Sunday, September 27, 2015

"Finding a school for your child is kind of like dating, it's imortant to take time to find the right match." What questions should you ask a potential school?

Choosing the right program for your child is a complex decision. There are many options to consider and school quality depends on many characteristics, many that are not easily measurable. You must look carefully at all of your options and make the decision that is best for your family.

*photographs courtesy of  Kristin Croker, Namaste Montessori School

Elementary School options in available in our area 
(Ithaca and surrounding areas): 

 • Enroll in your home district elementary school
Ithaca – Belle Sherman, BJM, Caroline, Cayuga Heights, Enfield, Fall Creek, North East, South Hill Trumansburg
South Seneca

• If your district has more than one elementary school, like Ithaca, you have the option of open enrolling at another elementary school in your district (based on availability)

 • Enroll in a public elementary school that is not in your district and pay the state set out of district tuition rate


Namaste Montessori School (Toddler through 6th Grade)
Elizabeth Ann Clune Montessori School of Ithaca
Chemung Valley Montessori School
Ithaca Montessori School (infant, toddler,preschool, and K only)
Trumansburg Montessori School (half-day preschool and K only)

 Ithaca Waldorf School

Immaculate Conception (K-6th)
Covenant Love
Notre Dame (7th through 12th grade middle and high school)

Home Schooling:
Contact BOCES and your home school district office

 What To Ask When Choosing a School for Your Child 

Before You Visit and Observe
Ask yourself, “What do I value most in a good education?”
What aspects in an educational setting are most important to your family?
Ask yourself how you envision your child at age 24 and work backwards to determine what he or she needs to get there.
What qualities in an educational community will meet your child’s needs?
What kind of learner is your child (hands-on, auditory, visual, collaborative, independent)?
Does she like to work alone or in groups?
Is she skilled at any particular subjects?
Where does she need extra help or support?
Does your child have unique learning needs that must be accommodated? 
Is she shy or very social?
Most importantly, what kind of school will work both for your child and for your family?

 When You Visit and Observe at a School 

What is the look and feel of the school?
Does it feel warm and inviting?
What kind of work is up on the walls?
Is it original student work that highlights individuality and creativity?
Are the facilities old or new?
Do the people you meet in the office and pass in the halls seem happy?
Do the teachers and students seem to enjoy being there?

Your child will be in this building for a large portion if his day.
Is it a comfortable place to live and learn?
Are there different options for sitting and working (floor work, soft chairs, individual desks or tables, group tables, carpets, quiet nooks)
What is the lighting like (natural, soft or harsh)?
What are the acoustics in the classroom like (noisy, quiet)?
Do children have the ability to move around freely?
Where are the bathrooms?
Can they use the bathrooms whenever they need or do they need to ask permission?
What about snacking and food in the classroom?
Can children eat when they are hungry or must they wait until assigned times?
What is the lunchroom like?
Are healthy food choices available and encouraged?
Where do the children play and have physical education?
Are these comfortable spaces?


Does the school have a particular philosophy or educational approach?
Is the approach modeled on the work of any particular educators?
Does the school utilize any special educational programs or offer specialized teaching?
Is there a consistent school wide philosophy or do individual teachers implement different philosophies?
How does the new Common Core Standards impact the teaching philosophy of the school?
How does the school feel about grading and tests?

Classroom Size and Structure

How large are the classes? How many teachers?
Is there support staff in the classroom?
Are students able to get differentiated learning?
Do children work in small groups?
Do students get individualized assignments and unique attention?
What happens if your child is ahead of the class academically?
What happens if your child is struggling in an area academically?

Learning Community

What’s the learning environment like?
How do children choose their work and receive lessons?
Are students displaying independence, self-motivation, concentration, and problem solving skills?
Do the students have a voice in choosing their work and shaping their day or is it all laid out for them by the adults?
Do students work cooperatively in small groups or by themselves?
Are the children genuinely engaged in their work or does it seem more like busy work?

