Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Respecting Differences Between Public and Private Schools

DEAR HARRIETTE: My elementary school-age children go to private school, and their best friends do not. Recently, the kids were talking about school and after-school activities. My kids have lots of extracurricular activities available at the school. Their friends go to various other places to take dance or music or art. At first they didn't understand why the setup is different. In the end, the kids realized that everyone is doing fun things each week that are very similar to one another. My kids brought it up again later, though, and had lots of questions about private versus public school. What should I tell them? I don't want them to think that they are better than anybody simply because of where they go to school. -- Lost for Words, Boston

DEAR LOST FOR WORDS: Keep it simple. Tell your children that each school is different, whether private or public. Individual schools emphasize particular aspects of learning. While all schools will have reading, math, science and the like, not all will have music, gym and art. When that is not the case, parents usually supplement their children's education and enroll them in outside classes. It is likely that even in your school, plenty of students participate in other activities beyond those offered there.

What you do not need to get into with your children is how unfortunate it is that gym, music and art have evaporated from many public school programs. The tightening of our economy has hurt countless school systems. But that really is an adult conversation. Your role is to help your children see the similarities and respect the differences.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I ran into an old friend from college who I had not seen in more than a dozen years. As we traveled down memory lane, he mentioned that a good friend of mine from college is gravely ill. I have not stayed in touch with this woman for years. I'm wondering if it will be jarring if I reach out to her now. He gave me her information and told me he thought she would be happy to hear from me. I'm just not sure. -- Tentative, Flint, Mich.

DEAR TENTATIVE: Go for it. Contact your old friend, and tell her that you ran into the mutual friend who gave you her number. Make it easy on her by not putting her on the spot. Talk about the pleasant nature of your recent reunion with the other friend. Tell her about your life. Keep the conversation upbeat.

You can ask her how she is doing, but do not pry. A good icebreaker is to ask her what she has done since college. Chances are, her recollections from a few years ago will be upbeat. Be an active listener. If you chat with her, that can be enough. If she chooses to bring up her illness, be present and listen. You really do not need to say much. Your tone should be compassionate.