How To Find the Right Private School For Your Child
Making the decision to send your child to private school involves significant and deep consideration. Families choose a private school for a variety of reasons: for its philosophy, for the quality of education it offers, or sometimes for the religious education it provides.
However, once that decision is made, your work isn’t over. The biggest challenge is yet to come: choosing the private school that best suits your child.
What to Consider When Choosing a Private School:
Reputation of the school within the community
Goals for your child’s education
School’s level of rigor
Variety and quality of extracurricular activities
Level of support services offered
Impressions made on you during the school visit
To Use a Consultant, or Not to Use a Consultant?
Like any big decision with high stakes, the selection of a suitable private school can be time consuming and stressful. Because of this, some parents/guardians turn to a consultant for assistance. “They can save time and ask questions you did not think about,” says Adam Cole co-director of Atlanta based, Grant Park Academy of the Arts. However, Cole adds, “If you are willing to do your homework, you can do it on your own.”
The selection process can be made more difficult if a family is new to an area. “Otherwise your network could help as much as a consultant,” says Blake Jensen, founder of SD Higher Scores, and test prep tutor with over 10 years of experience teaching and tutoring high school math and science.
Before visiting schools, parents/guardians should consider what their goals are for their child’s education.
Before visiting schools, parents/guardians should consider what their goals are for their child’s education. Then, they can look for schools that are aligned with those goals.
“Some schools are more rigorous while others have a greater focus on extra-curricular activities,” says Alexandra Mayzler, founder and director of Thinking Caps, a boutique tutoring and coaching business located in New York City. “The level of support services and support staff and the ways children have access to it” is also something to consider.
Talking to other parents who have children at the school can be enlightening. Consider if you are comfortable with them, have similar values, and feel a connection. “It’s especially helpful to talk to parents who have more than one child at the school as they have seen the school over a longer period of time and observed how they deal with different kids,” says Jensen.
You will always find some parents who are happy and others who are less so. That’s why talking to multiple parents is helpful as it provides a wider perspective. While schools will in all likelihood be happy to provide a list of references, finding parents/guardians on your own can lead to a more unbiased view.
The School Visit
The decision process should certainly include a school visit. The visit/tour of the school will be scripted by the recruiting department. However, a tour can still be helpful, especially if you know what to look for.
Mayzler suggests a lobby test as a great way to get a feel for a school. “Come to the school 15-20 minutes before and check out the lobby. You can see how kids interact with each other and with teachers, etc. in a less formal setting.” Consider how the school handles students outside the classroom in an unscripted atmosphere. Those students who are outside of the classroom may very well be those who are struggling or those who are being picked on.
Transition times can be very telling. “You can often see how well a school is run during transitions such as the end of the period leading into lunch,” says Jensen. “Consider what happens to kids who are straggling or running around and you can learn a bit about the school’s approach to discipline.”
When inside a classroom, review the student body. Are they diverse? How do the students interact with each other? With the teacher? Consider what the students are learning and if aligns with your philosophy/beliefs. “See what kind of materials the children are learning from, the publishing company of the textbooks, what websites are being viewed,” says Cole. “Instructional materials say a lot about a school’s culture.”
Private schools articulate a philosophy. For some, that philosophy is followed through on consistently and intentionally. One way to see if the philosophy is more than words in a brochure is to check out the walls of the school. “Look at the displays on the walls and consider if they align with the school’s philosophy,” says Mayzler. “Schools put out messages, but it comes down to the teachers and administration and what they are doing.
Although it’s easy to get excited by appearance, Jensen cautions against this. “The nicest facility does not mean the best school or the best education. A school might have cool toys, but teacher quality is a separate issue.”
Other things to consider are: Do the students seem happy? Stressed out? Is there a sense of school spirit? Are students able to express themselves?
Sounds overwhelming – right? Well, it can be. Remember to breathe and relax. And as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, ‘trust thyself.’ And your instincts. When leaving the school, “Consider how you felt there,” says Cole. “What’s your sixth sense telling you?”
Visiting and considering one private school may sound exhausting. So, visiting multiple schools probably sounds overwhelming. However, if you have the opportunity to do so, it would be wise. There is no set number of schools you should visit. However, after visiting multiple schools, parents/guardians can start to have a sense of what’s right for their child and family.
Selecting the right private school for your child is a challenge. The decision will impact your family for years to come. Consider the tips noted above and the time-consuming process will ultimately be a positive as it will help you find the right school for your child.
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