"The heartache, disappointment and frustration is so hard on parents who feel that they don't have a choice," said Luana Castellano, director of admissions at Polytechnic School in Pasadena. "But it's sad when parents put a child in a judgmental situation. Not one parent in the world should ever let an institution validate their child. The children are all wonderful."
This fall, Myra Kriwanek set out for an informational meeting on private school admissions for her sixth-grade son. But when the Westchester mother reached the meeting site, she discovered a mob scene.
"This meeting was the only opportunity for people to get information, but the numbers were so overwhelming and I could feel the competition," Kriwanek said. "There's a sale mentality, and I didn't want to get caught up in the frenzy."
Having survived the process with her daughter, now a ninth-grader in private school, Kriwanek is aware of the risks of throwing children into such a competitive arena.
"Everyone gets to play softball and soccer, but this is really the first time they've tasted rejection," she said. "There are problems with living in the fast lane. You have to protect them from the very high expectations until they are ready. Some kids burn out, reject it all and turn to drugs and alcohol. If the children can handle the process and can really take advantage of the opportunities around them, it can be an enriching experience."
Experts agree that when it comes to assessing various educational options, parents need to take a proactive approach and do their homework.
"Don't rely on secondhand information and hearsay," said Raymond R. Michaud Jr., headmaster of the John Thomas Dye School, a private elementary school in Bel Air. "Find out firsthand what the schools are all about and which are appropriate given your child's strengths and interests."