Is the teacher standing up and lecturing, or working with students in active ways?
Is the teacher using visual and physical models as well as text to teach?
Do kids get to manipulate materials and objects as they learn?
Are children allowed to work with a concept until they’ve mastered it or is the class moved forward together at a set pace?
Are individual differences (such as in learning styles and academic strengths) being accommodated, or do all students do equal activities at the same time?
Ask yourself, “Will my child’s learning style be suited well to this school’s approach?”


What kinds of exchanges do teachers have with students?
Do the teachers make real connections with their students?
Is there a tone of mutual respect?
Do the teachers work to facilitate independence, support self-motivation, and encourage problem solving skills?
 Do the students seem excited and curious?
Does it feel like the classroom is a community where everyone has an equal voice?
Do the students respond with enthusiasm to teachers’ questions?
Do many of these questions inspire children to think about and brainstorm answers, or is there only one right answer?

Do teachers learn from each other? Ask if specific times are set up for teachers to talk, share, and collaborate. Find out what happens on ‘curriculum days’ and what kinds of additional trainings are offered to teachers. Are teachers encouraged to work together as teams?

Student Work

What does student work look like?
Look around the classroom and ask to see some classwork and homework assignments.
Does this work look creative and inspired?
Are there fill-in-the-blanks answer sheets and workbooks? Is this the kind of work your child would find interesting and benefit from doing?
Is the curriculum integrated and does the “big picture” make sense?
Are all subjects areas covered or are math and reading the primary focus of the day?

Social-Emotional Growth and Setting Behavioral Expectations

How does the school address social-emotional issues?
Does the school have specific guidelines and programs in place for helping children develop communication skills and work through social conflicts? Ask the school to describe their approach.
Is this practiced consistently throughout the school in every instance and with every staff member?
Is it strength based? Does the approach encourage internal motivation and self-discipline or is it focused on external rewards and punishments? Consider whether this will work for your child.

What are the discipline and homework policies?
Many schools have specific disciplinary rules involving everything from “time outs,” to meeting with the principal, to expulsion. Ask for specifics and consider if they will work for your child and for you.

Also, inquire about homework rules and regulations. What happens if children forget their homework or doesn't complete it?


 How balanced is the curriculum? Look for schools that balance the three A’s: academics, athletics,
and the arts.
Find out how often students have recess, physical activity time and opportunities for art and music, and if specific classes, ask what they do in those classes.

When and how long is recess? How much time do children get to spend outside each day? What about recess during inclement weather?

 More Questions to Ask 


 What’s the approach toward grades?
Does the school use letters grades like A, B or C, a point system, pass/fail, or narrative evaluations? What kind of work is graded — homework, tests, projects?
Consider whether this approach will motivate your child to succeed.

Library and Technology

 Is the library inviting and well-used? What kinds of books are on the shelves? How often do students visit? What do they learn when they go there?

What types of technology do students have access to? Where and when is it used?
How much screen time per day?
Is there a clear explanation of the goals of using the technology?

Extra-curricular Activities

What kinds of extra-curricular classes are offered and who gets to do them?
Are these activities the same as what’s offered during the school day or are they exciting, hands on, and truly enriching?
Are these activities offered to everyone? Would your child enjoy them?

Parent Involvement

How do parents get involved in the school?  How often are there meetings?
Can parents volunteer in the classroom?
If you do volunteer, what kinds of activities can parents help with?
And will you get to work with your child?


How is information communicated to parents?
How do teachers and the administration keep parents informed? Is there a good newsletter? Is e-mail used to communicate with teachers?
How often do parents meet with their child’s teacher and how long are these meetings?
Are teachers available for additional meetings if needed?

 Before You Leave

 Ask for materials.
All schools will give out some materials but ask for specifics like class schedules, rule books, homework samples, newsletters, and policy statements.
And then read them.
These materials will offer specifics that tours don’t tell you — and help you determine if this is the right place for you.

I often tell families finding the right school is kind of like dating, you need to put yourself out there and get to know whats available before you find the perfect match.

I wish every child and family success in finding the perfect learning community for them!

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