Mel and Ado Scolari of Narromine are parents of three children aged between 12 and 19, who have been or are currently at boarding schools in Sydney. They went into the process of choosing schools with a very clear idea of what they were looking for. Kim V. Goldsmith caught up with Mel to talk about how they went about narrowing the field.
How much of your own experience of boarding school came into the decision-making of choosing a boarding school for your children?
A little but not a lot because I realise it’s a new era and schools have changed so much that I was looking at what was on the table now.
So, it wasn’t a case of choosing a school that was a tradition for the family?
Yes, there was tradition when it came to one of our children…but in saying that, we did look at other options because we wanted to make sure the school suited the child.
“If schools have happy, confident children, they’re doing something right.”
What was it you were really looking for?
Originally when I went looking for a school for our girls, Lily (now 19) and Sophia (16), who are similar in many ways but have different skills and interests, we wanted a school that was going to foster their full potential and not inhibit them at all.
It was similar for our son, Joe (12), but we looked at fewer schools because tradition did sway us a bit. With him, we kept in mind the type of boy he is and what he would enjoy.
We looked at the facilities, location, the composition of boarders to day students, the subjects…and for us, the biggest thing was the culture of the school. That’s our number one – the atmosphere and culture of the school can be the winning factor in the final selection process. If schools have happy, confident children, they’re doing something right.
Did you talk to other parents at those schools in the process as well?
Yes, they were such an important source in making the decision as it gives you another viewpoint from a family perspective, and certainly some vital and very practical information.The process we used with selecting schools was firstly, we went to the Boarding Schools Expo and chatted
The process we used with selecting schools was firstly, we went to the Boarding Schools Expo and chatted to different staff from the schools there. Then we read the information packs and got a general idea of the schools we’d like to investigate further. From there, we arranged appointments with schools in Sydney to walk through and look at their facilities, their location, and accessibility to public transport.
I really enjoyed getting a feel for the atmosphere of the school…I think that was one of my top priorities in narrowing our selection. We wanted a really happy culture at our schools because we wanted our children to be happy.
In terms of what boarding schools are today, was there anything that surprised you?
We’ve had experience with two different schools [Wenona and St. Joseph’s College, Hunters Hill], so different schools have surprised me in different ways. Our girls were at a smaller boarding school and I was surprised by the personal level of attention based on where they’re at, and staff taking things on a situation by situation basis. Being such a small boarding school, they know the girls very well.
Joe’s only just started this year and it feels like he’s at summer camp…they’re just having a ball! That has surprised me. He can’t wait to get back for Sunday outings. I think that’s lovely.
Have there been challenges along the way as well?
The separation is always the biggest challenge. That’s just going to happen, that’s part and parcel of sending your children away. Obviously, no one wants to be separated from their children. We do try to see them as often as we can and having family in Sydney has helped too.
The homesick call is the killer for parents, isn’t it? They offload and you’re wandering around with a heavy heart for the next 24 hours, meanwhile, they’ve recovered and are as good as gold. As you get further along the boarding experience, you do come to realise that and you don’t stress quite so much.
One of the surprises though was the amount of contact we could have with them [the children], which I love. It has been so helpful for us. Some schools do believe less contact is best when they first start, but being able to phone home was such a reassurance for our children when they were getting on their feet. You don’t feel like you’re separated so much when you’re able to speak to them every day.
“Before you go looking, you must decide as a family what you’re looking for in a school…”
What advice would you give to parents in the process of trying to decide what school is right for their child or have just sent their first child away?
Before you go looking, you must decide as a family what you’re looking for in a school; what your values are and what you want from boarding school. Think about things like the location of the school and the size, rules for leave, sports available, what they do on weekends.
Make a list of what you’re looking for before you go looking and it’ll make it so much easier. Every family is so different but it helps to have a clear vision in your mind.
Mel Scolari’s 5 tips for researching schools
- Talk as a family
- Decide what you value
- Visit the Boarding Schools Expos
- Read the info packs provided by the schools
- Make appointments to visit the schools
Find the Boarding Schools Expo checklist of things you might cover in your conversations with schools.