Spoiled for Choice: Where to Send My Child to School?
Spoiled for Choice
It feels like one of the most important parenting decisions we will ever make, and it probably is. Where will I send my child to school? Every community has a public school system, but for some parents, the public school system is not an option. Mom of two, Rene F. shared, “Public school services in our area are “D” rated schools, with the exception of the magnet school that Aubrey (their oldest daughter) is in which requires testing to get in. We didn’t feel that public school was even an option education-wise for the little one.” Lack of access to quality public schools, religious education, small class sizes, and access to individualized services are just some of the reasons why parents may choose to educate their children in private schools.
Where do I Begin?
“Most parents come to us through word-of-mouth referrals so it’s always a good idea to talk to family, friends, or co-workers and ask them to share their opinions and experiences,” shared Michelle Pricer, Director of Enrollment at the Dunham School. “Many families also begin with a web search to narrow down their options, familiarize themselves with the admissions process, and decide which schools they’d like to visit. Once parents have determined the schools they’d like to consider, scheduling a personal tour should be the next step. Nothing can replace experiencing a school firsthand.”
Head of School at St. Lillian Academy, Elissa McKenzie shared, “I think most parents begin their search, like most things now, with a Google search.” I certainly remember doing this when I was looking for a school for our oldest daughter! I made a spreadsheet of all of the things that were important to me and my husband. I searched the websites for the answers, then he and I sat down to discuss the options.
What is Important to Us?
“Start by examining what factors are most important for the family such as world language learning, a spiritual program, music, athletics, etcetera.” Elena McPeak, Director of Admission at Episcopal School recommends. “Having this information can help identify schools with the right set of academic and co-curricular opportunities.” Other factors that may be important are exposure to the arts, rigorous STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) programming, leadership opportunities, or a particular emphasis on a chosen sport. If your child has unique learning or medical needs, this should also be part of the decision making process.
What Questions do I Ask?
McPeak from Episcopal and Linda Stone from Hope Academy shared some of their most frequently asked questions: What is the student to teacher ratio? What curriculum is offered by the school? What supports are available for students who are academically advanced or academically challenged? What is the school’s educational philosophy and method of discipline?
After having these standard questions answered, parents should ask the questions that are important to them personally: What types of financial assistance are available? If it is a faith based school and how does the school support families of similar or different faith values? Where do students typically go to high school or college after graduating from the school?
Are the class sizes small enough to provide individualized care the child requires in order to blossom?
What About Special Student Services?
For students with special needs, additional questions may need to be asked pointed out Stone and McKenzie, both Heads of Schools at schools which educate students with special needs. Does the school complete diagnostic assessments to assure proper placement and determine strengths and growth opportunities? Is the school capable of creating a program to fit the child rather than forcing the child to fit a program? Does the school provide a variety of educational programs and extracurricular opportunities such as daily living skills, a high school diploma and or vocational training, sports, dances, music, and technology? Are there opportunities for mainstreaming and interaction with typically developing peers? Are therapies such as speech, occupational, physical, and adapted physical education provided on campus? What is the school’s behavior philosophy and is there a full time school counselor or behavioral expert on staff? Are teachers experienced in working with children with exceptionalities?
Take a Tour
“I think visiting schools is the best way to determine if a school is the right fit for a family,” shared McPeak. “While on the tour, be sure to pause and really observe what is going on around you – are the students engaged; are the teachers engaged; has the tour guide only brought you to the shiny/pretty parts of campus or did you get to see all parts of the school. One of the best indicators for potential school success is how strong and positive the school community is. It can be hard to “quantify” a school’s community, but you should be able to feel it when you tour a school.”
Most of our area’s private schools include their tuition on their websites. But, as Pricer points out, “When comparing the cost, it’s important to look at each school’s tuition and fees to get a better picture of the total cost to attend.”
“Fees might include the enrollment fee, lunch fee, technology and/or book fees,” added McPeak. “Are there additional participation fees for class trips or afterschool activities such as sports or theater? When comparing the true cost of enrollment for different area schools, it is important to know what fees are assessed up-front and which are added on later. For example, Episcopal has all students participate in our lunch program. We charge a full-year lunch fee for all of our students. Some schools have an optional lunch fee which allows students to purchase items a-la-cart. At first glance, it may seem like Episcopal’s lunch fee is higher because it is required, but in the end the total yearly lunch cost of the optional lunch may be higher.”
How to Involve the Future Student
Students are almost always welcomed to visit the school either with their parents or at a later time. McKenzie with St. Lillian shared her school’s unique perspective on including children. “Following the parent visit, we schedule a student visit for the child to spend time in our classrooms and at recess, sometimes through lunch as well. This gives the student a chance to provide feedback to his/her family as they make their decisions and gives our team a chance to decide on initial classroom placement.”
Many of our area private schools offer some version of a try before you buy experience, so it is important to ask about these opportunities for your child. After the visit, listen carefully to what your child has to share about his or her day at the potential new school. Write down their questions to have them answered by school personnel and thank your child for their unique perspective.
Published in Baton Rouge Parents Magazine.