Ask the Experts

Q: High school students have many options for summer vacation. How should a student decide to spend his or her summer?
“At Laurel, some of our girls do internships, some travel abroad, some will work at Heinen’s,” saysMary Lisa Geppert, director of admissions and financial aid at Laurel School. “The way we look at summer is, yes, our girls work extra-hard during the school year, so it should be a respite during the summer. But we also want them to get real-life experience over the summer, things that can help prepare them for their choices in the future.”
Q: What can students do to improve their social skills?
“Social skills are really life skills, which begin in the home before a child even comes to school,” saysSister Agnesmarie LoPorto, SND, president of Julie Billiart School. “School helps to internalize and enhance the social skills through formal classes and informal experiences. I would hope that in the home, children learn politeness and courtesy, how to talk to people, to be respectful. I also encourage parents to have their children in groups outside of school, such as scouting, baseball or drama club.”

Q: What should high school students consider when scheduling their classes?
“While students need to be mindful of graduation requirements, they should also understand course options and how those options intersect with their passions and future plans,” saysPatricia Brubaker, coordinator of student development and director of guidance and counseling at Gilmour Academy.“It is important to choose core courses that challenge a student intellectually yet are realistically rigorous. Although core courses are at the heart of a student’s education, electives chosen wisely can make a difference both in a student’s present experience and future goals. Electives give students an opportunity to follow passions and round out their experience in high school.”

Q: How does having international students at the school improve the entire student body?

A: “We have a small piece of global understanding right here on our campus,” saysLaura Walsh, academic dean at Andrews Osborne Academy. “We have students from Korea, Mexico and Spain, among others, that cultivate an experience that you can’t get from books. We are beginning to implement a program where our domestic students will begin to learn Korean and Mandarin along with the basic foreign languages offered.”
Q: What are the advantages of attending an all-girls school from preschool through 12th grade?
“It’s been demonstrated through research and experience that many girls thrive in a single-sex environment,” saysTerry Dubow, English teacher and director of communications at Hathaway Brown School. “One reason is not so much the absence of boys, but more it is the presence of girls and the intellectual presence they create. We’ve found that it has been very powerful. For example, our Institute for 21st Century Education reinvents high school and permeates throughout the entire school. It promotes learning and gets girls into research labs such as NASA and the Cleveland Clinic.”

Q: What should students consider when choosing extra-curricular activities, and how should they balance their time?
“We encourage the student to find something that they have a passion for or something new they have an interest in exploring or something that is a challenge like mock trial or debate,” saysPeggy Connell, principal of Beaumont School. “We think it’s the breadth rather than the depth that colleges are looking for: Whether they are a committed member of the club, whether there’s a growth into leadership or whether it supports an interest that they may have talked about in their application essay. But balancing responsibilities is important, because getting only three to four hours of sleep per night isn’t healthy and doesn’t allow you to do your best academically.”

Q: How does the boarding school environment help both day students and boarding students?
: “For the day students, it tends to be the best of both worlds: They can have access to the facilities whenever they want it, but they also get to go home to their families,” says Anne Sheppard, dean of admissions at Western Reserve Academy. “The students who live on campus, they are living with students from all over the world. They have independence, and the experience of living with faculty members is something you don’t get unless you are living in the high school.”
Q: How can students stay focused in the classroom?
“Many students at Lawrence find it challenging to maintain concentration due to a learning difference or attention deficit. Our teachers are trained to help students sustain focus and attention,” saysRyan Masa, academic dean and interim upper school co-director at Lawrence School. “A classroom environment that is organized and structured works best when paired with instruction that’s diverse and varied. Teachers present content in a multisensory method — using sight, sound and touch — and move about the room and use proximity when regaining attention. The best method for maintaining focus is a thoughtful, engaging lesson plan that reflects or piques students’ interests.”

Q: What methods have you found to combat stress in children?
“Our parent coach, Amy Speidel, has found that the most effective way is to teach parents to role model effective strategies themselves, to help children learn some of those same strategies and to encourage exercise,” saysDr. Shelly Senders of Senders Educational Consulting. “When a child is stressed, all of the blood flow in their brain is shunted to the fight-or-flight center with little or no blood going to the problem-solving regions of the brain. Exercising releases serotonin, the relaxing chemical, which shunts blood back to the thinking areas of the brain to relieve stress.”

