2019 has arrived and brings with it looming deadlines for deciding your child’s educational plans for the upcoming 2019-2020 school year. Many parents wonder: How do I make the right choice? As an educational consultant, I advise parents to seriously consider their individual child’s needs, and their family’s lifestyle and outlook. While it may be easy to simply follow your friends’ and neighbors’ school choices, it is crucial to ask yourself, “Where is the best place for my child to thrive and what does my family want?” These questions are important to consider for all children including those “in the box” academically and socially, but become especially critical and require more parental detective work for a child who is differently wired, having social, emotional, behavioral or academic challenges.
Items to consider include:
- Type of school: Do you prefer a public, private, or faith-based school? Do you need or want a special education placement, specific interest curriculum (such as focus on the Arts, STEM, or vocational training), gifted/twice exceptional program, or foreign language immersion school? Will you require a COSA (Change of School Assignment) form to transfer your child to a different public school? Would a non-traditional arrangement such as homeschooling, online schools or Montessori school better suit your child’s needs? What are the deadlines to apply for such programs and schools?
- Staff: Who are the teachers and administrators? How are they trained? Are they highly qualified for their position? What values will they impart? Will their viewpoint and approach match with your child’s needs and your family’s outlook?
- Student Population: Do you want your child to be exposed to different philosophies and diversity, or are you more comfortable with others like yourself? Will your child have an appropriate peer group?
- Academics/Methodology: What is the curriculum? Is instruction differentiated so students with varied learning styles and abilities are served or are classes homogeneous? Does the school use a multi-sensory or traditional approach? Is its discipline policy restorative or punitive? Is educational support and enrichment available? Will the work be not challenging enough, just right, or too difficult for your child?
- Logistics: What is the school’s cost, location, schedule, and transportation options?
- Previous Educational Experience: How did your child perform in past school environments? What worked and didn’t work in each one?
When considering specific schools, I recommend the following:
- Attend open houses: Visit all schools of interest. Be vigilant during the tour and ask questions. Notice the school’s “vibe.” Observe student behavior and attitude in the cafeteria, at recess, and in the halls. Note what students are studying in their classrooms and the learning atmosphere. Peek into the classrooms of higher (future) grades.
- Speak with parents: They can be a fount of information. Ask both general questions and those focusing on your child’s specific needs, such as learning challenges. Find out about electives, after school activities, enrichment, and special programs the school offers. Learn more about the social environment, teachers your child will likely encounter, and the school culture.
- Speak with administrators: Be forthright about your child’s strengths and challenges. Inquire whether the school is willing and able to meet those challenges. In the end, you want to ensure that your child feels valued and accepted for who she is and that her needs will be met.
It takes courage and determination to choose to send each child to the school that best meets his individual needs. Many parents want to send all their children to the same school which is great for carpooling, being a part of community, and everyone being on the same school schedule. While that choice works for many families, for others, trying to fit a square peg into a round hole will only backfire. Finding the right school fit can be challenging so it is important to consider a variety of possibilities and keep an open mind, while keeping your child’s and family’s needs as your guidepost. Additionally, working with an educational consultant can help focus and clarify your family’s educational goals by guiding you through the many schooling options to help you make this important decision.
Wishing you best of luck in finding the right school fit for your unique child!