When my twin boys were born, I was elated. I’d never experienced anything as wonderful as being a mom. While I had a lot to learn about being a great parent, I knew I wanted to do everything I could to ensure my sons would grow up happy and healthy. One of my first concerns was their education. Which preschool was best? What high school would put them on a path toward career success?
Outside of a family’s impact, school is the biggest influence in a child’s life. After all, during the school year, a child will spend nearly half of his or her waking hours in the classroom. So it’s no wonder parents stress over choosing a school. Especially in Arizona’s open enrollment environment, the number of options can be overwhelming.
Here are five things to consider when evaluating your choices:
- Academic programs: Consider what programs are in place to help your child learn. This will vary widely depending on age. Some considerations include whether the school offers full-day kindergarten, specialized hands-on STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) learning, Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses that help students gain college credit before graduating — or even strong career and technical education programs. Understanding your child’s aptitudes and interests will help guide your research.
- Performance: Ask how the school rates on measurable outcomes. These could include AzMERIT test scores, graduation rates and the number of students who continue on to complete training or education after high school. Many of these can be found on the Arizona Education Progress Meter at expectmorearizona.org. While test scores can be valuable, they aren’t the only measure of a school. After all, you wouldn’t judge your own child based only on his or her AzMERIT score. How experienced are the teachers? How involved is the principal?
- Extracurricular activities: Consider the hobbies your child enjoys and whether they’ll have access to a well-rounded experience at the school. Does the school offer art? Sports? Clubs? Of course, this depends largely on your child’s interests, but even having basic specials (P.E., music, etc.) during the school day can make a big difference for any child’s growth.
- Campus atmosphere: How big is the student body? How big does it feel? Some students thrive in the bustle of a large school, while others seek the pace of a smaller campus. There are benefits and drawbacks to both, and it’s also important to note how large classes are and whether students have access to adequate support staff, including school counselors.
- School philosophy: Check out the school’s website, then talk to teachers and other parents to better understand the school’s approach to learning, as well as its disciplinary policies. The values championed by faculty and staff are paramount to the success and well-being of your child. For instance, does the school have a guiding philosophy and if so, how does it show up in the classroom? Does the school support its teachers, or is there a high turnover rate? How are behavioral problems addressed?
Every child is unique, and parents or caregivers know best what kind of school environment will be the best fit. Currently, my boys don’t attend our neighborhood school, because another school in the district offered a program I felt would be invaluable for them over the long term. I’m lucky, both because I’m able to drive them to the school we chose every day, but also because our neighborhood elementary school would have been a great option.
As parents and community members, I believe we should advocate for every student to have access to an excellent education every step of the way. Ensuring that all kids get the education they deserve will build stronger communities and a stronger state.
A checklist for interviewing schools
If you’ve just started on this journey of school choice, it can seem daunting. Here are questions to help get you started finding a quality school that fits your child’s interests, goals and temperament. Consider asking prospective schools these questions:
- How large are individual classes?
- What is the student-to-teacher ratio?
- How do your teachers stand out, and how are they aided and evaluated by administrators?
- What is a typical class schedule? Is traditional or block scheduling used?
- What’s your school’s educational philosophy or overall approach to learning?
- How does your school stand apart?
- How much homework is required?
- How are parents involved in the school, and how do you communicate with parents?
- Do students get recess, exercise or breaks during the school day?
- Is your school accredited? If so, how, and if not, why not?
- What is your school policy on technology and tech devices, such as tablets or smartphones?
- What after-school activities are available to students?
- How do you deal with behavioral issues?
- How can I be sure this school is a good fit for my child, and how will you help him/her succeed?
Source: RAK staff
- Choosing a school: Where to start as a parent
- How seven Arizona families found the right educational fit
- Six neighboring families, six different approaches to school choice
- Tips for choosing a quality early learning environment