Q: What options do you have for making private education affordable?
A: “Nearly 100 years of tradition have positioned Hawken School to assist families in making an independent school education affordable,” says Heather Daly, director of admission and financial assistance at Hawken School. “In addition to a need-based financial assistance budget of nearly $3.7 million for students in kindergarten through grade 12, our newly initiated James A. Hawken Merit Scholarship Program offers qualified students awards ranging from $2,500 to $15,000 annually.”

Q: What are the benefits of participating in extracurricular activities?
“My best estimate would be that at least 50 percent of first-year students participate in something,” says Brenda McKenzie, associate director, Center for Student Involvement at Kent State University. A student can benefit in numerous ways, such as feeling a sense of belonging in the campus community, developing the leadership skills employers look for and networking with professionals and faculty, McKenzie says. “Research shows that students who are actively involved in college are more likely to persist, graduate and be satisfied with their overall college experience.”

Q: Is financial aid still available in these economic times?
“Yes,” says George Rolleston, Baldwin-Wallace College’s director of financial aid for 25 years. “Financial aid is available throughout the academic year for our current students.” B-W is able to meet, on average, at least 93 percent of a student’s need-based aid. “The one thing that is true of a private educational experience is that we are able to assist students after the school year has begun if changes in the family’s home environment or circumstances have suddenly [occurred].”

Q: How can students make a successful transition from high school to college?
“Utilize the assets that the college has,” says David Armstrong, vice president for enrollment at Notre Dame College, “whether it is student affairs, student life, their resident life staff, counseling centers or the academic support system.” Students are encouraged and shown how to become involved in the campus community. Once they find an organization that they enjoy, “it’s like a fever,” he says, and they can’t stop.

Q: What are the benefits of smaller class sizes?
: “If a student is in some kind of academic difficulty, we’re on top of it,” says James Eisenberg, professor of psychology and chair of social sciences at Lake Erie College. The average class at Lake Erie is 15 students. The close relationship between a student and professor can be overlooked at a bigger institution, Eisenberg says. Another benefit, Eisenberg adds, is that most of Lake Erie’s professors are full time and can monitor students from freshman year to graduation.

Q: How does a student decide if hybrid learning is right for him or her?
“Hybrid learning is an emerging type of class in which a student attends partially in a classroom and partially via online learning,” saysChristina Royal, executive director of distance learning at Cuyahoga Community College. “A lot of times, it is able to provide another type of class for students who may not have the time to be able to come as frequently to campus, as well as the online student who maybe wants to have some more face-to-face time.”

Q: How does the process of selecting a college roommate work?
“Students may request a specific roommate when they apply for housing,” saysJohn Messina, director of residence life and housing at University of Akron. “If the request is mutual, the group is assigned together.” If you don’t know anyone, he says, Akron uses a roommate-matching questionnaire with up to 47 percent of first-year students living on campus. “Often, students meet at orientation for the first time, and these tend to work. They share the new university experience from the start without a lot of preconceived notions or expectations.”

Q: How should students decide what courses to take their first semester?
: “Generally speaking, if college is going to be a big adjustment for you academically, we recommend you take it slower up front,” recommends Rob Spademan, assistant vice president of university marketing and admissions at Cleveland State University. Don’t worry if you don’t have a major in mind yet, he says. Take a variety of courses that you are interested in, and one of them should put you on the right path to finding a major.

Q: What areas do students often struggle with when they transition from college to medical school?
“It is, surprisingly, time management,” saysLois Lott, dean of student affairs for the Ohio College of Podiatric Medicine. “They’re just not aware of the time that is required to master their coursework.” As an undergraduate student, you can do well just by memorizing the material, says Lott. As a medical student, you have to keep up in all of your classes and be ready to incorporate what you’ve learned in one class into the rest of your courses. nDon’t be afraid to raise your hand. Area private schools and colleges provide the answers to your pressing questions.
Share this story: