It’s one of the most vexing questions a parent faces. “How do I choose between schools?” When you’re wondering how to find the right school for your child, there’s a lot to consider and the stakes are high.
It’s important to begin the search because today’s parents recognize that they don’t have to accept second-best. Fortunately, a world of information gives parents the tools to evaluate elementary, middle and high schools. Choosing the right school can take time and effort, but it all pays off when your child is thriving and happy.
Why Choosing the Right School Matters
Not all schools are created equal. Whether a school is a traditional brick-and-mortar space or online, settings and cultures can promote learning or hinder it. Scientific studies point to these things to consider when choosing a school:
- Students learn better when they’re in an environment that’s positive and supportive.
- A positive environment cultivates a feeling of belonging, trust in others and the confidence to accept challenges, take risks and ask questions. Combined, these elements give children a sense of security and trust in their own abilities.
- Like jelly beans in a jar, it’s possible to count many of the factors that create a positive environment. It happens when the teacher provides relevant content, clear learning goals and feedback, opportunities for children to build social skills and strategies to help students succeed.
On the other hand, stressful environments drive down student achievement by slowing cognitive functioning. Children get caught in a downward spiral of emotions, feeling sadder or more self-conscious with every high-pressure test or bullying comment.
Even the look of traditional classrooms plays a role. Gray walls and rows of desks pointing to the whiteboard aren’t conducive to learning. Children need vibrancy in their learning space, whether that’s a classroom or the kitchen table.
Learning Environments: Private, Public and Online
Parents looking for the right school can choose among public, private and online learning environments. For parents deep in the process of school enrollment decision-making, it’s important to know the differences.
- Public school. In public schools, learning is free to parents, through local, state and federal funding. In the case of traditional “brick-and-mortar” public schools, children often attend those nearest their home, whether or not it’s the right fit.
- Private school. Private schools are operated by nongovernmental entities, including faith-based organizations and nonprofits. Religious schools are run according to the principles of a particular faith. If they’re called “parochial,” that means they’re sponsored by a specific faith community, such as a church or synagogue. A private school might not be faith-affiliated at all but run according to a philosophy of learning, or a type of degree. Private schools usually charge tuition, although some families receive scholarships. Keep in mind that pricey tuition doesn’t automatically signal a quality education.
- Online school. Online school is computer-delivered cyber learning, offered beyond the boundaries of classroom walls. Online schools can be public or private. Public online learning is taxpayer-funded and tuition-free. In Pennsylvania, public online schools are called “cyber charter” schools, meaning that learning is delivered by cyber means, from school entities chartered by the state.
5 Tips to Help You Find the Right School for Your Child
How do you choose the right school for your child? Slick websites don’t tell the whole story. Choosing an elementary school or any other level of schooling requires getting to know the teachers and school culture. It’s a difficult decision, but these five tips can help you narrow your options:
1. Keep Your Family and Child’s Lifestyle in Mind
How closely have you examined your own family lately? What is important to you and your children? The things you like to do and need to do are woven into your daily lives, but chances are you don’t give them much thought.
Start the process of evaluating elementary, middle and high schools by listing the things your family and child cherish. This can include traveling across the country or around the globe, visiting relatives, hiking the outdoors, playing sports, pursuing high-level training in the arts or competitive athletics, or just being together as much as possible. Many families make volunteering and service to community and faith institutions an integral part of their lives. All of these items go on the list.
Then, make another list of the things you must do. Parents and caregivers must work, of course, which can take them out of the house every day or night, or on business trips. There might be obligations to fulfill in the military, on the farm or to elderly relatives. Add to that list the people and resources available to help with the everyday family routine and who can be called on in an emergency.
Whether fun or duty-driven, all these elements together create a picture of the family and child’s lifestyle that intersects with learning and how it’s delivered.
2. Consider Your Child’s Needs
Every child is unique but, sadly, many schools put them into cookie-cutter classrooms. Trust that you know your child best, and the right learning environment will reveal itself.
Once again, it helps to put thought into it. You might surprise yourself with new insights into what your child needs. Consider whether your child:
- Needs constant stimulation to get excited about learning or a calm atmosphere that promotes concentration.
- Is easily distracted.
- Interacts easily with other children or could use coaxing.
- Speaks up promptly in a group setting or shies away from attracting attention.
- Needs to get away from bullies, especially if your current teachers and school administrators aren’t addressing the problem.
- Needs more academic support in one subject than another. As a society, we often assume, for instance, that math and language are talents that are inborn. In fact, with the right teachers, math and language are like muscles that can be built up through exercise.
- Has medical issues, physical needs or behavioral conditions that impact learning.
- Has a learning disability – perhaps one that’s not getting proper attention in the current school.
- Is gifted and bored, needing more stimulation and challenges than the current school provides.
