In search of the perfect fit
Five easy steps that will walk you through the process and help you personalize it, too
Choosing the right private school can seem a daunting task — so much so, that the eenie, meenie, miney, moe approach begins to look better and better to overwhelmed parents with a bad case of the private-school blues. Fortunately for those floundering few, we’ve comprised a special step-by-step guide that will walk you through the 123s and ABCs of choosing a private school that’s just the right fit for your child.
Step one: discuss
As the old saying goes, “Every child is unique” — and while it may be a bit of a cliché, there is truth at the root of it. Every child has his or her own unique learning patterns and, as such, will have different needs both in and outside the classroom. For those who have more than one child, remember: what works for one does not necessarily work for the other.
Parents should take the time to assess their child’s weaknesses and strengths, likes and dislikes. Talk to their teachers (if they have any) and observe your children when they’re with friends.
“The big-picture question parents should be asking is ‘Does the school offer what we (as a family) want and what we need?’ ” says Chantal Kenny, executive director of admissions at Upper Canada College.
Oftentimes, kids aren’t given enough credit. Anne-Marie Kee, the executive director of Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS), insists that today’s tech-savvy and inquisitive youth are playing a more integral role in the decision process.
“Typically, with students who are applying to Grade 5 and below, parents make the decision. But for Grade 6 and up, the student should be actively involved in the process,” says Kenny.
“Kids are savvy shoppers,” says Kee. “My niece just chose Trinity College School. She watched every single video [and looked at] every publicly available picture.” Today’s kids are engaged and involved — as they should be: it’s their future.
Step two: research
A school environment can have lasting effects on a child’s development, both socially and academically, so you want to make an informed decision when perusing the market. Research is the name of game — start early, ask around, go online — do the work.
According to Kenny, the amount of time spent on research varies from home to home, but it can be a lengthy and somewhat timeconsuming endeavour.
“Parents should plan a couple of months in advance, prior to September. The getting- to-know-you part of the process typically starts in October and runs until the end of January,” says Kenny. “And then offers tend to go out around the middle of February.” So, it’s best to start early.
Fortunately, in this day and age, there is a vast amount of information waiting within just a few clicks of your favourite search engine. A school website is an informative and interactive resource — don’t hesitate to check each one out thoroughly.
Step three: investigate
With so many different educational options out there, it can be rather difficult narrowing down the field. What are the pros and cons of sending your child to a boarding school? What does the Waldorf system have to offer? Fortunately for you, we’ve asked the very same questions.
Boarding schools offer students the opportunity to have a 24-hour educational experience and enjoy a rich extracurricular life without any logistical commitment from you, which is ideal for parents with hectic work schedules. Of course, the right day school will be more economical and allow you more direct control over your child’s development.
The Montessori system allows children to have an active role in determining what and how they learn. The teacher facilitates but doesn’t impose, and when the child is ready for something new, the teacher guides the child. Performance evaluations are not considered important.
In the Waldorf system, students work on projects that engage mind and body together, to facilitate learning and build selfconfidence, rather than sitting at their desks and listening to lecture-style lessons.
The age-old question of single-sex vs. coed is another important decision you will need to make. The argument for single-sex education is that girls and boys learn differently, so schools have the opportunity to tailor their teaching to one gender. However, supporters of coed education point out that the outside world is coed, so from a social and adjustment perspective coed may be better.
Step four: assess
Parents should also pay special attention to how robust the curriculum is at each school. Does the school offer International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement programs (i.e., college-level curricula to better prepare your child for university)? Are they up to date on all the latest tech-savvy teaching methods? Do they have art, music, drama and sports programs? Do they provide ample opportunity for service projects and travel? Kee suggests that you look closely at each school and really ask yourself, “Where is my money going?”
“Needs-based or merit-based financial assistance and scholarships are offered at numerous independent schools,” says Kenny. “At UCC, we recognize that less than two per cent of Canadian families can afford the full cost of attending, so we want to ensure that the college remains affordable and accessible. In our case, UCC has committed over $4 million in financial assistance for the 2015–2016 school year.”
Step five: visit
Once you’ve narrowed it down to only a few schools, you and your child must visit them. This is the most important step of the process and often the thing that clinches the deal. Test out the environment: talk with teachers, parents and principals and find out if their attitudes and goals suit your own.
When Anne-Marie Kee and her husband decided to move their children from public to private school, they went on a few tours. One of the schools provided a separate student-guided tour for her son and daughter. While on the tour, a random student approached one of them and encouraged him to attend.
“It was a very natural invitation to come to the school,” says Kee. “I think when you can give kids the opportunity to have those interactions, which are unscripted, then that gives them a real sense of the school.” As a result, that is the school her son now attends.
Many schools even allow the child to spend a day at the school to get a feel for it. This is a great thing to take advantage of and lets you gauge your child’s own natural reaction to the school. Remember: their opinion is important!
Make sure your checklist includes curriculum, sports facilities, teacher-student ratio and a physical school visit during a regular day