Finding the Best School for Your Child

In this article, you will find:

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Involving Kids in the School Selection Process
Then, use your own judgment about how much to involve your son, Wadsworth, in the school-selection process. Remember, however, that the more he's involved, the greater his stake in the final decision. And the older the student, the greater his involvement should be.

Selecting schools to visit is the next critical step in the process of finding a new school. Limit the number of visits and entrance tests for kids of all ages to four, advises Patricia Lemer. "You don't want kids to get overloaded and exhausted by visits and tests," she says. "You can visit more yourself and narrow it down for Wadsworth to go to three to five. If he has to go to more than that, you haven't done your homework. You want one sure thing, two probablies, and one long shot," she says. Lemer cautions against picking a school by reputation alone.

Request information about schools by mail or learn about them by searching public or private school websites. Many schools offer brochures, videos, open house events, student visiting days, or family referral networks. Try to visit your selected schools while they are in session. But first, do your homework.

Previsit Homework
The following questions cover a broad range of critical elements to consider when developing your concept of the perfect school for Wadsworth. Review them and make notes and take them along on your visits to help you focus on your goals while you are immersed in the sensory soup of a school.

  1. Will your child be safe?
  2. What are your educational priorities?
  3. What is the school's population?
  4. What is the ratio of teachers to students?
  5. How accessible are teachers and administrators to students and parents?
  6. What makes this school unique?
  7. Which state or private organization accredits or oversees the instruction and curriculum in this school?
  8. What provisions are made for gifted or special-needs students?
  9. What are the fees for tuition, books, supplies, labs, or school activities?
  10. How heavily does the school rely on parent funding for academics, supplies, and extracurricular programs?
  11. Is the school close to home, or will commuting be a daily grind?
  12. Does the school provide transportation or coordinate carpools?
  13. What will transportation cost?
  14. Is there before- and after-school care?
  15. Can you afford this school?
Keep the answers to those questions in mind as you go off to visit your selection of schools. Then use the questions below to guide your observations as you visit each one. Copy these lists and take them along.

Appearance of the School

  1. What methods, like visitor passes or school security guards, are in place to make kids feel physically secure?
  2. Are the classrooms, hallways, common areas, and bathrooms clean?
  3. Is the general noise level constructive or disruptive?
The Classrooms
  1. Is class size manageable?
  2. Are students participating?
  3. Are brains in motion creatively, or do students seem constrained?
  4. Can teachers gently and easily regain whole class focus?
  5. Do teachers accommodate a variety of learning styles?
  6. Do teachers accommodate students with special needs?
  7. Do younger students get adequate play and wiggle time during the day?
  8. Do older ones get adequate time to move between classes?
Note that many private schools assign students to host visiting students and families. When arranging visits to public schools, make a special request to be introduced to students. Parent introductions can be facilitated by Parent-Teacher Organizations. As you and Wadsworth observe a school or classroom in action, keep the following ideas in mind.

Interpersonal Relationships

  1. Are students in the school happy?
  2. Do they love going to this school?
  3. Do they make and keep friends there?
  4. Do kids respect and enjoy their teachers?
  5. Do teachers look happy, engaged, and enthusiastic?
  6. Do they treat kids with dignity, respect, and caring?
  7. Are kids held accountable for their actions?
  8. Are teachers and administrators visible to and supportive of students?
Parent-Teacher Organizations
  1. Are parents encouraged to participate in a variety of ways?
  2. What parent organizations, such as a PTA, exist?
  3. How active are they?
  4. What is the relationship between the PTA and the school?
  5. What recurrent issues does the PTA focus on?
  6. Does the PTA consistently provide parents with ways to get involved in school activities?
Many public schools provide testing results and curriculum on state or school district websites. All public schools are ranked by the US Department of Education. Many private schools are accredited by the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) and undergo a regular and rigorous evaluation process. All schools should willingly provide rank and testing information if available. If they don't, find another school.

Testing and Programs

  1. How does the school rank according to federal or state indexes?
  2. Is it accredited by reliable independent evaluators like NAIS?
  3. What are current test results for the school population?
  4. Has the school received awards or recognition for excellence?
  5. Are there exams for admission or for special programs like magnet schools?
  6. What are graduation requirements?
  7. Are there advanced placement or International Baccalaureate programs?
  8. What programs and activities recognize individual achievement?
  9. Which ones promote individual creativity or effort?
  10. Are there programs for students with special needs?
  11. Will these programs enhance or disrupt their school day?
  12. What is the ratio of computers to students?
  13. Is the school's media center/library comprehensive, accessible, and obviously well used? Is staff accessible and helpful?
  14. Are art, music programs, and physical education activities a part of the weekly schedule?
  15. Are there any performing arts or vocational programs?
  16. Are bilingual programs available?
  17. At what grade levels are foreign language courses and cross-cultural programs provided?
  18. What is the homework policy?
  19. Is there a homework hotline?
  20. What kind of community service projects is the school involved in?
Evaluation Processes
  1. How does the school report student progress? Grades? Do teachers provide anecdotal reports?
  2. Are teacher conferences scheduled regularly and available on request?
  3. What is the school's "early warning system" for academic problems? Do teachers issue a pink slip or a "letter of concern?"
  4. Are tutoring staff or resources available through the school?
  5. Is there any cost to you for this?
Pay close attention to fees and expenses at both public and private schools while visiting, to avoid unexpected and unbudgeted expense later on.

Fees and Expenses

  1. What will school cost for an entire year?
  2. Are there extra fees for books, labs, and gym classes? (Ask even in public schools.)
  3. Are extracurricular activities and sports teams available?
  4. Are there any related costs to you?
  5. Who provides transportation to and from games and other events?
  6. Are there any costs for this to you?
Knowing what school normally "feeds" into another is important to insure that the level of Wadsworth's education will be consistent and lay the track you want for him toward college or a future vocation. The broader the picture you have of the community feeding into the school, the better you can determine if this school will support your educational goals and ideals. Ask these questions of a principal, admissions officer, or guidance counselor when you visit a school.

The Feeder System

  1. What schools do students typically attend before and after this one?
  2. What other schools feed into this one?
  3. What percentage of students graduate?
  4. What is the school's reputation among colleges?
  5. What percentage of students attend colleges?
  6. Which colleges?