What happens this time of year, besides snow flurries?
Private school open houses.
January is when many private schools open their doors to prospective students and their families for a visit. So if you’re considering a private school education for your child, what follows are some tried-and-true tips to help you get the most out of your first or even second visit as a prospective private school family.
Do a Road Test
Before searching for a private school for your child, consider taking a simple drive around your neighborhood and/or the geographic area most appropriate for your student. For example, if you’ll be driving your child to school every day, consider the amount of time you want to drive or the time it will take your child to get to the school of your choice.
Research Some Options
With your preferred geographical area in mind, research your school choices on the Web and look closely at the admission sections of each school’s website. Almost all of them have a site dedicated to prospective students and a “frequently asked questions” section. Many of your initial questions about school size, faculty and tuition can be answered right away.
Keep in mind that schools will put their best features on their website, so it’s only the beginning of your homework. Other, more important considerations can only be fully realized once you visit the school and assess the environment with your child’s needs in mind.
Visit the School
Depending on the age of your child, admissions counselors often suggest that the first visit to the school be with the parents only, especially for parents of younger children.
“Much of that first visit is going to center on adult dialogue, sometimes for an hour or more, and younger children may run out of steam and distract the parents,” says Susan Holding, director of admissions at Old Trail School in Bath.
After that initial conversation, Holding suggests that parents ask themselves if they can actually picture their child in the school; if so, they might want to consider a follow-up visit that’s more focused on a personal tour. And at that second visit, the younger child’s participation is definitely preferred.
On the other hand, older children such as middle-schoolers, who are more focused on preparing for high school and beyond, should be involved in the high school selection process as early as possible. Holding suggests these students take the lead in researching the schools they’re most interested in exploring.
“These [older] kids often know ahead of time the best fit for them,” she says, “and can and should take the lead.”
Attend an Open House
When you’re at the open house, take in the learning environment and facilities and the amenities that would be most important for your child. For example, if the school has sparkling athletic facilities but your child is most interested in music and not so much in sports, observe closely how current students are interacting with their music teacher and how often performance opportunities are made available. Try to observe how engaged students are with their classmates as well as the teacher, and try to assess if the teaching and learning atmosphere fits your child.
Hold specific questions that are relevant only to your child for a follow-up, personal tour. The Open House is truly meant as the first — and a general — step in your research.
Late fall and early winter are key decision times not only for families, but also for schools — which are determining enrollment and how many students they can and will accept for the following school year, something that can often vary by grade level.
It’s never too early to start the research and visitation process. Many schools offer “drop-in” open houses on Saturdays, and at almost all area schools — including Archbishop Hoban (Akron), St. Vincent-St. Mary (Akron) and Walsh Jesuit (Cuyahoga Falls) high schools — potential students can even sign up to shadow a current student for an entire day. Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy (CVCA) additionally schedules many of its community open houses at a time offered just before a school activity or an event such as a football game.
“We want students and their families to see that the overall family-oriented social environment we promote is an important aspect of the school,” says CVCA director of admissions Mindy Fullerton.
Many schools, like CVCA, offer student-led tours providing an opportunity to hear directly from a student about their experiences. And every school has a unique atmosphere and usually a unique teaching philosophy tailored by its faculty and tailored for its constituency. All of the parochial and independent high schools in the Greater Akron area, for example, offer a college preparatory curriculum, and some may have special attributes that are more important for one child or family over another.
For example, Robert Brodbeck, principal of St. Paul’s School in the Firestone Park neighborhood of Akron, hopes to convey the school’s blend of a “warm and caring atmosphere.”
“I want families to feel the caring environment we have here, as well as the strong ‘Catholicity’ we impart,” he says. “You can see it in all of the artwork we display.”
Visit a Parochial School During CSW
Many Catholic schools, especially at the elementary levels, don’t host open houses for new-student recruiting as much as for existing parents and students, except during the annual Catholic Schools Week (CSW), a national celebration of Catholic education — when schools like St. Sebastian Parish School (Akron) and St. Hilary School (Fairlawn) will host open houses for prospective parents and students.
CSW, beginning the last Sunday of January annually, helps local schools open their doors to the neighborhood and to the school’s families to showcase accomplishments — and to show off the school. At last year’s CSW open house, Brodbeck says that St. Paul’s teachers presented a sample lesson to parents, complete with the use of technology and its application within the curriculum.
Whether your hope is to provide a religious-based curriculum and environment for your child or an independent academic setting, there are more than 100 private or parochial schools in Summit, Stark, Medina and Portage counties — and one is sure to meet your needs.
If you’re considering a private school for your child for the coming academic year, it’s important to not only begin your research, but to start making calls to admissions offices to arrange visits now.
/ Kirstin Toth is Senior Vice President at GAR Foundation and has a special interest in education.
E-mail them to editor Georgina K. Carson at firstname.lastname@example.org.