A checklist can be a helpful tool when evaluating a new school for your child and your family. Websites and admissions materials can give parents and children insights into what a school values. Videos and other visuals found on the websites of schools can be very useful. But nothing is more important than the person-to-person interaction with students, teachers, parents and past parents of the school.
Rate each item on a scale of 1-10 to use as you compare the schools you've researched and toured. Depending on what types of program or environment you're in search of, your personal list may be slightly different, though this is a good general starting point:
______ The school has a positive reputation
______ The Mission and Philosophy match my child’s interests and needs
______ The school will work with our family
______ The school fosters a desire to be lifelong learners
______ The children express enthusiasm for their work and are friendly
______ The teachers are experienced and involved in professional development
______ The school environment is safe - security is evident
______ Graduates have great options when they move on to colleges, universities and community activities
The Admissions Team at Shorecrest Preparatory School in St. Petersburg, Florida, goes out of its way to connect prospective students and their families with other children and parents who can share their experiences. Members of the faculty are often available to speak with visitors, and if they are busy with their class, they will schedule a time after class to call the prospective family and answer questions.
Prospective families may use this list or perhaps they may just want to hear a student, teacher or parent say what they like about the school and why there is value in attending it. People moving to an area who already have a new job may learn a lot about schools from co-workers and the HR department. Asking where the most successful kids go to school may open up some new avenues.
If you already live in a community and are looking to change schools, speaking with pediatricians, therapists, little league coaches, dance instructors and music teachers can be very helpful. Another option to test drive a school with minimal commitment is to register your child for a summer camp or summer program there. Summer programs at a school may provide insights into the students and teachers who attend during the school year. Many families learn about schools while standing with friends at athletic games, festivals and other community events.
I have had friends tell me that they selected a school because of the behavior exhibited by their childrens' babysitters. The responsible, friendly, articulate teen is often a school’s most important ambassador.
I’m sure every school would like to have prospective families contact the Admissions Office directly. While that’s certainly part of the process, hearing the first-hand experiences of children and their parents/guardians help to validate the online and admissions presentations that may not tell the whole story.
Selecting your child’s school is one of the most important decisions parents/guardians will make, but it doesn’t have to be a stressful one. Enjoy the search!