If you are making the rounds on the open house circuit to check out potential new schools for your child, you may be wondering how you can tell which school will be right for your child. When I sit down with families seeking school placement support, I offer the following reminders:
Can the school meet your child’s learning needs? If your child routinely does well in school with a moderate amount of effort and no accommodations, you should be good to go. If, however, your child invests a significant amount of time on studying and homework to earn low B’s or C’s, there may be a mismatch in how material has been taught and your child’s ability to learn. Do the school’s you’re considering have programs in place to help struggling learners? Do they have resource specialists on-site? Will they welcome working with outside tutors or specialists?
Look past a dynamic Head of School, popular teacher, or beautiful campus. When you choose a new school, you are choosing a community. This is where your child will be growing up. Look at the teachers and families overall. Are they like-minded to you? These are the children you’ll be bringing home for playdates and the homes your child will be going to for study groups and hanging out. Does it feel right? If you are not sure, but still love the school, you can still choose it. Just make sure to prepare for the possibility that your child may not find strong social connections at school. If that happens, you can supplement social opportunities after school – think club sports, art and drama classes, and youth groups.
Are you ready to drive? If you are considering a private school, where do its students hale from? Usually, independent school families live further away from the school and wider apart from each other than your public school counterparts. Can you commit to transporting your child to and from school when he or she needs to arrive early and stay late? Can you commit to bringing your child to friends’ houses after school and on the weekends? If you are unsure, you may want to reconsider your options.
Choosing your child’s school is not only an educational decision; it is a lifestyle choice. Each school has advantages and disadvantages. Recognize the strengths and plan for how you might handle the potential challenges. Identify the community you want to join. Taking these steps will help you narrow your applications. And ultimately, you will be well-positioned to choose a school you’ll be happy with for years to come.
Rachel Fisher, MA