The good news is that there are many school options to explore. The bad news is the abundance of options leaves many questioning how to pick the best one. If your child is already established or recently made a change, changing schools may be harmful. It may alter meaningful relationships a child has already developed that they may not find when they relocate. If it's not broken, do not try to fix it. Changing schools is a big decision and not one to take lightly; this is especially true for middle and high school students. Adolescence is a time of emotional, social, and academic growth, and transitions during this time can be extra challenging.
There are circumstances where a change is warranted and even necessary. Choosing a school for your child is a personal choice; you are looking for the best choice for the unique individual you are raising, who they are today, and who they are becoming. An excellent school for your neighbor's child may not be the best fit for your child. Touring prospective schools is a crucial step in choosing a school, so as you tour, here are a few helpful tips to consider.
The first and most crucial consideration in choosing a school is safety. Without it, students cannot focus on learning and developing skills needed for academic success. When unsafe conditions are prevalent, every student is affected. Students who feel unsafe perform poorly and are at a higher risk of dropping out, drug use, and delinquency. When touring a school, ask about behavioral expectations, review the code of conduct, and the school's outlined consequences for behaviors. Look for locked doors, camera systems, and resource officers. Ask about online safety; it is just as important as physical safety. Every child should feel safe in school, and this is non-negotiable. School safety lays the foundation for everything else.
The next consideration is academics. While each family and educator cite different reasons for choosing a school, their definition of what makes a "good" school goes far beyond a mere glance at statistics or test scores. Look for schools that nurture a child's social and emotional development. Programs that promote character development and cultivate a sense of purpose. Good test scores could be nothing more than one school reallocating time away from other important subjects to improve their appearance in tested subjects, leaving their students lacking in the different subject matter. A school with lower test scores could be producing tremendous student gains in all subject areas, thus providing a better academic environment, which is harder to identify through the review of test scores alone. Consider test scores but do not stop there when comparing schools because they are not the only indicator of a good school. The goal of any academic program should be to provide a challenging, well-rounded educational program that focuses on academics, character, perseverance, prepares students for future college, career readiness, and attributes that contribute to the broader community.
Charlotte has experienced a population increase of 16 percent over the past decade, and with that, we have become a more diverse city. The diversity of your child's classroom should reflect our city's diverse population. Diverse schools offer differences in ethnicity, religion, gender, economic backgrounds, learning styles, and even learning differences. The presence of diversity in the classroom allows students to consider perspectives and opinions beyond their own, allowing them to think critically. When students enter the professional world, they will join a vast and diverse workforce. Interacting with people of different backgrounds and mindsets can be challenging without prior exposure to diversity. The more views, experiences, and diverse situations we expose children to, the more creative they become and benefit from more substantial academic outcomes.
School staff strongly determines the educational outcome; students thrive in schools where educators thrive. If the school is unsafe, the students are not the only individuals affected. More teacher turnover will occur if teachers are not supported, and behavior concerns overlooked. If teachers cannot model collaboration, curiosity, diversity, and belief that everyone can grow and improve through perseverance, they can't teach their students authentically. Some schools believe the focus is on one, the students, or the teachers, not both; in your search, look for a school environment where both are true because focusing on both is necessary for school success.
When collaboration between school leadership, staff, students, and parents exists, the result is a strong school community. Everyone should be working toward a common goal, including parents, so look for opportunities for parent involvement. Decide if the school's vision and mission is one that your family can invest in; your investment nurtures a feeling of personal ownership and accountability. A school community built upon programs and practices involving everyone enhances crucial social and emotional skills by holding children accountable. A strong school community provides the village needed to raise a child.
Extracurriculars allow students to learn the value of teamwork, individual and group responsibility, physical strength and endurance, competition, and a sense of culture and community. They reinforce lessons learned in the classroom, offer a real-world context, and are part of a well-rounded education. Look for a school that provides various extracurricular avenues. The goal is to give every child enough avenues to find their outlet. Try not to predetermine your child's interest or future interest based on your past. Your child is a unique individual who will probably have ideas and interests different from your own.
Whether you are searching for a new school for a child entering Kindergarten or High School, finding the right school can make all the difference for your child. Choosing a new school requires some leg work and investigation, but you must trust your gut in the end. Once you decide, accept admissions to your school of choice with grace and trust. Have faith in your decision and the school leaders, become invested, support your new community, and watch your child thrive.