See ya, Staples: Why Westport students choose private schools

Some Westport residents choose to attend private schools, such as Greens Farms Academy, instead of Staples. Both Staples and GFA rank top in the state in many aspects, including academics and college preparation.

Photos by Claire Redmer ’21, graphic by Lys Goldman ’21

Some Westport residents choose to attend private schools, such as Greens Farms Academy, instead of Staples. Both Staples and GFA rank top in the state in many aspects, including academics and college preparation.

By Claire Redmer ’21 and Lys Goldman '21

Hundreds of students shuffle through the hallways, their books and binders safely stored in backpacks slung across their shoulders. Friendly chatter echoes through the stairwells as students climb up and down, some left out of breath after the seemingly long trek from first to third floor. This is a common scene during the five-minute passing time between classes at Staples High School, one that most Staples students have become very familiar with as they make their way to their next class.

Staples High School is ranked the best overall public school in the state of Connecticut by Niche, scoring highly in academics, college preparation and activities. Yet each year, some high schoolers from Westport choose to go to private schools rather than attending Staples.

There are many reasons why people seek a private school education outside of the Westport Public School System; some switch to private school for a more individualized environment. Riley Tooker attended Staples freshman year but transferred to Hopkins before her sophomore year.

“I left Staples because I didn’t really like how big the class sizes were,” Tooker said. “I wanted a more personalized learning experience with smaller classes so that I could really be engaged.”

Ava Block chose to leave Staples and enroll at Berkshire School in Massachusetts for similar reasons as Tooker.
“I wanted to go to a smaller school, and there are only about 400 people in my whole school and about eight in each of my classes,” Block said.

Furthermore, some kids believe that the smaller classes at private school allow for a stronger bond between students and teachers and that this is beneficial to their education.

“Because private schools are smaller, there is a lot more attention on each student,” Kate Loffredo, who transferred to Hopkins, said. “There are such strong student-teacher relationships and every teacher can truly learn everything they need to know about a student to help further their education.”

Academically, a common belief that fuels many students’ decisions to transfer stems from the idea that a private school education will provide an advantage for getting accepted to colleges. With the idea of college on the minds of many high schoolers, some students believe that Staples cannot offer the level of academics suitable to get into their “dream school.”

“Hopkins’ rigorous academics and smaller environment will help through the college process,” Riley Lipman said, finding that Hopkins rather than Staples was a better fit for her both academically and athletically. “Staples students seem to spend the majority of their night [with] free time because the homework doesn’t take long. At private school, I spend long nights doing homework.”

Another reason students decide to attend private school is for athletics.

“What caused me to leave was just a better opportunity,” Jackson Zager said. Zager goes to IMG Academy in Florida, a private boarding school, where he plays football and trains with a special quarterback coach through their integrated athletics and education programs.

While there are various reasons that would cause someone to bypass Staples in favor of a private education, the question then becomes: is a private education and experience really better?

While Niche ratings give Staples and many of Connecticut’s popular private schools similar scores, the answer to this question entirely depends on the person. Some people fit best at public school; some people fit best at private school. While some Westport high schoolers have found their perfect fit at private schools, others came back to Staples because it proved to be a better match for them.

Simon Sandrew ’21 attended Fairfield Preparatory School for his freshman year, but Prep’s largely athletic focus didn’t provide him with the academic challenge he was seeking. Because of this, he returned to Staples for his sophomore year.

“[Prep] was a very traditional style of teaching that did not really offer the most advanced teaching that Staples has,” Sandrew said. “The average Staples student would breeze through a Prep curriculum.”

Going to school is an important part of growing up for most Westport teens. Choosing where to get an education is an extremely personal decision, one that many different factors can affect. Ultimately, finding the best fit for each individual, whether that be public or private, is what drives the movement between schools.

Diana Hoffman ’21 switched to Greens Farms Academy after she graduated from Bedford Middle School but came back to Staples after one year because the atmosphere wasn’t the right fit for her.

“I really liked my classes and I really liked my teachers but I just think that the small school ended up being not right for me, and I think I do better in a larger environment,” Hoffman said.

In deciding which high school to attend, it conclusively boils down to finding where one will be the happiest and the most comfortable.

“I’m happy [at Staples],” Sandrew said. “I’m really content and comfortable with being myself, something that I couldn’t do at private school.”

This story was originally published on Inklings on February 25, 2019.