After having our first child, we fielded the question “Where will you send her to school?” countless times. We lived in an area where schools were very competitive and required parents to be proactive in securing a place at a preferred school. The choice seemed daunting. We have come a long way from the one-room schoolhouse that housed all grades. Today, there are many schooling options available, each with its own pros and cons. This article will offer some questions a parent might ask to navigate the search for the perfect school.
1. What is available in your area?
The area you live in or near helps narrow down choices for you. What is available to you? Is it a neighborhood school, traditional public school, selective school, magnet school, charter school, private school, Montessori school, Waldorf School, parochial school, or Christian school? Do you know how these schools operate?
Here is a quick breakdown:
Neighborhood school: A neighborhood school is a public school that is assigned to children of a particular grade level who live nearby. Access is granted based on proximity. These schools receive government funding.
Traditional Public School: A traditional public school is divided into grades and governed by a school board. These schools receive government funding.
Selective School: A selective school is a public school that admits children based on some sort of criteria. This criterion is usually academic. These schools receive government funding.
Magnet School: A magnet school is a public school that draws students from across school zones by offering specialized courses or curricula. These schools receive government funding.
Charter School: A charter school is a public school that receives government funding but operates independently through contracts with local states or boards. These schools draw up their own 'charter' or set of rules that govern their conduct and hold them accountable.
Private School: The main characteristic that defines a private school is how it is funded. Private schools are not funded by the government but rather by endowments and donations made by patrons. Tuition is often higher than at a public school.
Montessori School: A Montessori School is a private school that offers child-centered learning. A hands-on approach and student-directed learning define these schools.
Waldorf Schools: Waldorf schools are private schools that focus on the development of the whole child through a broad curriculum that includes academics, art, music, physical education, emotional and social education.
Parochial Schools: Parochial Schools are private schools usually maintained by a religious denomination that could include Roman Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish congregations. Although Islamic schools operate similarly, they are not usually counted under the term "parochial".
Christian School: A Christian school is a private school run on Christian principles and led by Christian teachers and staff.
Classical School: Classical education focuses on classic literature and the Great Books. Teachers train students in the lost tools of learning, including foundational skills like careful reading, discussing ideas and speaking and writing persuasively.
Now that you can identify the different types of schools, consider these questions when deciding which school is the best for for your child.
2. Safety and Security
What kind of security and safety measures are put in place to keep children safe throughout the day? Are doors locked? What is the drop-off and pick up procedure? Can children wander off unobserved? Who supervises the playground? How often do schools perform fire drills?
These are important questions to ask. School administrators are well aware of the importance of safety. All schools have put procedures in place to keep children and faculty safe. Children spend approximately 180 days a year away from their parents in a place of learning. Proper measures taken by the school can give you confidence and peace of mind that when you drop off your children in the morning, every earthly precaution has been put in place to keep them safe.
The flip side to the coin of keeping your children safe is access. Do I have reasonable access to my child during the school day, or are they locked away until the end of the day? What happens if my child gets hurt? What happens if my child becomes sick? What authority does the school have to act on my behalf? What if my child needs access to me? What is the procedure for calling home?
Make sure the school you pick is willing to partner with you in doing what is best for your child.
Who are the teachers? Who is shaping the hearts and minds of your children?
Good schools go to great lengths to hire individuals with strong teacher qualifications and a steadfast character. Some Christian Schools go a step further by ensuring teachers sign a Statement of Faith. Consider visiting your child's prospective teacher's social media page. It is a common practice for employers to screen the social media pages of their applicants to search for red flags. Since your child's teacher will be spending most of the day with your child, it might be worth screening social media accounts to get a glimpse of a teacher's personality beyond the time that you as a parent interact with them. You might learn about teachers' interests and hobbies or ways you can support them. You might also come across red flags that might influence your decision. Some red flags include questionable behavior, references to drug and alcohol abuse, and posting information and pictures about students on private accounts.
When making an appointment to tour a school, ask if it is possible to sit in a classroom to observe a class to see how the teachers and students interact. The intentionality of the teacher and the faculty's love for teaching, combined with the student's love of learning, will be easy to spot during an observation. Additionally, you can observe the teaching styles used to aid the children in learning, and if critical thinking takes place in the classroom.
Pay attention to the mood in the classroom. Do the children seem happy and engaged, or scared to make a mistake? Do the children seem to get along, or are there children that are excluded? Ask to have your child shadow a student for a day. Ask your child's opinions on the friendliness of the students and the faculty. How did your child experince orderliness, disciplne, distractions, playtime and homework?
What type of curriculum does the school use? Does the school follow the Common Core curriculum, or do they employ a curriculum based on ideas and living books?
Does the school teach to the test or are they concerned with real learning? When scheduling your visit, ask ahead of time if you can view the educational resources and texts used in the classroom. Each school varies in its philosophy and curriculum, and it is essential to know the foundations of what your children will be studying. Additionally, ask for a list of high schools the students feed into after middle school and/or a list of what colleges students attend after high school graduation.
You may also ask to see how the school's standardized test scores compare to similar schools and if the school is accredited through an umbrella organization that ensures quality edication.
5. Student-Teacher Ratio
What is the student-teacher ratio in the classroom? What are the class sizes?
These factors are good to know, and especially crucial for class discussion where students are learning to think critically about the past and future, discuss ideas, and express themselves. This kind of interaction amongst students is key if you are in a school teaching the liberal arts, where plenty of discussion takes place. Again, knowledge of who is facilitating this discussion is imperative.
Additionally, small class sizes allow for an excellent teacher/student relationship to develop as well as camaraderie amongst students that will enable them to gather together daily and spur each other on toward excellence.
6. Extracurricular Activities
Does your prospective school offer clubs, activities, or sports for the children to participate in? This aspect of school aids in creating community and adds to the overall school morale and culture. Every child is unique and has different interests and talents to explore, develop, serve, and share with others. These extracurriculars also can contribute to bonding between the students. Sports provide the opportunity to learn how to win and lose gracefully.
Lastly, exposure and opportunity to dabble in a variety of interests, especially when the children are young, help the parent and teacher see natural God-given gifts and develop interests.
Searching for a school can be a joyful, yet daunting and heart-wrenching task as your child takes his or her first step towards independence.
Research, conversations with friends and family, school visits, and prayer can help you get a read on the overall school culture, aid you in the school search process, and allow you to come to a sound decision.
Interested in more resources on this topic, check out our Parents Guide to Choosing a School below!