Considering Private School? Tips for Attending an Open House

Read advice from local private school administrators


Published:

Photo courtesy of Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock.com

The Triangle area has 132 private schools.* Each one has developed its own particular approach to educating children and building character, so that’s 132 unique educational visions being offered to families across the Triangle. Families weighing private school options have a lot of digging to do to find the right place to educate their kids.

One way to get a lot of information about a private school in one condensed package is to attend its open house. This is exactly what it sounds like. A school opens its doors in order to introduce potential students and their families to its community and approach to education. The experience varies from school to school and can tell families a lot about each institution.

To help you approach this experience, we interviewed administrators who work at private schools across the Triangle to get tips on how your family can get the most out of attending an open house.


Finding a Fit

“The most important thing that parents can do in this process, I think, is to really find a school that fits their child and their family the best,” says Mary Golden, director of school programs at The Raleigh School.

Victoria Muradi, admissions director at Durham Academy, agrees. “It really is about match,” she says. “It’s match between the academic piece; it’s match between the resources of the school; the philosophy in terms of your family values and what the school is trying to impart on kids … all those things need to line up.”

Families should think ahead about what they want from a school and what their child needs so they can ask relevant questions at the open house.

“Describe your child and ask about the opportunities for him or her at that school,” suggests Margaret Mills, director of enrollment management at Ravenscroft School in Raleigh. “That gives us the opportunity to really share what we’re able to offer that child and [to determine] if it seems like a fit.”


Let the School Introduce Itself

“The opportunity for a family to visit a school is often the start of the relationship with the school,” Mills says. What does the school want to emphasize about itself at the start of that relationship? A school’s presentation choices can say a lot about its areas of emphasis.

Who leads the campus tours and answers questions — administrators or students? How much time is given for families to ask questions? Can families meet and talk to teachers? What parts of the campus are families invited to see? These details and others come together to show families what each school wants to emphasize about itself, which can tell parents a lot about the school’s values.


The Classroom in Action

All of the school representatives interviewed for this article emphasize that it’s important for parents to observe in-session classroom time, either during the open house or while on a separate tour. Families can gain valuable information from seeing the levels of student and teacher engagement, and how the school’s mission plays out in the classroom.

Some schools offer open houses during active school days, incorporating classroom visits into the event. Other schools hold evening open houses designed to give parents information about the school, and encourage families to tour the campus and visit classrooms during the day. Parents should note the degrees to which schools incorporate opportunities for families to observe in-session classes, then spend some time in an active classroom if this is allowed.


Should You Take the Kids?

Schools differ on the question of whether to take prospective students to open houses. They tend to agree that young children can distract parents from focusing on details, but they differ in their suggestions as to whether older elementary, middle and high school students should attend open houses.

Muradi notes research indicating that parents frequently allow middle and high school kids to make the final call as to which schools they would like to attend. Accordingly, Durham Academy strongly recommends that students in grades five and older attend open houses and, more importantly, participate in “shadow days” — days on which prospective students attend class with assigned buddies to whom they can talk about issues that matter to them.

Julia Taylor, assistant principal at GRACE Christian School in Cary, encourages students to attend open houses, but particularly favors shadow days. “They are going to gain more from speaking to their own peers than they will necessarily from sitting through a presentation,” she says.

Deb Newlin, admissions director at Triangle Day School in Durham, feels open houses are more useful for parents than students, who engage better with separate tours of the campus.


How to Prepare

Before attending an open house, families should review the school’s mission statement and get a sense of what the school’s goals are. That way, they can use the open house to see how the school’s goals play out in campus life.

In terms of practicalities, families should plan to find child care for any children too young to manage an hour or two without distracting their parents. They should plan to stay the whole time, since the presentations are designed to offer different kinds of information during different stages of the event. Some schools also suggest that families take notebooks or type notes on their phones about what they learn during their visit.


Follow Your Instincts

School visits are an essential step in the decision process for rational reasons — but also for reasons that are intangible. Newlin says the most important aspect of attending an open house is “trying to get the overall feel of the school. What is the atmosphere when you walk in the door?”

