Relocating to the US: Choosing a school

We take a look at what families on a relocation to the US can expect from the schools in the region and how parents can ensure consistency of education for their children.

British International School Chicago Lincoln Park

The British International School of Chicago, Lincoln Park

The United States has, for many years, remained one of the top international relocation destinations. According to HSBC’s 2017 Expat Explorer survey, almost three quarters of expatriates believe it is a good place for boosting career prospects and 60 per cent believe their children’s quality of life is better than at home.However, families relocating to the US and looking for places in state schools (known there as public schools) are often struck by how significantly the education systems vary from state to state, and even between districts within the same state. Preparation is key to a successful transition.

Considering the next move

There is no national exam like the French Baccalauréat or the English A Level at the end of secondary school in the US. The progression of the curriculum is also substantially different to countries such as the UK, where subjects such as maths and science are taught sequentially rather than simultaneously. With this in mind, parents will need to think carefully about their children’s education in the context of eventual repatriation or their next relocation.Curriculum choice will play a central part in making the decision.

Public schools

Publicly funded schooling usually begins in Grade K (Kindergarten) at age five to six, followed by middle/junior high school (Grades 6–8), and finishing with high school (Grades 9–12). This is known as the K-12 curriculum.School search and education advice - connect with our in-country expertsThe K-12 curriculum is likely to result in a US Diploma on satisfactory completion of Grade 12, the requirements for which are set by individual states. The state will typically set a number of required courses, including core subjects such as English, maths, science and a foreign language.

Private and international schools

With the unique nature of the American education system, many families on a relocation opt for an international or private school that teaches a recognised, internationally transferable curriculum.International schools offer a range of learning programmes, including the British curriculum and the International Baccalaureate (IB). Harry Lynch, headmaster of The Newman School in Boston, explains why the school chose the IB programme.“Newman has always hosted international students, and we decided that we wanted to have a curriculum that would serve students from all over the world,” he says. “Secondly, we were attracted to the fact that the IB presents students and teachers with standards for education that are challenging and authentic.“The results for us are clear: our students are energised and engaged, and the number of our students admitted to selective universities in the US and around the world continues to go up.”The school has taught the IB Diploma programme since 2009 but also remains true to its roots. “While our school has an international curriculum, we do have a distinctly American culture which is in keeping with our tradition – indeed most of our students choose to attend universities in the United States,” says Mr Lynch. “We think of ourselves as an international school with a strong American flavour!”The British International School of Chicago, Lincoln Park – part of the Nord Anglia Education Group – is a primary school teaching pupils from the ages of two to 11. It follows a teaching programme based on the International Primary Curriculum (IPC) and the English National Curriculum.“Chicago is not home to many international schools so families moving to the area will have limited choices if looking to continue in a similar curriculum,” says Erin Woodhams, the school’s director of admissions, marketing and communications.“Our school is ideal for families moving from other British or International Schools – one of the huge benefits is that we are in an education group with over 50 schools across the globe. Students enrolled in any of our schools are able to move into another of our sister schools upon a relocation which helps tremendously with continuity of education.”

Choosing a school

In addition to curriculum choice, the big concerns of families moving to the US include integration for their child and the entire family, selecting a neighbourhood, and safe school transport.Families will find that International schools are well versed in dealing with the unique requirements of relocating families and helping them to settle into their new environment.“It’s never too early to start inquiring about open spaces,” explains Ms Woodhams. “Our admissions office can assist relocating families by providing an entirely remote application process if necessary and we work on a flexible timeline for enrolment.”In addition, most schools have strong Parent Teacher Associations, ‘buddy systems’ and a wealth of information and contacts available to new starts.Continues Ms Woodhams, “The ambassador programmes at our school link relocating families with other families already in our community who have either a similar home country, native language and/or children of the same age. Similarly, for students whose first language is not English, we pair them up with a student ambassador who is fluent in their native language.”
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This article is from Relocate Global's Guide to International Education & Schools 2019/20 which is packed with expert tips and information for those relocating and the professionals supporting them. 
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