School has officially begun: Classes are in session, Back-to-School Night is in the rear-view mirror, and picture days are tomorrow and Friday. Now that we’re in the full swing of things, Michelle and I are hard at work preparing for the upcoming admission season – preparing tour guides and processing inquiries and stocking my office with new puzzles, toys, and games.
As I look at how much there is to do and start to see my calendar filling up, I am reminded how overwhelming and daunting the admission process can feel. If you’re a parent considering PBS for your family, I would like to help dispel some of that tension as you begin the process of finding the right fit.
There’s no magic answer – no one-size-fits-all solution. You’ll need to do some research early on and visit a number of schools before finalizing your list. Here are some tips for getting the process started well and setting yourself and your family up for success in the coming year.
Before you start, reflect on what you and your family will value in the school you choose. Keep in mind these important questions:
- What are the qualities you want in a school?
- What are your educational values?
- What are your family’s practical needs around location, after-school care, tuition, and financial aid?
- How important is the community of other parents at the school?
Prioritize these needs to help guide you through the process.
Magnet schools, public schools, independent schools, charter schools, parochial schools, proprietary schools… there’s a ton of models out there for schools. For an overview, I recommend this article from BabyCenter’s Expert Advice section.
If your child is new to schooling, it’s important to learn about the different methodologies that are out there. The differences among Reggio Emilia, Montessori, Waldorf, and other approaches are sometimes subtle and other times vast. That other PBS (the Public Broadcasting System) has a great guide to preschool philosophies on their website.
Starting with the long list
Make a list of the schools you are considering or have heard about. Take some time to learn about their mission, philosophy, and curriculum. Click around. Watch some videos. Look at their social media profiles. It even helps to look at sites for schools you don’t think you’re going to apply to. Knowing a little bit about what different types of schools are out there will help you ask meaningful questions and better define what you’re looking for.
The campus visit
Before you tour a school, do your homework! Spend some time sifting through the school’s written and visual material – blogs, website pages, testimonials, publications. This will help you get a better understanding of the school’s mission and philosophy and their approach to education and curriculum.
The tour is one of the most important steps in the process. Take it seriously; it’s an opportunity to get a feel for the school and envision your family in the community. It’s also a time to dig beyond the marketing materials.
You’ll want to take notes. We’ve created a handy form to help you do that and keep these questions handy at the same time.
Questions to ask yourself while on tour:
- Are students and faculty engaged?
- What is the interaction between students and faculty? Students and students?
- Does the school live its mission and philosophy? Can you see it in action?
- Do the children look happy and cared for?
- Do people greet your warmly? Does it feel welcoming?
- Imagine your child in this setting. Does it feel like a place where they will flourish?
- For optimal learning to take place, students need to feel safe and a part of a community. Do you get a sense of that during your visit? Does the community feel warm and inviting?
Ask the school
Questions to ask administrators, faculty, or tour guides while on tour:
- What words describe your typical student?
- How are you different from your peer schools?
- What do you look for when accepting a student?
- What is the student retention rate and what are the most common reasons why students leave before graduation?
- How do teachers and administrators engage parents?
- What are the key criteria for hiring faculty members?
- What is the faculty retention rate and what are the most common reasons why faculty members leave?
- Have there been or will there be any major strategic changes or updates in curriculum?
Moving toward the short list
The tour will usually give you a gut feeling about whether or not you want to move forward with a school or cross it off your list.
Come back to the PBS Blog next month (or subscribe using the form at the top of the page) for more tips on finding a great school for your family.
Meeta Gaitonde P’17 P’20, now in her second year as Director of Admission, has worn almost every hat at PBS except Head of School – so far, anyway. PBS has been her second home since 2002, when she started as a 3rd-grade assistant teacher. Since then, she’s been a lead teacher, a substitute teacher, a learning specialist, a long-term librarian substitute, and the educational technology and innovation specialist.