School administrators and staff agree that it’s important for parents to pay attention to their instincts about what they see and experience at a school. Many details come together to form an impression that can tell families more than what an intellectual analysis can accomplish.

“It’s one thing when you can look at all of the literature from a school. Most are going to share a lot of the same [kinds of] information,” Taylor says, adding that this does matter. But she encourages parents to trust their feelings about a school as well. Families can often sense a good or bad fit.  

“I know a lot of our parents will say they just know when they walk in the door,” she says.


* Total based on the combined number of private schools in Orange, Durham, and Wake counties as reported by Private School Review online at privateschoolreview.com.


Elizabeth Brignac is a freelance writer and mother of two boys in Cary.

 

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November 2018

Run Club meets every Sunday at 8 a.m. in Midtown Raleigh or Wake Forest. Stroller friendly; children invited. 

Cost: $10/run or $100/annual pass

Where:
Optimist Park Community Center/Greenways
5900 Whittier Drive
Raleigh, NC  27609
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Sponsor: FIT4MOM
Telephone: 919-348-0472
Contact Name: Missy Currin
Website »

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RJR hosts the Sirens from Savannah, Georgia, for a sanctioned junior bout, followed by an adult scrimmage. Doors open at 9:30 a.m. Allstar bout begins at 10...

Cost: $7 at the door. Free for kids 3 and younger

Where:
United Skates of America
2901 Trawick Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27604
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Sponsor: RJR
Telephone: 919-438-6066
Contact Name: Maureen Fennell
Website »

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Come for a tour and try out a Music or Creative Movement class. Any child who will be preschool age (ages 2-transitional kindergarten) for the 2019-20 school year is invited to participate in...

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of the Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
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Sponsor: Saint Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Nora Duran
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Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about tummy time alternatives, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to...

Cost: $18

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
Website »

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Join Mindful Families of Durham, a Buddhist-inspired spiritual community that supports area parents, caregivers, and their children in the practice of mindfulness and the understanding of the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Erwin Road
Durham, NC  27705
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Sponsor: Mindful Families of Durham
Contact Name: Adam, Laura, Josh, Sumi
Website »

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Cost: $18

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
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Cost: Free

Where:
Durham Arts Council
120 Morris Street
Durham, NC  27701
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Sponsor: Durham Arts Council
Telephone: 919-560-2720
Contact Name: Margaret DeMott
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Cost: Free

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
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Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
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Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Cost: $10/person

Where:
Hux Family Farm
1923 Shaw Rd.
Durham, NC  27704
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Cost: Free

Where:
Sarah P. Duke Gardens - Kirby Horton Hall
420 Anderson St
Durham, NC  27708
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Sponsor: Mallarme Chamber Players
Telephone: 919-560-2788
Contact Name: Suzanne Rousso
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Cost: $1/person

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd.
Apex, NC  27539
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Telephone: 919-662-2850
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Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Cost: $5 ($3 for kids 6 and younger)

Where:
The School for Creative Studies
5001 Red Mill Road
Durham, NC  27704
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Sponsor: The School for Creative Studies PTSA
Telephone: 919-560-3535
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Cost: $30/adult, free for children

Where:
Carolina Theatre of Durham
309 W. Morgan St.
Durham, NC  27701
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Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Raleigh, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Cost: Free

Where:
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4209-100 Lassiter Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
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Come for a tour and try out a Music or Creative Movement class. Any child who will be preschool age (ages 2-transitional kindergarten) for the 2019-20 school year is invited to participate in...

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of the Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
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Sponsor: Saint Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Nora Duran
Website »

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Cost: $4 per child

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
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Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
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Cost: $19/resident, $24/nonresident

Where:
Herbert C. Young Community Center
101 Wilkinson Ave.
Cary, NC  27513
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Cost: $19/resident, $24/nonresident

Where:
Herbert C. Young Community Center
101 Wilkinson Ave.
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Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of the Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
View map »


Sponsor: Saint Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Nora Duran
Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

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Ages 11 and older with special needs learn basic outdoor survival skills. Register online. Choose course #116958.

