A+ Advice for Parents

Tour May Get Freshman Excited About 'Backup' School

Q: Juan, my middle-schooler, didn't get into his first-choice high school of the arts, so he'll go to our large public high school instead. It's excellent, with a "10" rating from greatschools.org, but he's resisting. He says it doesn't have an arts program though he's never been inside. He's an average student with a talent for illustration. Private school is not affordable. How can I get him to accept it?

A: Those Rolling Stones lyrics, "You can't always get what you want, but if you try ... you get what you need," applies here. But no teen wants to be told what he needs. Your job is to turn that good neighborhood school into something he wants.

First, set up conferences with a guidance counselor and a teacher he likes at his middle school to discuss his track record, collect evidence of Juan's art talent, and get advice about what programs would be best for him at the new school. Does Juan need any special services? Ask the counselor to contact her counterpart at the high school to schedule a tour. Do this soon. Schedule it yourself if you have to.

Prior to your visit, gather information: Check the school's website, do an online search and talk with current students and parents. What do they like about the school? What are the challenges? Which teachers stand out? What opportunities should Juan take advantage of?

Take your son's records, including his arts portfolio, to the tour. Ask about arts offerings. While art programs have been hard hit, most highly regarded high schools have art programs. Are there studio classes available? After-school options? Visit the school's art rooms so Juan can envision being there.

Have a list of questions to cover. Listen carefully to the answers and take notes to remember key facts and suggestions. This also models for Juan how to investigate and analyze options.

Invite the counselor to ask questions. A simple opening such as "What would you like to know about Juan's academic record?" can start a productive conversation that shows you where he might best fit in the new school. Let Juan know in advance that you expect him to be a part of the conversation. Let the counselor know your expectations as a parent. Ask how teachers communicate with the home.

Note the spelling and titles of the educators you meet, and have Juan drop a note -- maybe with an illustration -- to thank them for their time. "Showing appreciation is important," says Bill Jackson, president of greatschools.org. "You can bet those teachers will remember Juan with a smile come fall!" (Thank his current teachers for their conference time, too!)

It's equally important to schedule an appointment with the admissions counselor of the "choice" school Juan wasn't admitted to so he can learn why he missed the cut and get advice on applying again for his sophomore year. This could motivate him to work really hard in his neighborhood school his freshman year. Be thankful it's a good one!

(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)

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