Questions to Ask When Visiting Schools
When Shelly Hitt of Raleigh was deciding what school to send her three daughters to, she researched schools online, talked to other parents and visited schools. The student-teacher interaction and friendly atmosphere evident during a school tour helped Hitt decide on the right one for her family.
Selecting a school is an important decision, whether you are considering a magnet, charter or private program. Since the perfect school for one family may not be the right choice for another, it is important to visit the school in person to decide if it is a good fit for your child.
"Being able to see the classrooms in action really gives you a good feel for a school," Hitt says.
Open houses and school visits
One way that parents can learn about a school is to attend an open house where they see the facilities and hear from school staff about the school. Another way parents can gather information about a school is to visit the school for a individual or group tour.
"Open houses and school visits are both important and serve different functions in the choice process," says Linda Nelson, executive director of North Carolina Association of Independent Schools. She encourages parents to go to open houses first and then schedule a school visit during the school day at schools that might be a good fit. She explains that an open house gives parents insight into the school's philosophy and approach to education while a school visit allows parents to focus on gathering information specific to their child's needs.
Learning about public options
While parents usually visit private and charter schools before applying, parents sending their children to public school can also visit schools and attend school fairs. Contact the school directly to see if it offers tours or an open house.
Parents can talk to representatives from Durham Public Schools at the Choice Fair on Nov. 13. Representatives from all magnet schools will be at the Wake County Magnet School Fair on Nov. 6. Julie Marshall, communication director for Durham Public Schools, advises parents who attend a fair to keep an open mind and match their child's interests with available schools.
Before the visit
Nelson advises parents to visit schools during the day to get a feel for the culture and the experience your child would have each day.
Depending on your child's age and your interest in the school, it is often beneficial for your child to also visit the school. Nelson suggests that parents narrow their search to a few schools and then arrange a tour or classroom visit for their child. Try to schedule visits to minimize the amount of time your child misses from school.
Before your visit, make a list of questions that you want to make sure are answered. Talk with your child and find out what questions he has about the school.
During a visit
Be sure to ask any questions you have during a school visit and take note of important information. As you tour the school, note the condition of the facilities and any playground or P.E. equipment. Watch how teachers interact with students and pay attention to the teaching style. Notice if the children seem happy and if they are actively engaged.
"This experience should be as much about what you see as what you hear. Observations are key," Nelson says.
Meet with the admissions director during a visit and get information specific to your child. Nelson says that the director will also ask you questions about your child and your family expectations to help provide relevant information. Be sure to ask about admission requirements, timelines and the next steps for applying to the school.
After visiting, Nelson recommends that parents ask themselves if they would enjoy going to the school every day. "I always tell parents, 'Don't send your children to a place that you wouldn't want to go yourself,'" Nelson says.
Jennifer Gregory lives in the Triangle with her husband, two children and three dogs.
Ask These Key Questions
Linda Nelson, executive director of North Carolina Association of Independent Schools, suggests parents ask the following questions during school visits and open houses:
* Is the school accredited and, if so, by what accrediting body?
* What sort of student is successful at this school? What is the profile of a typical student?
* What is the admission process and how are students evaluated?
* Is it possible to sit in on a class?
* Is it possible for your child, depending on age (probably second or third grade and up), to spend a day or half day at the school attending classes?
* What are the financial expectations of families in addition to tuition?
* What neighborhoods/towns does the school draw from? Where will your child's friends live?
* If the school you are visiting includes high school, also find out where graduating seniors are going to college and the average SAT scores.