Cost: $10/resident, $13/nonresident

Where:
Bond Park
801 High House Rd.
Cary, NC  27513
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Cost: $45/child

Where:
Little Guru Kids Yoga and Creative Arts
215 Glenwood Avenue
Suite A
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Sponsor: Little Guru Kids Yoga
Telephone: 919-720-4921
Contact Name: Jen Fisher
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Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of the Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
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Sponsor: Saint Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Nora Duran
Website »

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Cost: $5/person

Where:
Renaissance Centre
405 Brooks St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
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Learn about the first Thanksgiving. Play 17th-century games, learn to talk like a pilgrim and create a first Thanksgiving food collage to take home. Ages 7 and older. Registration required.

Cost: $6/child

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

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Cost: $28/person

Where:
Meymandi Concert Hall
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Cost: $15-$30

Where:
Downtown Wake Forest
, NC  27587


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Cost: $20 - $30

Where:
White Deer Park
2400 Aversboro Road
Garner, NC  27529
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Sponsor: TeddyRox Foundation
Telephone: 919-608-5658
Contact Name: Nancy Cawthon
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Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of the Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
View map »


Sponsor: Saint Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Nora Duran
Website »

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Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Marbles Kids Museum
201 E. Hargett St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Ages 6-10 enjoy art and yoga. Register online. 

Cost: $45/child

Where:
Little Guru Kids Yoga and Creative Arts
215 Glenwood Avenue
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Sponsor: Little Guru Kids Yoga
Telephone: 919-720-4921
Contact Name: Jen Fisher
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Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of the Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
View map »


Sponsor: Saint Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Nora Duran
Website »

More information

Bring the family out for a fall wagon ride along the back roads of the park to enjoy the fall colors and the beauty of Harris Lake County Park.  Staff will interpret the natural and historical...

Cost: $1 per person

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
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Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
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The original television classic comes to life! The beloved TV classic soars off the screen and onto the stage this holiday season. See favorite characters Santa and Mrs. Claus, Hermey...

Cost: $15-$50

Where:
Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
Telephone: 919-886-4591
Contact Name: Box Office
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Cost: $25

Where:
Cary Hot Yoga
952 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC  27511
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Sponsor: Cary Hot Yoga
Telephone: 188-858-79530
Contact Name: hoa bui
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Gather the family together for this fun-filled, heartwarming spectacular featuring seasonal favorites plus a sing-a-long, falling snow, and a chorus line of dancing Santas. Visit Santa...

Cost: $35-$65

Where:
Meymandi Concert Hall
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Cost: See website for fees

Where:
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201 E. Hargett St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Cost: Free

Where:
Perch Studios
106 S. Greensboro St.
Suite E
Carrboro, NC  27510
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Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of the Neuse Rd.
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Sponsor: Saint Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
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The beloved TV classic soars off the screen and onto the stage this holiday season. See favorite characters Santa and Mrs. Claus, Hermey the Elf, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster,...

Cost: $15-$50

Where:
Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Cost: $40 child+adult or $20/child $25/adult

Where:
Cary Hot Yoga
952 Kildaire Farm Rd.
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Sponsor: Cary Hot Yoga
Telephone: 188-858-79530
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Celebrate the holiday season with goats, farm animals, a new hay ride and tractor ride, holiday treats and a Christmas Market. Santa will be at the farm on all weekends giving you the perfect...

Cost: $13.50/person

Where:
Spring Haven Farm
5306 Homer Ruffin Rd.
Chapel Hill , NC  27516
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Sponsor: Spring Haven Farm
Telephone: 919.407.1806
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Cost: $35 child and adult pair, or $15/child and $25/adult

Where:
Cary Hot Yoga
952 Kildaire Farm Rd.
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Sponsor: Cary Hot Yoga
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Explore the historic heart of downtown Raleigh on a walking tour of Fayetteville Street. Tours highlight the people, places, architecture and political movements that have shaped...

Cost: Adults (18+) $10; Youth (7-17) $4; Children (6 & under) Free.

Where:
City of Raleigh Museum
220 Fayetteville St.
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The beloved TV classic soars off the screen and onto the stage this holiday season. See favorite characters Santa and Mrs. Claus, Hermey the Elf, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster,...

Cost: $15-$50

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Cost: $35-$65

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Cost: $20/person

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