By Courtney Gilmore on Thursday, 03 August 2017
Category: General News

Choosing the Right High School

Well, I am about to enter completely unknown territory!!!!  My only child, my son, will start his 8th-grade year and subsequently his last one in middle school.  Time to get down to business and start thinking about what high school he will be entering this time next year. (Uh, YIKES)!  Time to start preparing a checklist, or at the very least, a guideline, for what his Daddy and I will use to help make this next big step in our son's life that much easier.  I thought I would share my family's personal checklist for choosing the high school our son will attend. (Disclaimer, this list is prioritized first to last in what we determined, as a family, was most important for our own son).

Are any of his closest friends attending the same high school? 

As our son has gotten older, we have realized that the quantity of friends is not as important to him as the quality.  He has three or four close friends, but he has always put one particular friend above the rest. If he can have this type of strong, loyal, intense friendship with this other boy all the way through high school, he will have more than most.  (I am actually friends with the Vice Principal of one of the two schools we are considering, and I ran this sentiment by her.  It was a relief to receive her affirmation of how important this type of friendship will be, for both my son and his best friend, during their final four years as a child).

What kind of academic programs are offered

We like the idea of schools that offer both AP (Advanced Placement) and IB (International Baccalaureate) course work.  Since his Father and I both took Advanced Placement courses in high school, ourselves, we are more familiar with them and love the way these courses focus relatively intensively on one particular subject. But with IB courses, we were also intrigued with the more holistic approach that a particular subject may be given.  In the end, both schools we are considering offer a beautiful mix of classes that use the IB and AP curriculums together, which will hopefully allow our son to benefit and grow from the strengths of both programs.

What extracurricular activities are offered

For my son, his most important extracurricular activity is sports, so we made sure that both schools we are considering have programs for the three sports he has played since starting elementary school.  Other programs we looked for the schools to have include arts, volunteer work and community service, music, governance, and clubs.  It is very important to us for our son to be involved in character building activities outside of the classroom, and regardless of his first passion, it is very important to us for him to have the opportunity to explore other extracurricular options BESIDES sports.  Diversity is definitely key, here.

What is the overall school culture

After speaking with parents of high school graduates and teachers and administrative staff, the consensus was that the only way to really get a feel for a school's culture was to "get in the trenches", to actually go to each school and physically walk the halls while a school day was in session, and do this as many times as necessary, with and without our son present.  The goal is to get a feel for what we expect the school to teach our son about life beyond academics and the classroom, itself.  The goal is to see how students and teachers interact with one another in the classroom setting, to see if students and teachers greet each other personally, to see if students and teachers greet parents, to get a feel for student mood and how students treat each other whether they know each other or not.  The goal is to just get a sense of if the school has an overall feeling of joy and hope and happiness.  No science or numbers or stats involved here....just going to give it a go and trust that Mama intuition!

What is the graduation rate and what is the college attendance rate of the school

This was our last priority as a family as we are not the kind of family to base our decision on what high school our kid attends based on numbers alone, but, alas, numbers DO (kind of) matter! Plus, certain stats can suggest how successful a particular school has been at bringing our children to the next most important stage of their life....adulthood. 

This list is not inclusive, obviously, and may not even be any of your own priorities, but hopefully, it can at least serve as a jumping point for your family's own list if you, too, have a son or daughter who will be entering high school next year. This list for us, though welcomes balance, a concept we try to practice and live by routinely and day to day. We simply hope that addressing these five issues, as we choose a high school with our son, will create the ultimate opportunity for balance for him.  

Good luck and Happy High School shopping to you all!  See you in the trenches!

One final note:  It is too cliche' to even think about, much less type into words, but when I was growing up, I do not remember my mother having the option of choosing where I went to high school. Oh, you live in Hixson, Tennessee?  Yes.  Okay, your child will go to Hixson Junior High School and then Hixson High School.  And so, I did.  Regardless, I am grateful that, in this day and age, parents have the luxury to live in a certain area of Colorado Springs, (a city I have now called home for 25+ years) and choose for their children to go to school in a completely different area!!!!