Choosing a school for your child, whether they are ready for preschool or heading for college, can seem a daunting task. With so many public and independent options available, so much to consider, and so much at stake, where to begin? I assure you that it is possible to go down the path of choosing a school while avoiding the pitfalls of stress or feeling pressured, arriving at just the right “destination.” Here are some simple steps that will keep you heading in the right direction.
- Take time to recognize and celebrate your child as a unique individual. Think about what will serve them best at this moment. Focus on today and avoid trying to plan too much for what you think your child may need or may become in the future. Placing them appropriately today is the best assurance for a happy and productive tomorrow!
- Use the many resources available to learn about the options. Consider which possibilities align with your child’s needs and personality as well as your family values. Read everything you can, search the web, enlist the experience of your child’s prior teachers, and talk with other parents. Recognize that not every school will be comfortable for every child and narrow your search to explore just those options that meet your criteria.
- Try to visit and experience first-hand the options you select. Nothing conveys a more accurate picture of a school than a visit while classes are in session: observe, observe, observe! Remember that excellent education is about more than pure academics. The social environment and learning environments together add up to a school’s educational potential. Watch and listen as you visit: how do the teachers and students engage with each other; do you see individualization rather than standardization; can you sense the joy that accompanies true intellectual challenge and growth as you watch the children and teachers at work?
- Trust your instincts. This is the final and perhaps most important step. Doing your homework in advance, identifying what your family wants and needs, and knowing what to look for when you visit will prepare you to make the best decisions for your child. The relationships you build during this process will form the base for your continued partnership with your child’s school, and a successful beginning will lead to success in the future.
Nancy Hayes is the Director of Admission at Carolina Friends School, a position she previously held at Milton Academy’s Lower School in Massachusetts and at New Canaan Country School in Connecticut. Nancy serves on the Board of Directors of the Association of Independent School Admission Professionals. She was a member of SSATB’s Think Tank on the Future of Assessment and currently serves as the chairperson of their Early Childhood Working Group. Prior to her work in independent school admission, Nancy taught in public schools as a bilingual 5th grade teacher and as an elementary French specialist. She also worked as an attorney in private practice and as a trial attorney for the Massachusetts State Ethics Commission. Nancy earned a B.A. in French from Skidmore College, an M.Ed. from the Shady Hill School Apprentice Teacher Program in conjunction with Lesley College, and a J.D. from Suffolk University.