Sending Your Child To Boarding School: A Parent’s Perspective
by: Tracy Mifsud
As parents, we all want what is best for our children. This is a undeniable fact. It is especially true when choosing the correct education for your child. When choosing a boarding school, it is a big decision to say the least. You want the correct fit that will help them in all academic and social respects. Two years ago, it was a decision that my family and I had to face. Hello, my name is Tracy Mifsud, I am the PTO President for The Vanguard School, and my son attends middle school at Vanguard.
My son, Adam, struggled academically at his former public school due to his dyslexia and dysgraphia. However, he is a verbal learner. In the beginning we were worried about sending him to Florida from our home state of New Hampshire at such a young age. So, we went and visited the campus. Not once. Not twice. We toured the campus three times. In these visits we could tell this was the environment that he needed to thrive. Adam works well within small classes and Vanguard has an average of 6-8 students per class. Therefore, each student gets the necessary attention and has an individualized learning plan. When we decided to send Adam to boarding school, we were fortunate enough for me to be able to come down to Florida with him. We ended up choosing the day school option because of this. So, he attends classes during the day but does not live on campus. I do understand that this is not a viable option for all families and I am happy to report that the school does everything in its means to communicate and keep in touch with parents about their children. They even have a Vanguard Families webpage that is solely dedicated to this purpose. Communication was one of the key aspects we looked at. We wanted to know how his grades were, if there was anything we could do to help, and what the future of his education looked like. We get all this through RenWeb, the Family Website, teachers, and mentors. All schools should have some form of open communication with parents, especially those at a longer distance.
Once Adam was enrolled, I began to see a change in him. Not only was he thriving academically, he was excelling. When he first came, he was just 12 years old and the youngest student in his sixth grade class. At his former school, we struggled every year with IEP meetings and new teachers that had decidedly different methods of teaching him; they did not comprehend how Adam learned. What we noticed at Vanguard was that Adam was learning in a manner that was comfortable and conducive for him. No longer did he struggle to keep up. Rather, he worked with a curriculum that is both challenging and achievable. He worked with phonics, reading programs that progressed in level as the he did , and he had a technology based program for all classes and math that he was able to understand. Finally, we had a school that could fully support his needs. It goes without saying that this was probably the most important factor. Finding the right educational level and means will ensure that your child succeeds in their program. This is something to keep in mind whether your child has a learning difference or not.
We, also, chose Vanguard based on the social aspect. Each student is assigned an academic mentor. If they are a full-time boarder, then they will have both an academic and residential mentor. This means that for whatever need they may have, there will be someone there to help. Staff are always willing to aid in whatever manner needed, even socially. Both staff and students eat together in the cafeteria and they know each child by name. This was an important factor in deciding which boarding school to choose for us. They, also, provided opportunities for me. Now I volunteer for residential activities and field trips. Due to this fact I see things from the inside. I get to see all of the kids and how they adjust to dorm life and I honestly see great results. I see happy, smiling, and well-adjusted kids. I see residential staff that the kids run to say “hi” after they get out of class. I have even bump into all the Vanguard kids on a Walmart trip. It was great to watch them, with their shopping carts and deciding what special treat they want to buy for the week. The residential program allows the kids to get away from campus and has activities at night and prepaid trips (which day students are allowed to attend). It is a great program either way you choose. So, they are never bored on campus. There is always something going on whether it is athletics, trips to Disney or simply going to the movies. Being taken care of both academically and socially were pertinent aspects for my family. We didn’t want Adam to be just another name on the roll call. We wanted the school we chose to become like our second family. This may or may not be important to every parent, but it should be. The boarding school you choose will become your child’s home away from home and the faculty and staff will become their second family.
If I were to give advice to any parents thinking about sending their children to boarding schools in general or more specifically, Vanguard, I would advise to visit the school with your child. Take in the input of what your child feels and thinks about the school. Talk to the staff, not just the admissions team. Meet the teachers your child would have. Meet the residential staff that would be caring for your child. Tour the entire campus. Talk to students, ask what they like and dislike. Ask about what would a normal day for a student looks like. What time is bedtime? What do the students do on weekends and after school is over for the day? Meet the nursing staff, especially if your child takes medicine. One of the most important questions that I asked is “ How can you help my son become a better student and achieve his goals as an adult?”
It is a big decision but one that I do not regret. Sending Adam to a boarding school geared towards those with learning differences has made all the difference in the world to him and our family. Adam is now walking out of the 7th grade at the correct reading level and is now able to compose a five sentence paragraph. Adam has progressed more than I could I have ever have imagined. I thought being at grade level by the time he entered high school was a dream. He has accomplished it before he enters 8th grade. Thank you Vanguard for all your help. He will definitely be back for the 2017-2018 year.