A Parent’s Perspective: What an All-Boys Private School Is Really Like

When Newton MA parents Dave and Jen Visco started searching for a kindergarten program for their oldest son, they didn’t know much about private schools. They weren’t totally convinced on public schools, either. And, as Dave puts it, “We certainly didn’t know a lot about single-sex private schools.”

Does this sound familiar?

Every year as September looms, parents all over the Boston area face the tough decision of where to send their children for kindergarten—a decision made even more challenging by the sheer number of options.

(If you’re trying to make the decision yourself, this list of five questions to ask a private elementary school will help you tell the difference between schools.)

At the top of the Visco’s shortlist was The Fessenden School, a private pre-K through Grade 9  school in West Newton. But the Viscos still felt they needed more information. In particular, they weren’t sure an all-boys school would be the right fit for their son.

To help them make their decision, a Fessenden school official put the Viscos in touch with another family whose children already attended the school.

“I wanted to make sure that the culture of Fessenden fit with our family and with who we were, and the other family gave me a lot of comfort that it would,” Dave says. “And in fact, they were exactly right. We’re very comfortable here.”

Now, Dave wants to help other families the way he and Jen were helped. The couple has three sons enrolled at Fessenden. Here are Dave’s reflections on the all-boys private school experience.

All-boys private schools are laser-focused on how boys learn.

Boys and girls learn differently and their brains develop at different rates, as research study after research study has attested. In a mixed-gender classroom, though, it’s difficult for teachers to adapt their teaching styles to the needs of boys or girls without leaving one group behind. That’s not the case at an all-boys school like Fessenden.

“The reality of single-sex education is you have a group of teachers that is focused on boys: the learning patterns of boys, the behaviors of boys, how to engage boys, not only in academics, but in all the other facets of their life and development,” Dave explains.

At Fessenden, teachers have the ability to take the pulse of the classroom. If they notice their students getting fidgety, they can take a break to burn off their excess energy.

“They change the activity. They have them run around. They adjust in order to keep the boys engaged,” Dave recounts. “In a coed environment, by definition, you’re not going to have that flexibility.”

All-boys Private Schools Encourage Individuality.

One of the advantages of a single-sex environment is that boys (and girls, for that matter) don’t feel pigeon-holed into traditional roles. At Fessenden, teachers and administrators repeat the credo, “Everything is a boys thing.”

At an all-boys schools boys feel free to be nurturers and comforters as well as jokers and competitors. They’re at home on the stage and the athletic field.

“My children are doing what they want to do, not what they think they should do,” Dave says. “They’re following their interests and not conforming to what they think the social environment or their social groups want from them.”

His son’s teachers are most concerned with helping each boy shine in his own individual way, Dave says.

“For them, it’s really about achieving your potential, not the potential of the boy next to you,” he says. “It’s really being able to pursue, and be celebrated for pursuing, your interests and who you are.”

All-boys private schools provide unique opportunities for boys.

The Visco’s  sons would have received an excellent education at almost any of the top schools in the Boston area, Dave says. Many of these schools have celebrated athletics programs, as well. But Dave feels, for his boys, Fessenden has gone above and beyond.

Dave is particularly enthusiastic about the Ciongoli Center for Innovation, Fessenden’s cutting-edge technology space where students work on open-­ended, multi­disciplinary, and collaborative projects.

“It’s the robotics; it’s the theater; it’s the music. It’s all the extras,” he says. “Our goal is for our sons to be well-rounded boys with great character. It’s about exposure—exposing them to a lot of different opportunities and allowing them to find what they are most excited about.”

Dave has witnessed that excitement a lot lately.

“As their dad, I’m their measuring stick,” he explains. “If I see them enjoying themselves when they’re in the musical, that’s a successful outcome.”

Let’s hear your questions about all-boys schools.

If you had the opportunity to talk to a parent like Dave, who has had three sons attend an all-boys private school, what would you ask? Share your questions in the comments section below.

If you’re considering a private school and are not sure what to ask, get started with a free copy of the Pre-K & Kindergarten Private School Visit Checklist.

Download the Pre-K & Kindergarten Private School Visit Checklist

One Response to “A Parent’s Perspective: What an All-Boys Private School Is Really Like”

  1. Camille Devaux

    My sister was telling me about her interest in sending her son to a private school. She wanted to learn more about the various benefits before doing so. It is nice to know that there are unique opportunities given to kids that go to these types of schools.


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