Making Choices: Planning for High School and Beyond
A Note From The Teacher
Making Choices: Planning for High School and Beyond
This time of year, many middle school students are being asked to make important choices about where they will spend the next four years for their high school education. While not as open-ended as the choices available for college, most students have two or more options when considering their high school career. Depending on your area and state, some options for your child may include:
Traditional academic high schools – (public schools) These are traditional four year high schools where students can select a number of different courses and programs suitable for their academic level and future plans. Most schools offer different levels of coursework and some even offer vocational-style classes on a limited basis. Students may go on to college, trade school, or directly to the work environment after graduation, depending on their future plans and coursework.
Vocational high schools – (public schools) Vocational education has a dual emphasis on academic learning as well as trade area achievement. Students spend an equal amount of their school time in each of these pursuits. Depending on the school, modern vocational education is more than auto mechanics and machine shop. Rather, students may be able to learn skills in the medical field, electronics, or any number of skill areas, as well as more traditional vocational choices.
Agricultural high schools – (public schools) Similar to vocational schools in many ways, some areas of the country have agricultural high schools available as a choice for students. In these schools, trade areas are more tightly focused on areas related to agricultural and environmental pursuits. Resource management, agricultural mechanics, animal management, and other similar trade areas are likely to be the focus of the hands-on learning at these schools. In addition, agricultural schools also have academic requirements for students, much in the same way that vocational students split their time.
Private high schools – Private high schools may be religiously-based or secular, depending on the schools available in your area. These schools require parents to pay tuition for students to attend, and may offer a variety of courses which are similar to a traditional academic high school. Graduation requirements for private schools may differ from public schools, especially in areas related to state-required academic testing as a graduation requirement, though most offer a variety of courses and levels for different students, just as with traditional public schools.
So, when working with your eighth grade child, it can be extremely difficult to know where they should attend high school. There are benefits and drawbacks to each one, and the success of your child at any school truly depends on whether that school is a good match for your child academically as well as socially. When working on making a decision, sit down as a family with a pencil and paper, and consider the following questions:
- What are all of the choices available to my child? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each school?
- What goals does my child have in the future? (college, trade school, work)
- What classes/ levels does the school offer to challenge my child to their highest achievement level?
- What special needs does my child have and where will they be addressed most effectively?
- What tuition/ fee requirements would a private school have and are they possible for our family to maintain?
- What is the overall achievement level of the students at the school being considered? (Most schools have this information on their web sites, or your state’s department of education will likely have information for public school achievement based on academic testing.)
- What are the choices available for my child after graduating with a diploma from this high school? What have other students gone on to do?
What is the social climate of the school? What are the students attending the school like, in relation to my child?
- What does my child want to do? What are their reasons?(Encourage your child to think about this logically and realistically, not simply to make decisions based on where friends are attending or one course being offered.)
By sitting down as a family and discussing all of the different options available, together you are more likely to come to a decision that is meaningful for your child. When having these discussions, it is important to pay close attention to the interests and opinions of your child; it is where they will spend their days for the next four years. Encourage them to share their factual reasons for wanting to attend one school over another. Also, look realistically at what your family can afford to commit to for four years, if choosing private school; it can be difficult for a child who has attended private school for part of their high school career to move to a public school, leaving friends and school ties behind. Regardless of your final choice, it is always better to come to a decision in cooperation with your child, without forcing them to attend a placement that you decide for them.
Still not sure what course of action to take? Visit the web sites of the schools you are considering, and use their contact information to speak to a representative from the school. Most schools will have someone available to give tours to families and to answer any questions that you have. Some schools also have open house dates when students and their families can tour the school and see more about the programs being offered.
Choosing a high school can be a tough decision for families to make, especially if there are several options available. By taking time to complete some basic research and by being open minded, your family will make the decision that is right for your individual student.
"I believe that families' involvement in their child's education is one of the key ingredients to creating a successful school experience for children. Keeping parents informed about school-related issues helps parents and teachers work together for the best possible outcomes for their children. Learning together makes learning fun - for everyone!" - Jennifer Cummings.
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