When the Start of School is Not Going Well

Advice from an Admission Director

What a joy it is to welcome new and returning students to school. Most students we see at WES are excited to start the year, hop out of the car to give high fives to friends and dash off to class. But as the parent of three now grown children and an admissions director for more than five years, I know firsthand that the start of school for some children is not easy. Being nervous and a little tentative is perfectly reasonable, but sometimes a child’s negative reaction is a little more serious. Sometimes it can be a signal that a change needs to be made for that child.

Over the years, I have received inquiry calls from families who are looking to apply late to an independent school, hoping that there is space to enroll their child for the current year. Typically, the family has come to the conclusion that another year at their present school is just not going to work for that child. The child’s negative reaction to the start of school may not even be demonstrative, but a parent can feel it in their gut and in their heart. They see their child quietly go off to school and come home apathetic and disconnected. Homework is done in the bedroom and in a matter of moments. Asked how their day was, the child responds with a quick, “fine.” At this point parents think to themselves, “I want my child to love to learn. I want my child to come home excited to share what they have learned. I want my child to enjoy their day.”

Families may feel a bit embarrassed, overwhelmed, and anxious about trying to make this move so late in the game, but I am here to say they shouldn’t. Independent schools were created to give families a choice. While our application season is generally January and February, these late inquiries and applications do often happen. Over the years we have had wonderful students join our school in the fall, and we were fortunate to have openings for them. After going through an expedited admission process that still includes an application, transcript, recommendations, test scores, and student visits, offers of admission have been made.

Having said that, families who apply this time of year need to be prepared to answer a few extra questions about their child when applying for the current year. An admission director’s responsibility is to make sure the school can provide the student the best possible learning environment. If there are learning issues, social-emotional needs, or other significant components to a child’s profile, then it is imperative that the family shares that information with the school. The last thing any school wants to do is have the child (and family) go through another bad year. Additionally, if the school is not a good match for the child, the admission director may be able to provide the family with recommendations of other area schools to visit and learn more about and that may be a better match for their child’s learning style.

Finally, the DC area has more than 100 independent and private schools. Many schools have openings, even for the current year. Families in this situation should do a little online research and talk to friends and family for referrals. I am confident that families looking for schools this time of year will have a list of multiple great options in a matter of a day or two. With a quick call to the potential schools, families can easily determine if there is an opening in that school and what the school’s expedited admission process entails.

Here at WES we have heard parents of late-enrolled students tell us “I never knew school could be so great,” “I am so glad we made the move,” and “It has truly transformed our child, our family, and our home.”

If you’re thinking you just can’t do another year at your current school, there are great options waiting for you.