I grew up in the public school system here in Toronto but many of my friends went to private schools. Growing up, being able to afford to go to a private school was reserved for the rich.  It was a world that was a lengthy roster of “who’s who” in society. At least that’s what it was back then. It’s interesting how the private school system has evolved. Smaller class sizes are appealing to many. With challenges in the public school system like overcrowding of classrooms and budget cuts in the arts and sports programs, more and more families are taking a look at other options. But is it attainable?

Former public school teacher, Toronto-based educational expert and President of Prepskills, Joanna Severino, says she’s seeing more families than ever before breaking stereotypes, and realizing a private school education is within reach. We were interested in finding out more.

There are many reasons why people transition from public school to private school. It’s not always about family legacy and “networking”. What are some other reasons that people may want to consider private schooling for their kids?

JS: Parents who consider private schools are typically searching for a more enriched and challenging experience for their child who may be excelling in certain subject areas, like math and science, the arts or athletics. With larger classrooms and budget cuts affecting extra circular activities within the public school system, parents are starting to look into options that can fulfill their child’s needs and aspirations.

Are private schools reserved for the privileged 1% of the population?

JS: As an educator, I believe the sky is the limit no matter what your economic background, obviously proud parents who recognize they have a gifted child feel that way too. I aim to debunk that myth because there are organizations that can help and a number of avenues to take to help fund the private school dream.

The costs associated with private and independent schooling in Canada can be significant. Many schools will cost 10,000+ per child per year, depending on the grade, region and services offered. However, I have seen hundreds of families from all income levels and walks of life, make private school happen through the help of different organizations, grants, bursaries and scholarships as well as financial aid for qualifying families. I have also personally helped guide them through this.

How do we explore what’s available?

JS: It can be overwhelming for kids and parents to find more about admissions requirements and finding the right fit for their child. That’s what inspires us to host an annual event called PrepConnect. It’s a free private school networking event that we host on Sept. 21 at the Ontario Science Centre that is geared toward providing clarity to applying for the right private or prep school. PrepConnect connects parents and kids with the experts and admissions reps, as well as parents who have gone through the journey of funding their child’s private school dream through scholarships, bursaries, etc. At the same location, we will also host a ‘How to get into a US college’ seminar. Be sure to go to www.prepskills.com in our events section and pre-register!

When are the best years to enter into the private school system?

JS: Generally, we see middle school main entry years as 5, 7, 9.  Schools will take a holistic approach to admissions – academics, interview, standardized tests (like SSAT), references, student essays and more.  Start early.  Begin the process 12-18 months in advance.  This provides ample time to collate materials, study for entrance exams and prepare for interviews in an “authentic” way.

Not all private schools are the same. What hard questions should we be asking when we are looking for our kids?

JS: My top questions to ask:
• In terms of admission, how much emphasis is placed on interview vs. academics vs. standardized tests?
• Ask about financial assistance and the role parents play in school life.
• What are the in-class accommodations made for elite student athletes?  Is there a modified curricula that will serve the student athletes’ needs?
• Does the school provide a nurturing, supportive environment for your child to explore his/her passions?
• Are you able to visit the school during the school day to see first-hand “a day in the life” of the school?
• Does the school satisfy both the academic and social needs of the child?
• How does the school help students navigate their way to future careers in a world of changing job markets?  Is there a peer/alumni mentorship program?
• What unique leadership/co-curricular opportunities are available to support your child’s interest and growth trajectory?

Parents may be interested in attending the Prepskills annual PrepConnect event hosted at the Ontario Science Centre for free on Sept. 21. Educational experts, student ambassadors, US prep schools and Canadian private schools will be on hand to share information and tips. For more information visit www.prepskills.com