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Make the Most of Your School Visit

Parents at school with their child

Photo credit: PhotoDune

Once you’ve settled on the type of education you want your child to receive, you’ll want to begin checking out potential schools. A school’s website is an excellent place to start. A great web site will not only provide the information you’re looking for, but it will tell you a lot about the school itself. My school’s website features our mission statement, educational philosophy, copies of our school newsletter, the school calendar, upcoming events, teacher home pages, and even some of our students’ artwork. If you like what you see when browsing a school’s website, chances are you’ll want to contact the school and find out more.

If you choose public education, call your local public school office and ask for an information packet. Find out which school district you are in and ask about registration deadlines. Public schools often hold open houses so that parents and children can visit individual schools before registering. Each year, our local public schools host “Kindergarten Welcome Sessions,” which give parents an overview of kindergarten and a typical kindergarten day and includes a panel discussion with kindergarten teachers.

Most private schools have an admissions office. Give them a call.  Ask about their process for admitting new students. Is there information on their website or a packet for new families? Once you have the materials in hand, read them carefully. Do you agree with their mission statement? Does their educational philosophy mesh with your own?

Ask whether they have an open house for prospective parents, then plan a visit. As a kindergarten teacher, I have dozens of prospective parents visit my classroom each year. I love watching these parents as they sit in the back of my room. Some of them are happy and relaxed. Others look nervous or worried. Some are just beginning the process of choosing a school. Others need to make an immediate decision. In every face I see the desire to do what’s best for their child. Bravo! They’re already doing something right.

Many public and private schools have informational meetings once or twice a year. If at all possible, attend one of these meetings. Depending on the type of school, you will have the opportunity to meet one or more of the following people who will be instrumental in your child’s education: principal or headmaster, admissions director, financial aid officer, classroom teachers, and resource teachers for children with special needs.

Come prepared to ask questions, not only about the school’s philosophy and mission, but about practical issues as well: How long is the school day? What is the average class size? What is the student-to-teacher ratio? Will my child’s teacher have an aide? How are discipline issues handled? What curriculum is being used? Do they understand the importance of free play?

Of course, if your child has special needs, you’ll want to inquire about available resources both in and outside the classroom. It is vital to ask questions as well as provide the school with as much information as you can about your child. Can the school accommodate a physically challenged child?  What about a child who has been diagnosed with a learning or attention deficit disorder? A child with acute medical needs?

Another good way to get to know the inner workings of a school is to attend public events scheduled throughout the year. See if the school has Christmas, Hanukkah, or other special programs. Ask about sports.  Attend a basketball game or soccer match and meet some of the parents.  Does the school have a science fair or a family fun day?

At the school where I teach, we have all-school assemblies which are open to the public. These assemblies are a wonderful way for potential parents to see what our school is all about. The students sing songs, recite poetry, and give dramatic presentations. They even say the Pledge of Allegiance in Latin! I know several parents who made the decision to enroll their child in our school after attending one of these assemblies. That’s saying a lot.

I know right now you’re probably thinking, It’s going to take time to do all this. Exactly. That’s why it’s important to start early. Don’t be afraid to begin thinking about your child’s education even if you’re two or three years away from enrolling your child in school. Believe me, the time will pass quickly. By getting an early start, you’ll be able to relax and enjoy the process.

Some of you, however, are reading this and thinking, That’s great, but I should have made a decision yesterday. Well, it’s not too late.  You’re on an accelerated path, that’s all. Do what’s essential. Settle on an educational philosophy. Then find a school that’s a good fit. See that your practical needs are met. Trust your instincts and make a decision. And remember, if for some reason you’re not satisfied with your decision, there’s always next year. Until next time, happy parenting

Choosing the Right School

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Choosing the right school is a lot like choosing a business partner. You wouldn’t enter into a contractual agreement with someone who didn’t share your basic beliefs about how a business should be run. So why would you register your child in a public school kindergarten before scheduling a visit? Or enroll your child in a private school whose core beliefs about education conflict with your own?

You may be asking: “How much choice do I really have?” While most parents make their decision based on practical issues such as finances, there are an increasing number of available choices that serve families with varying needs, preferences, and socio-economic backgrounds. Parents can choose the more affordable public or charter school option.  They can send their children to a private school. Or they can educate them at home.

While some parents have the financial means to choose private education for their children, public school remains the most viable alternative for young families. Fifty million children in the United States are now enrolled in public schools, compared to six million in private school, the one-and-a-half million who are home schooled, and the almost two million children who attend public charter schools.*

When I was a child, there was no question as to whether my brothers and I would attend public school. After all, our mother taught in a local public school, and she was as passionate and dedicated a teacher as I’ve ever known. Public school just made sense for our family.

There are a number of reasons parents choose to send their children to public school. The first is affordability. Public education is free and transportation is provided. Secondly, public schools are required by law to educate all children. This is especially important for parents who have a child with special needs. Most public schools provide special education programs and teachers trained to work with these children.  Finally, public schools tend to be more diverse, reflecting the community they serve. While classroom size tends to be larger and curriculum standardized, public schools remain an excellent choice for many families.

If you are considering a private school, find out if there is a waiting list, and, if so, how soon you will need to sign up. Ask about the admissions process. Does the school screen applicants for developmental readiness? Does it determine whether a child has reached certain developmental milestones–performing certain tasks and sustaining them with ease?

Is tuition prohibitive? If so, is financial aid available? A great resource to help in choosing a school is www.greatschools.org (click on “Find a School”). While one question will certainly lead to another, starting with these basics will give you an idea of whether a particular school is one you want to pursue.

Next week, we will begin taking a look at school visits. Until then, happy parenting.

* Statistics from Statistic Brain and 2011-12 National Charter School & Enrollment Statistics (PDF)

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