic career. Assess who they are as learners right now.
Panelists and participants found it helpful to have an evaluation/assessment of a child to understand their learning needs, as well as an analysis of their current school - what’s working and what isn’t working. Consider what the child needs help with MOST at this time.
Panelists wanted to convey a key point about the application process: if a school can’t support your child, don’t go there. For 2e kids, it’s not usually “Which of these 10 schools would you like to go to?” but rather “Which of these can we make work?”
Panelists agreed that you should share the child’s challenges with the school during the application process, but consider how to frame them. When sharing weaknesses in an application, talk about how the family is handling them; for example, “My child has executive functioning challenges so we’re working weekly with a coach and he has shown improvement.” Schools want to see that the family is supporting challenges, is open to addressing them, and is experiencing forward momentum.
When sharing strengths on an application, use specific examples. For instance, everyone says their child is “curious and loves to learn”. Instead, give examples such as “My kindergartner counts to 1000 by 7s at breakfast every morning.”
Getting a formal evaluation for your child can help determine which school would be the best fit and can also be shared with candidate schools. Evaluators can produce different versions of the evaluation report for private school applications, so that all the fine detail of the child’s assessment results are not shared. The detailed information is more useful when a family is working within the public school system to advocate for more services.
During the interview process, take note of informal actions; for instance, one panelist noticed that one of the schools wouldn’t let her child use a computer to complete a writing prompt. That was a red flag, a sign that the school might not accommodate the child’s needs, so likely wasn’t a good fit. Remember during the interview process that schools are experienced in interviewing kids—they’re not expecting a child to perform like an adult applying for a job. Consider driving by the school as a warm up for interviews so the child can see where they’ll be going and have some familiarity with the location—plus, you might be able to see what recess is like and how the school functions when it doesn’t think anyone is watching.
Try to connect with other parents at the school to learn more beyond what the admissions director presents. It can be useful to ask to be connected with parents whose children have learning needs similar to the child’s; for example ask to be connected with the parent of a kid who loves math rather than the parent of a “gifted child.” Use local online parent networks to learn from parents who are at the school or attended in the past.
Supporting the Child Through the Process
If your child is hesitant about leaving their current school despite tough challenges, don’t just ask them “Do you want to switch schools?” Dr White equated that to randomly asking an adult “Do you want to move?” You’d likely answer “Move where? Why? What does that mean for me?” The same questions will come up for your child. First, research some schools and present them with viable alternatives and explain your thinking.
Involve your child in the process. Tell them you want their input and that you will select a new school in partnership. If an older child is doing a lot of the work themselves, set a time once a week to check in rather than letting it take over your life. The process for high school versus elementary school is very different in terms of student ownership.
What If You Don’t Get In?
Our panelists have all worked in private schools or had their own kids apply to private schools. They highlighted that you shouldn’t take it personally if your child doesn’t get in. Remember that schools have to balance a ton of considerations when forming their classes - for example, they can’t have eight boys with ADHD in one class, or all girls who love to draw. Sometimes classes are already full or siblings of current students will be prioritized for future admission. You can always try again in a different year. Also, keep in mind that you can still find your tribe outside of school if you don’t get in to the school you’d hoped for.
One Final Word: Financial Aid
Our panelists emphasized that it’s worth applying to schools and asking for financial aid if you’re concerned that you can’t afford the tuition. While you may think your family won’t qualify for aid, the cost of living is high enough in the Bay Area that schools provide financial aid even for families with fairly high levels of income. On the other hand, panelists did note that some schools don’t have as much capacity for financial aid as others and not all have need-blind admission, so inquire to learn more about a specific school’s policies and capabilities.
Resource Suggestions from the chat:
https://summitcenter.us/ Dr Lisa White
https://parentresourceadvisors.com/ Carmen O’Shea
Comments in the chat:
“Consider online schools for 2e kids”
“I truly believe that homeschooling is one of the best ways to support 2e kids. You can really tailor the education to their needs, passion, interests,….Homeschool high school is often done via community college for 2e. Consider homeschooling.” - Sharon Barkan, Ed Therapist
Q: “Some private schools ask for a common writing sample. How should that be approached?” A: “Ask the school you are applying to for accommodations for the common writing sample. If you are not comfortable asking your top school, you could always apply to a school that is not at the top of your list and ask them to do the writing sample, because the writing sample results are shared with all the schools who use the common writing sample.”
“Someone was asking earlier about free/public options, and it’s a good idea for high school to explore Middle College and Foothills also has a program called ‘College Now.’”
“Another way to think about application disclosure is what would require easy accommodation (e.g. speech to text, keyboarding), what would be more effort/costly to accommodate (e.g. daily check-in with a teacher), and what might take away from other students’ learning experience (this is what schools are afraid of, because the other students’ parents are paying tuition too).”
“If your child is in public school, you can request that the school does an assessment. Some people have had less stellar experiences with those, but we got very honest and thorough info. We brought the results to Summit and they said it was very thorough and would not suggest further testing. When you ask your public school for assessments, be specific about challenges you are observing and they will select the appropriate assessment measures.”
“One way I think about criteria for selecting schools is to think about what I am comfortable supporting at home (e.g. math, reading), via online/after school/summer programs (e.g. hands on projects), via therapeutic services (speech, OT), vs what I would rely the school on (e.g. SEL, kind social scene).”
Q: “It feels a bit like a lot of the private schools that cater to advanced/gifted kids do not want kids who need remediation in other areas. It doesn’t seem like there are many schools that can and want to deal with both (e.g., advanced in math and science, remedial in writing). We had a lot of trouble looking at elementary schools, and are now looking at middle schools.” A: “I think you are right. Seems like some private schools can address giftedness but not the other exceptionality. And public schools can often address the learning difference but not the giftedness. Our private high school does a much better job of addressing the learning differences. Finding a place that addresses both the blue/yellow of the 2e world, and really gets at that “green” nature of the 2e, is trickier.”