While we are still a year out from having to register our firstborn in Kindergarten, we have already started to look at the collection of schools in our city. Picking a school for your child can be a big decision. How do you pick a good school, the right school for your child or children? What will they learn? Who will their friends be? Will they fit in? Will we like their teachers? Will they like their teachers?
I’ve put together a list of things that we’ve discussed and explored in our own search for a school. I’m sure we’ll refine it as we get closer to the time when we have to register, but for now here’s our list in no particular order. Feel free to add your tips and advice as well.
Location. Location. Location. We’ll be moving in a few months and one of the factors involved in choosing our new home will be proximity to the elementary school of our choice. We’d really like to be near the school we decide to send our son. Barring that, the school should at least be en route to my or my husband’s workplace. Once he hits middle school or high school it’s not such a big deal since he’ll be more transportationally independent. I’d also like for him to have neighbor kids in his classes and classes with his neighbor kids (don’t care which)!
We’ve also screened out schools in sketchy areas because we’re concerned about safety issues during the day. Nothing near prisons, ghettos, needle exchanges or strip clubs. I don’t really want my kids to have those sorts of alternative activities available during recess breaks.
Rankings and Ratings. Sometimes you just want to know what everyone else has to say about the school. In Canada, the Fraser Institute provides rankings for schools at each level. As far as I can tell, a significant portion of that ranking is influenced by provincial test scores. Not everyone cares about test scores or believes that kids should be tested. Usually people who don’t care are people who aren’t smart enough to do well on tests. I want my kids to learn, therefore, testing and test scores are important to me. I don’t want my kids graduating from high school without learning to read, write, or do complex calculus equations. And I’m not keen on having my child’s learning to happen at the rate of the slowest children in the class, unless the slowest children are also fairly high achieving.
Academic Focus. Okay, I know that this is kind of related to Rankings and Ratings, but hear me out. There’s an alarming trend in schools to avoid things like grading students or failing students (or teaching them to read, write and do math). I’d like my kid to be challenged. I would like my kid to learn to work hard, try hard, deal with failure (if he must) and move on.
Before & After School Programs. I work, therefore I must have a before and after school program, preferably in or extremely close to the school I’ll be sending my kids to.
Extra-curricular Options. Are there any EC options? I’d like my kids to get involved in stuff like sports, music, and/or art. I’m less concerned about the options in the school, since we could always enroll them in community centre programs.
Hot Meal Programs. I hate making lunches. Making lunches every night is a blight on my life. I’d be thrilled if there were a hot (or cold) lunch provided at the school that required nothing more than a cheque from moi! I’d even settle for one or two days of lunches provided at the school.
Class Size. How many kids are they going to cram in with one teacher in each classroom? I’d prefer smaller class sizes because my kid will have less of a chance of getting completely lost in a smaller class.
Facilities. Is the school in danger of falling down on my kids head. Does it smell like pee? How many books are in the library? Do they have computers yet? Do they have a gym? What’s the playground like? I don’t need the school to be able to withstand a nuclear bomb, just a minor earthquake.
Bullies and Bad Influences. Where is that kid that we switched daycares to avoid planning to go? He keeps popping up in our path and we’d like to avoid him in the future.
English or French Immersion. While this is definitely a distinctly Canadian option, the question of language programs is universal (I think). We probably won’t go with French immersion. After working so hard to get our kids to learn to talk so that we can understand them, I’m not ready for them to learn an entire new language that I won’t be able to understand!
Private vs Public School. This is a big debate for us. Many of the things we’re looking for in a school are just plain better in a private school. Better rankings, better academic focus, better before and after school programs, smaller class sizes, better facilities, more professional or educated parent demographic, more interesting ways for parents to be involved. Also, that kid we don’t like will probably be going to public school. The big negative is the price tag.
I’m glad we’ve got another year to research and visit schools, not to mention squirrel away some serious cash if we decide to go the private school route!