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Issue Date: March 2006 Issue

Ask the Experts

Everything you've wanted to know about choosing a school but were afraid to ask.

The Editors

Q: What is Montessori education?
A: "It is a term that parents have heard, but rarely understand," says Gordon Maas, head of school at Ruffing Montessori School. "It's a methodology and style of learning that promotes self-motivation and independence. The student has learned how to learn, and comes away that learning is a part of them. The environment provides the catalyst for the desire to learn to take place," says Maas. "Our goal is to produce citizens of the world - children who understand interdependence and are globally aware."

Q: How does Gilmour differ from the other schools in the area?
A: "We are unique in that as a Catholic school we can offer a faith-based approach where we can help young people develop their talents and imbed values in their life," says Todd Sweda, assistant headmaster at Gilmour Academy. "But at the same time, we're an independent school and we can personalize our classes and student-centered approach. It's the same faith-based program, but with personal student attention."

Q: What makes Hawken unique with so many other schools in the area?
A: "Hawken is co-ed. We have wonderful competition [in other schools], but they're all single-sex," says Kathie MacEwan, director of Hawken's Lower School. "The emphasis here is on educating the pedagogy, so we're constantly learning what is best for kids in theory and then matching that with application. There is a high level of energy and time spent on faculty development."

Q: How does the Andrews School, being a day and a boarding school, benefit students?
A: "The answer is simple: we our more than a school, we are a community," says Kristina Dooley, director of admission at The Andrews School. "Many of our faculty and staff live on or near our campus so students can receive academic and social support outside traditional class hours. Faculty are often seen at theater and music performances or sporting events. Our day and boarding students also have the opportunity to attend school with students from all over the world because of the boarding component of the school."

Q: What is the difference between an independent school and a public school?
A: "The difference is that we are able to select bright and motivated students who have strong family support," says Alexa Hansen, director of admission and external relations at Lake Ridge Academy. "We don't have study halls or bells - students are expected to attend classes at given times, and then during their free times they are encouraged to seek out faculty if help is needed, or work with other students on group projects, or to manage their time in a way that they best see fit."

Q. What type of student does Grand River Academy accept?
A. "A boy who needs structure, support, and small classes in order to succeed," answers Sam Corabi, director of admission at Grand River Academy. "You can describe our boys in one word when they come here, which is 'underachiever.' We have a very structured day and small classes. Students are given a lot of individual attention from our teachers. We take boys who have a history of under-average grades, but who are academically capable of succeeding."

Q: How is Old Trail School unique?
A: "For starters, we're the only private school in the U.S. that's located in a national park," says Judy Brookhart, director of admission at Old Trail School. "We have an unofficial tag line, which is: 'inspiring the promise in each child.' And it's the emphasis on each child. The school also stops after eighth grade, which means that the middle school-aged children are the leaders and role models. Instead of being sandwiched between elementary and high school years, we celebrate our middle school as being the end result."

Q: What is the diversity on campus at Western Reserve Academy?
A: "Of the 401 students attending, there are 273 boarding students and 128 day students. The school is around 55 percent boys and 45 percent girls. Twenty-five states and 21 countries are represented," answers Russ Morrison, director of marketing and public relations at Western Reserve Academy. Financial aid and college matriculation are also common concerns. "Last year, Western Reserve gave over $3.1 million in merit scholarships and financial aid, while 100 percent of students go on to college."

Q: What are the plans for The Ratner School's new building?
A: "We are moving to a new facility in Pepper Pike, opening in fall 2006" says Sheryl Miller, director of admissions for The Ratner School. "We are very excited. It doubles our space. The facility will contain a two-story art room, special rooms for music, Spanish, Hebrew Studies and after-school care, a library/media center, state-of-the-art science and computer labs, an auditorium for student performances, and 17 classrooms to serve toddlers through eighth-graders. It will be a building that will allow for the expansion of the special programs and innovative curriculum for which the school is known."

Q: How does Virtual Schoolhouse work?
A: "We are a hybrid charter school," says Nicki Salfer, the director of Learning Concepts at Virtual Schoolhouse. "The school takes advantage of some of the best features of a virtual school and applies them to classes taught in-person by teachers. We offer a center-based program where students come to the center for class and a home-based program where a teacher visits students at home. All students are provided with a computer and online access, and the classes taught at the center have a five-to-one student to teacher ratio."

Q: What are the benefits of attending an all-boys school?
A: "Boys and girls are often at different stages. Boys are often ahead of girls in science and math, but tail them developmentally in reading and writing by an average of 12 to 14 months," says Chris Barton, director of enrollment planning at University School. "University School creates an atmosphere of learning for boys that works with their strengths and weaknesses and is tailored to the style that they learn. They also emphasize hands-on learning throughout the educational process. Boys learn best by doing, not just sitting quietly in rows."

Q: Why should we send our daughter to an all-girls school?
A: "Laurel School knows girls - how they learn, think and feel," says Tom Wilschutz, assistant head of school and director of admission and financial aid at Laurel School. "For 110 years we have taught girls to claim their voices and develop as leaders. Girls thrive in our compassionate community. In this atmosphere, charged with intellectual vitality, bright girls embrace challenges in academics, athletics and arts. Attuned to learning styles, we honor each individual as she builds strengths and fulfills her promise. Our 140-acre campus offers exceptional opportunities for experiential education. Laurel School is a place where girls can dream, dare and do."