- Is passionate about pursuing an outside interest and training for a career, whether it’s in dance, sports, music, motocross or any other field.
3. Reflect on Your Child’s Learning Style
Ask yourself about the times you’ve seen that spark of understanding light up your child’s eyes. What motivated that moment?
Every child learns differently. While learning styles often overlap, they can be broken down into four basic types:
- Visual learners. These learners like to see and observe. They grasp a concept through pictures, diagrams and written directions. The child who’s a doodler, a list maker or a note taker could be a visual learner. These learners respond well when teachers ask them to put their understanding into drawings.
- Auditory learners. It’s about listening. These learners would rather hear a lecture than read notes. They even use their own voices to reinforce new concepts and ideas. For them, listening in a learning setting leads to speaking up in class, reading out loud to themselves and explaining things for others. Their reading might be slower, they respond well to videos and music, and they might repeat things their teachers tell them.
- Kinesthetic learners. These are the kids who dive in and go hands on. They want to do and experience things. They can struggle to sit still, and their handwriting isn’t great, but their love of activity makes them good dancers and athletes.
- Reading/writing learners. For these learners, the written word offers a rich world to explore. There might be overlap with visual learning. These children want to express themselves through writing and satisfy their curiosity by reading books and online articles, looking up words in the dictionary and searching the internet when new concepts come their way.
4. Determine Which Location Works Best
Cyber learning has revolutionized the delivery of education. Geography remains a factor for parents to consider, but it no longer dictates the schools that children attend.
Think about these locational issues to help narrow your choice of schools:
- Extracurricular activities. Traditional school districts offer a full slate of extracurricular activities to allow children to shine and socialize. Pennsylvania state law requires that districts open these activities to cyber charter school students, so your child doesn’t have to miss out. Still, is it the right choice for your family? Consider things such as travel (school districts aren’t required to provide transportation for these activities), time involved and the reasons that brick-and-mortar schools might not be appropriate for your child in the first place. Explore alternatives, such as community- and faith-based sports leagues, local arts organizations and cyber charter school clubs that allow children to pursue their interests with like-minded friends.
- School safety. Many brick-and-mortar schools are havens of safety, giving children a sense of security that allows them to concentrate on learning. In some schools, however, the atmosphere is tinged by bullying or daily threats and fights. Even the walk or bus ride to school is perilous. In these cases, online schools offer a safe option. Parents know where their child is at all times and can control the learning environment.
- Activity. Make sure the school allows kids to be kids, with breaks for playtime and activity. Studies show that recess improves cognitive functioning, so check brick-and-mortar schools for playgrounds and gyms that are well used. Even families of online students can create or find inviting spaces, outdoors or in, where kids of all ages and abilities can have fun.
5. Examine Each School’s Culture and Values
Now it’s time to ask two fundamental questions: What do I want my child to learn? And how do I want my child to learn it?
This is where school culture and values come in. Consider these key factors:
- Curriculum. Does the school offer a rich array of subjects allowing children to explore their interests in everything from foreign languages and music to graphic design and robotics?
- Zero tolerance for bullying. Schools should have written policies, communicated clearly and constantly enforced, that instill respect and stamp out bullying at the first sign.
- Personalized learning. The right school for your child recognizes the value of customized learning that avoids the drudgery of one-size-fits-all schooling and instills a true love of learning.
- Career paths. Today’s schools should be relevant to the real world, introducing children to career choices and helping them chart a learning course as they head into high school. By graduation, students should be prepared for their next steps, whether they’re heading to college, career training, military service or the workforce.
- Teacher interaction and accessibility. Great teachers help produce great students. Check on their credentials and training. Ask how the school encourages teachers’ continuous learning in subject matter and effective teaching techniques. Observe how they conduct their lessons and whether they strike a balance between support to help students feel protected and motivation that encourages children to grow.
- Test scores. Although it’s important to review standardized test scores for a snapshot of school achievement, learn to look for the real meaning behind the numbers. Is the school instilling true comprehension in students, or is it just teaching to the test? Is the curriculum rich and meaningful, teaching much more than mandated nuggets of information? If students such as English language learners are improving year over year, that can demonstrate the school’s commitment to reaching every child with customized learning.
- Family involvement. Are parents and caregivers thoroughly engaged in the life of the school? Do they volunteer to help with activities? Are their questions and observations welcomed? Family involvement is the lifeblood of a vibrant school.
Learn Whether CCA Is the Right School for Your Child
The days are over when school is stuffy, scary and impersonal. The best schools today are vibrant. They deliver personalized learning that fits each child’s learning style. They support even as they challenge. They prepare children for life after graduation. They welcome family input and involvement. This is how school should work. Find the perfect fit for your child at Commonwealth Charter Academy today.