How to Choose a Private School

By Shirley K. Fegan

January and February are important months in the education of your child; this is the time when private schools are enrolling for the next year and many of them hold open house sessions giving parents ample opportunity to inquire and learn about their programs. Choosing a school for a child can be difficult, but is also one of the most important processes with which parents must deal.

When looking at any school, the overriding question is just how far will said institution go to provide the best for its students? Four main points should, without a doubt, present themselves and be taken into careful consideration: the mission statement and philosophy of the school; the advanced educational opportunities provided; the extracurricular activities offered; and the ability of the school to accommodate the specific needs of each student and family.

When initially looking at a school, first and foremost, read the mission statement. The statement undoubtedly forms the foundation and sets the general tone of the school, allowing the entire community to work toward a single goal of fostering the academic, social, and emotional growth of each child.

When it comes to academics, parents should look at the curriculum offerings and ask themselves if they do indeed go above and beyond the basic schooling criteria. In today’s society, it is imperative that we are proficient in many areas of our lives, including language fluency and technology skills. Early childhood is an opportune time to introduce children to another language with some schools starting as early as Kindergarten and continuing through the upper schools with advanced language studies.

In addition, inquire if the school integrates technology throughout the curriculum. Technologically-capable schools offer students abundant opportunities to build skills in basic operations and concepts, tools of productivity, communication, research, social and ethical issues, and problem solving and decision making. Forward thinking schools know the importance of preparing students for a technologically advanced world.

Children thrive in creative atmospheres conducive to the exploration of emotions. This philosophy is oftentimes illustrated when infants and toddlers gravitate toward musical instruments and art centers during their free time both at home and in the childcare setting. In choosing a school, look for ways music and visual arts are incorporated into the curriculum. Schools that respect music and art demonstrate a whole approach to child development. Throughout the past decade, we, as a society, have come to learn about the importance of music and visual art in the intellectual development of our children, as has further been evidenced through the mass-marketing of products from the classic Sesame Street videos to the more recent Baby Einstein line.

Physical fitness is also important in the developmental success of a child, and, in an age of video games and concern for childhood obesity, physical education, sports programs, and general health education should play a key role in the school curriculum. Physical education and sports programs not only introduce students to individual skills and the principle of sportsmanship, but also help to foster strong relationships and behavioral growth. Schools that provide daily instruction in PE and other varying forms of health management are likely to see the holistic development of their students.

Since it is of utmost importance to acknowledge each child’s entire body of needs, a school should also have an extensive extracurricular activities program. As educators, many of us in the academic environment realize that a child needs to find his or her own passion(s). Thus, schools should strive to provide various opportunities both inside and outside of the classroom. Such activities may include intramural, junior varsity and varsity sports, yearbook, student senate, newspaper, band, choir, and theatre productions. Participation in these helps to foster a sense of personal accomplishment and further emphasizes the importance of finding, developing, and nurturing one’s own desires.

The ability of a school to accommodate the specific needs of each student and family helps to provide a safe and stimulating environment in which children can develop in all areas. Programs such as before-and-after school care help to provide a safe and secure place in which this can occur. Other desirable services may include bus transportation, onsite healthcare, and academic assistance.

Ultimately, parents should have the comfort of knowing that the climate in which their children are learning is one which nurtures individual growth and allows for a sustained partnership between school and home in the effort to acknowledge each child’s special gifts and contributions.

Shirley K. Fegan is Head of School at The Congressional Schools of Virginia which enrolls students from preschool through grade 8 at its campus in Falls Church, Virginia. You can learn more about The Congressional Schools by visiting their website atwww.congressionalschools.org  or by calling 703-533-9711.

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