Q: Should every student entering college apply for financial aid?
A: "Yes, every student entering college should apply for financial aid. Any student completing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid is eligible for some kind of federal aid," says Rhonda McKinnon, district director of student financial assistance at Cuyahoga Community College. "The Department of Education's Federal Student Aid programs are the largest source of student aid in America and provide more than $60 billion a year in grants, low-interest loans and work-study assistance. Additionally, many state grants and scholarship programs require students to complete the FAFSA to receive state funds. Since completing the FAFSA is free, you can't lose."

Q: What resources are available to help afford college?
A: "File the FAFSA form as soon after Jan. 1 as possible," says Diane Raybuck, director of admissions at The University of Akron. "You don't have to wait for your tax preparation, as you may estimate, as closely as possible, your previous year's income. Because each college has different deadlines and procedures, check with the financial aid office at the institution of choice and it will help guide you through the process. Don't be afraid to make a call or send an e-mail. These professionals are there to assist you. Financial aid nights at your local high school, generally offered December through February, are also a good opportunity to gather information and ask questions."

Q: What is there to do on campus at Cleveland State?
A: "We have over 125 student organizations to join and participate in. These run the range from student government, to Greek life, to academic organizations, arts, dance, community service, etc.," says Jill Oakley-Jeppe, associate dean for freshman recruitment at Cleveland State University. "We are also part of NCAA Division I with 17 men's and women's sports, so you can join a team or you can root on the Vikings. Also we have club and intramural sports to get involved in. Finally, the benefit of our location in downtown Cleveland is all there is to do in the city. Students can go see shows, shopping, food, concerts and sporting events. We really consider the city an extension of our campus."

Q: Does Youngstown State University provide on-campus student housing? A: "Yes. The University operates five spacious residence halls on campus, including a residence for University Scholars and Honors students," says Walt Ulbricht, executive director of office of marketing and communications at Youngstown State. "Within a half block of campus are the University Courtyard Apartments, which house 400 YSU students in a number of apartment configurations, including private baths."

Q: Do I pay the tuition rate for Lorain County Community College or for the partner school delivering the degree?
A: "The answer is surprisingly simple," says Ralph Bishop, director of university partnership at Lorain County Community College. "When students take courses at Lorain they pay Lorain's tuition rate, and when they take university classes they pay the university's tuition rate. We currently have 11 'three plus one' programs - three years with Lorain County Community College and one year of credit work with one of the nine affiliated universities, and they still get the university's baccalaureate degree. That's three years at our [tuition] rate at one year at the university's rate."

Q: What is there to do for students who live on campus at Kent State University?
A: "Our recently renovated Eastway complex features a bowling alley and on-campus dining in a casual atmosphere with couches and chairs, a 60-inch television and fireplace," says Nancy DellaVecchia, director of admission at Kent State University. "Kent State's state-of-the art 153,000 square-foot Student Recreation and Wellness Center offers a wide array of opportunities under one roof including a cardiovascular fitness area, weight room, swimming pools, sports arena, racquetball and handball courts and a climbing wall. Students can join more than 200 different student organizations and choose from over 1,000 special events on campus including concerts, movies and presentations by nationally known speakers."

Q: Is it affordable to attend a private college?
A: "Ninety-seven percent of our students receive financial aid, and usually the majority of that financial aid comes from Notre Dame," says David A. Armstrong, Esq., dean of admissions at Notre Dame College. "We offer academic grants, athletic scholarships, and need-based grants. We also give up to 50 percent tuition discounts for students who have a relative who is a Sister of Notre Dame. Children of alumni and siblings of current students can also receive up to 50 percent off tuition. If you want to come to Notre Dame College and Notre Dame College wants you, then it's our job to make it affordable to you. What I tell families is that you're not going to get anything if you don't fill out your FAFSA form. If you're an Ohio resident you get a minimum, this year it was $900, for choosing a private school in Ohio."

Q. Should I live with my best friend or should I be randomly matched with a roommate?
A. "It depends. It makes some people nervous to go into a matching process. People like to know something about another person before they live with them," says Heather Losneck, director of residence life at John Carroll University. "If you are going to live with your best friend, go into living together with no expectations. Ask him or her basic questions that you would ask someone you didn't know. Remember, people can change, especially in a situation like college. Go into it with your eyes open so that you can remain friends. As for random room assignments, we do all our matching by hand and try to match most things, but not all, so that there are commonalties but also room for growth and development."

Q. Where is the restroom?
A. "When students and their parents make their first visit to campus, their initial question is almost always the same one," admits James Barrett, executi ve director of admission at Hiram College. "It isn't about a potential major or financial aid or our various dorms. It is always: 'Where's the restroom?' After a long, anticipatory ride to the college where they could spend the next four years, first things must be taken care of first. We love to tell potential students and their parents about Hiram College - but only after we take care of that inevitable first question."

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