How to Pick the Best School in Uncertain Times? Redwood Educational Services Can Help.
Mike Balotti of Redwood Educational Services explains factors parents need to consider when planning for their children's future.
Finding a school that is the right fit for your child is always a daunting responsibility, but this year’s pandemic has made it even more complicated. The school year ended in such a strange and unprecedented way, and it’s still not clear what the fall will bring. Even for those of us who already have our kids enrolled in school, the sudden disruption and distance learning experience may have us reassessing those decisions.
“The end of this school year presented a whole new set of challenges, and for some families we’ve had to change direction,” Mike Balotti, President of Redwood Educational Services, tells us. “A lot of families are in the position of doing internal family assessments and making sure that’s still the direction they want to go.”
Balotti has been in the field of education for 19 years, and an educational consultant for over 11, where he helps families identify schools and programs that are best for their kids, advocate for themselves, and make confident and informed decisions. While his primary area of expertise lies in specialized settings including special needs learning and therapeutic or residential programming, a portion of his practice is also dedicated to helping families identify appropriate traditional independent schools as well.
When not working with families, his time is spent visiting schools and programs across the country while intimately getting to know the particulars of their programs and building relationships with their staff. His extensive first-hand knowledge of schools and programs allows him to make good-faith recommendations based on families’ individual needs, with experience that goes far beyond what is written on a school’s website or revealed in an open house session.
This is even more crucial now, when many families cannot even attend an in-person open house or information session with a school, but nevertheless must make a decision that will affect their child’s educational, social, and developmental future. “It’s a challenge for everybody. The best thing we can do is make several different plans,” Balotti explains.
School selection can never be a one-size-fits-all determination, and sometimes what seems like the “best” school based on reputation, word-of-mouth, or “brand name,” as he calls it, is not the best for an individual child’s needs and learning style. Making the best recommendations, then, requires not just an ongoing expertise about the programs out there, but also a comprehensive understanding of each child’s situation. Balotti tells us it is most important that “the values of the school and the family should be in alignment.”
An educational consultant will learn as much about each student and their situation—this includes meeting with parents, teachers, administrators, therapists, tutors, and anyone else who can help round out the perspective of what is happening. Going over paperwork, including testing, teacher reports, and accommodation plans (like IEPs) are also part of the process. Finally, family concerns such as financials and location (that morning commute can really make a difference) are part of the picture as well. When appropriate, they will follow the student through their time at school to make sure their goals are being met.
Time for a Change?
So, what are the main factors to look for when assessing whether to change schools or which school to select? Balotti says parents must know what their child’s needs are—where their strengths lie, and where their challenges are—and find a school that continues to foster their strengths while addressing those weaknesses.
One of the biggest triggers, or indicators, for potentially changing schools is seeing continuous struggle, despite trying everything. Balotti recommends sitting down with the school, identifying the areas of need, and making sure the school has a plan to address it. If parents do not feel comfortable that the school alone can remediate the issue, he asks what levels of support are needed—can the student’s struggles be addressed by outside support like a therapist or tutor?
Changing schools can be disruptive, so it is very important to make sure it is the right call. In doing so, he aims to work in consultation with others to see if the change is warranted. “Before we leap to make any change, let’s make sure the school is doing all they can to help the child, and make sure the family is getting outside support,” Balotti says. He explains that in some situations, nothing has been tried, either internally or externally, and he often advises against rushing into anything. It is when everything else has been tried that it becomes clear that it’s time for a change.
With the interruption brought by coronavirus, it is even more difficult to identify which learning and emotional issues are simply a product of these uncertain times, and which are more serious and long-term. Even if students are staying at their current schools, what does that look like? Should they move up to the next grade, or was the “covid slide” so detrimental that they need to reconsider their journey?
Balotti has been helping families with these questions as well, and his biggest piece of advice is “Have patience. This is a challenging and trying time for everyone and it can bring about issues with kids and parents.” One major issue he is seeing on the rise is school refusal, often exacerbated by the increased anxiety of our current national crisis. “If what’s happening is of genuine concern, I’m encouraging families to reach out to professionals—whether within the school or with outside therapists—to see if they need treatment or if the child will be able to work through the struggles independently. That said, schools are, generally speaking, being pretty tolerant and they understand struggles within a context.”
Redwood Educational Services is here to help you navigate these uncertain times. You can contact them online or by phone at 215-888-1318.
Redwood Educational Services, LLC supports the Main Line Parent Community.