Two weekend events, the first of which will be held on Saturday, Nov. 3, will give parents in the Cayman Islands a chance to look at boarding schools in the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States.
The annual school fairs pitch islanders on the idea of a superior educational experience for those who can afford the expense. In some cases, that expense can be comparable to the cost of private school here on the island.
Niall Browne is director of BvS Education, which produces the British School Fair from 2-6 p.m. Saturday at the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort. He said parents sometimes find it’s a financial advantage to send their children to school in the United Kingdom.
“The general cost is 13,000 pounds per year,” Mr. Browne said.
That amount falls near the middle of tuition rates for Cayman’s private schools. And, if students attend a boarding school and go on to university in the U.K., they pay less tuition at university since they have established U.K. residency, he said.
Ten schools will be on hand at Saturday’s event, which is expected to draw 40 to 60 families, Mr. Browne said.
The North American Boarding School Fair is scheduled from 6-8 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 11, also at the Marriott. Forty schools will have representatives at that event, said organizer Neil Murray. Mr. Murray said he’s expecting 150 to 200 people to attend.
Amanda Roberts, proprietor of Dorm & Day, a Cayman-based private school consulting service, said there are more than 50 Cayman students attending U.S. and Canadian boarding schools.
The North American fair, Mr. Murray said, grew out of a relationship between local soccer coach Winston Chung-Fah and educational consultant Michael Walker. Mr. Walker put together the annual fair after Mr. Chung-Fah had some success with getting young soccer players into U.S. prep schools, Mr. Murray said.
Those connections, he added, have helped pave the way for others.
“There’s a few kids that have gone for swimming or squash and some basketball,” he said.
His own son, Brandyn, was 14 when he left Cayman to attend Darlington School in Rome, Georgia, in large part because of its soccer program. He went on to attend junior college before transferring to Thomas University in southern Georgia, where he played soccer on a scholarship.
Despite the sport connection, Mr. Murray said the focus for the North American schools is on academics. Attending such schools, he said, can help open doors to higher education.
“The schools have huge networks with colleges,” he said. “If a student does well, there’s always an avenue.”
Mr. Murray said the cost for such schools generally runs between US$20,000 and $40,000 annually. He emphasized that many offer grants and other financial aid depending upon a student’s prospects and need. He suggests that interested parents research multiple schools.
“Speak with the representatives,” he said. “See what’s required. See what they offer. Each school is a different environment.”
Mr. Browne said parents should spend time talking to the representatives.
“The staff they meet are very reflective of the school,” he said, adding that having a good rapport is important.
He discourages parents from relying too much on independent school league tables, which he calls “deeply flawed.”
“Look at a school’s individual data,” he said, particularly the data that shows how much students may have improved. “It will tell you what children achieved at the end, versus what they were capable of achieving coming in.”
Parents also need to be ready to act early. Mr. Browne said testing for U.K. private schools now begins in Year 6 for admission to Year 9.
“You have to be starting that process at least three years in advance,” he said.
There are important concerns beyond academics as well, he said. If most students are not boarders, there may be little to do for those who are when class is over.
“Ask what happens on the weekends,” Mr. Browne said. “Most families in Cayman are looking for a full boarding school. They want [their children] to be busy and entertained and with the school and their friends all the time.”
For those who find the right fit, he said, “There are amazing opportunities available at some of these schools.”
In addition to school fair events, some schools are marketed singularly. For instance, Toronto’s Lakefield College School will have a representative on island in the coming days to meet individually with parents. Interested parents can contact Felicia Neil at [email protected]