Finding the Perfect Fit

How to find the perfect school for your child

BY DANIEL BEAUREGARD

Enrolling in a new school is an important moment in a child’s life. Whether it’s elementary, middle or high school in a public, independent or religious setting, nding a nurturing and challenging institution is crucial.

Atlanta offers a wealth of school options, including college-preparatory, cultural-immersion and experiential-learning. The variety means parents need to know what type of school they’re looking for and the options available.

“The process is far easier when families know what they are looking for in a school,” says Brian Uitvlugt, vice president and director of admissions at Eaton Academy in Roswell.

Making a list

Before visiting any schools, make a list of the most important qualities and programs they should have, ranging from a particular course of study to a strong athletics or music program. Create a list of the child’s academic, social and emotional strengths and needs. Then compare and contrast the offerings of different schools and how they match to the list.

“Factors such as student-to-teacher ratio, extracurricular offerings, availability of before-and-after care, quality of the curriculum and the variety of programs offered will vary significantly from school to school,” Uitvlugt says. One of the best ways to ensure that a school meets a child’s needs is to include the child in the selection process. Start by asking the student about subjects he or she is passionate about or finds difficult, what hobbies, sports or outdoor activities he or she enjoys and, for teens, if they have specific career goals and post-secondary plans.

“If the entire family gets involved, then the process becomes an opportunity for positive growth and can lead to success,” says Wendy Williams, an educational consultant and founder of Williams Educational Consultants, a Roswell firm that assists parents in making school choices.

Learning about the quality public schools in an area is another good place to start. Begin by finding out which schools serve the neighborhood by checking the local district’s website, says Courtney Burnett, community liaison for City Schools of Decatur. Parents can also visit the Georgia Department of Education’s website (doe. k12.ga.us) to easily compare public schools in their district with other systems in the state.

If you want to explore independent schools that may be a good fit, the websites for the Atlanta Area Association of Independent Schools (AAAIS) and the Georgia Independent School Association (GISA) are good places to start. Another great resource is the “At-a-Glance” information starting on page 38, which includes features, information and statistics for independent schools which are included in this publication.

Paying a visit

After doing your homework, visit each prospective school that’s on your list. Spend time with the staff and students, and make sure that you speak with parents as well.

“Oftentimes, schools will offer special potential-parent tours,” says Burnett. “These are great to see the school, meet the administration and see classrooms in action.” Many schools encourage parents to make appointments for personal tours as well, and they invite prospective families to attend open house events that offer an overview of the school’s climate and offerings. During visits, parents and children should ask questions to determine if the school fits their own personal needs and education goals.

It’s also important to learn about a school’s mission and values, and to get a feel for how the students and adults will interact. “I highly recommend that families should attend sporting events, plays or musicals to learn about a school’s community and athletic or artistic talents,” Williams says.

Parents can also request that their child shadow another student at the prospective school. “It is very important for the parents and the student to get their own feel of the school’s ‘vibe,’” Uitvlugt says.

After each visit, sit down with the student and create a chart of each school’s strengths and weaknesses. Along with academic and extracurricular offerings, factor in such elements as travel time to and from the school, classroom and school size and, for an independent school, the costs involved. Review finances to determine what commitment the family can reasonably make and whether or not to seek scholarship support.

Seeking Outside Help

So many factors play a role in choosing a school that parents may want to consider hiring an educational consultant, either to help review options or to give another perspective. Williams says her goal is to make the selection process easier. She visits local schools to understand an institution’s academic rigor and social personality.

Educational consultants offer services ranging from school assessments to student needs assessment and test preparation. The Independent Educational Consultants Association’s website (iecaonline.com) offers an exhaustive list of educational consultants, as well as resources for parents.

In the end, says Burnett, choosing a school is a personal decision, and parents must do what they think is best for their child and the family. By taking time to think about and investigate the different options, and to ask the right questions of teachers, staffers and parents, the right choice can be made for everyone.

Helpful Resources

Georgia Department of Education
Atlanta Area Association of Independent Schools
Georgia Independent School Association
Independent Educational Consultants Association

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