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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Where:
Raleigh Little Theatre
301 Pogue St.
Raleigh, NC  27607
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Harris Lake County Park is home to several species of salamanders. Join us as we learn about these elusive amphibians and see some up close. All ages. Meet in the Educational Garden at the picnic...

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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Set in 1860’s Bangkok, the musical tells the story of the unconventional relationship that develops between the King of Siam and Anna Leonowens, a British schoolteacher whom the modernist...

Cost: $25 and up

Where:
Raleigh Memorial Auditorium
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Durham Stake presents a family-friendly show featuring favorite Dr. Seuss books all together in one story. Join the Cat in the Hat, Horton the Elephant, and many others on a journey through...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
1050 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd.
Chapel Hill, NC  27514
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Sponsor: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Contact Name: Bethany Fager
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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is putting on the hilarious, yet sometimes tender, musical production of Seussical on March 15-16 and 22-23. It is a family-friendly show that...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
1050 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd
Chapel Hill, NC  27514
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Sponsor: Durham Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
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The Raleigh Boychoir will reach new heights as our choristers and community present Dr. Tim Sharp’s “High Lonesome Bluegrass Mass.” Welcoming area boys to perform in...

Cost: Free

Where:
First Baptist Church
99 N Salisbury St
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Sponsor: Raleigh Boychoir
Telephone: 919-881-9259
Contact Name: Erin O'Hara
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Ziggy is a shy boy who would rather stay at home and watch television than explore the island of Jamaica. Over the course of his onstage journey, with some help from his friend Nansi, he...

Cost: $18/adult, $12 ages 12 and younger

Where:
Raleigh Little Theatre
301 Pogue St.
Raleigh, NC  27607
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Participants develop their naturalist skills and understanding of local nature. Ages 5-8 with parent. Register online. Choose course #121675.

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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Celtic Woman celebrates Ireland's rich musical and cultural heritage, while continuing its remarkable legacy of introducing some of Ireland's most talented singers and musicians onto the...

Cost: $43 and up

Where:
Durham Performing Arts Center
123 Vivian St.
Durham, NC  27701
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Set in 1860’s Bangkok, the musical tells the story of the unconventional relationship that develops between the King of Siam and Anna Leonowens, a British schoolteacher whom the modernist...

Cost: $25 and up

Where:
Raleigh Memorial Auditorium
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Website »

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Shop for gently used kids' clothing, toys, furniture, baby equipment and more. See the website for shopping hours.

Cost: Free

Where:
Hayes Barton Baptist Church
1800 Glenwood Ave.
Raleigh, NC
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Annual Guides

Education Guide

The 2018-19 Education Guide offers 678 education resources in the Triangle, including area preschools, private schools, public school systems, charter schools, boarding schools, academic resources and an Exceptional Child special section.

The Triangle Go-To Guide

Our Triangle Go-To Guide connects you to family fun resources across the Triangle. Plus, find out who our 2018 Readers' Favorites are.