Every year about this time, there’s a flurry of open houses and application deadlines for schools. Even with all the irregularities of 2020, events are still happening (maybe just virtually) and parents everywhere are going through the debate of what the “right” school is for their kids. 

We’re in that boat this year. Our oldest will be in high school next fall, which means we’ve been hunting and gathering loads of information about various schools in the area. If there’s one nice thing about 2020, attending online events makes it a faster process, as opposed to spending hours roaming halls and sitting in auditoriums. 

This school search is nothing new for us. As you may have read in previous posts, we homeschooled one or more of our children for seven years. There were several times when we’d pop our heads up from our homeschooling bubble and take a look at the options. There was even a two year period of time when our middle child attended a school outside the home because she wanted to see what “real school” was like.

Ultimately, this time last year was when we decided that homeschooling was not serving the needs of our family any longer. I was ready for a change from teaching, and my older two children were ready for more time with friends and to be challenged by someone other than myself when it came to academics. So in a year of everyone schooling from home, we’re the ones who aren’t.

The humor of it all is not lost on me!

For this reason, I’ve toured lots of schools in our area. Private, public, religious, charter, big and small, near and far, I’ve walked through and evaluated at least one of every kind of school out there.

And now, with our oldest in eighth grade, we’re hunting for the “right” high school.

If you’re in the school hunting phase of the year and could use some help, here’s some things I’ve learned about finding the right school for your child.

Make a List

Every school is going to have a nice presentation and it’s easy to get sucked into every school you tour. Before you start hunting around, know the primary thing(s) you’re looking for in a school and write them down. Does it need to start and end at a certain time to coordinate with your work schedule? Do you want certain values taught along with academics? Do you need a strong music program or foreign language department? How much tuition can you afford? Do want a college prep school?

Write down your list of what you’re looking for and then put them in order of priority. Like house shopping, you’re not going to get everything you want. But knowing what’s most important can help you narrow down your options.

If you’re looking at elementary schools, which type of education philosophy do you prefer? If you have no idea, take a moment to google search some of the common terms these days. Montessori, Classical, Core Knowledge, Play-Based, Common Core, these are just a few terms to start searching.

Pros and Cons

After you leave a school tour or watch a presentation, take five minutes to jot down what you liked and disliked about the school. Doing this while it’s fresh in your mind will help you later on when you’re making your decision.

I’d suggest bringing your kids with you (or having them sit with you and watch the online presentation) and ask them what they liked and disliked about it. You want to involve them in the decision making process, but ultimately, this choice is yours. You know your kid and you need to decide which school suits them best for their future.

Be sure to pay attention to any gut feelings you may have and jot those down, too. Some schools feel great, and some do not. Notice that and make sure you realize the power your Mommy Sense holds.

See it Through Their Eyes

You may love sports. But is your child as into them as you are? Maybe a strong athletic program isn’t top of their list. Look at each school through the eyes of your child, put yourself in their shoes and think about whether or not they’d fit in, have fun, and most importantly learn well in that environment.

When you’re doing this, be careful not to pigeon-hole your child. For example, our oldest loves to act and wants us to send her to a performing arts high school. We support her love of the theater and are helping her pursue those skills. However, knowing her as well as we do, it’s pretty likely that she’ll find another passion in the next year or two. Placing her at a high school with a singular focus decreases her ability to be well rounded and excel in no matter what she may pursue later in life.

Parents do this a lot and so we have a variety of programs at high schools these days and you see them being promoted (STEM, IB, etc.). I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to give your kids more education in an area they want to pursue. Rather, I’m encouraging you to make sure it’s not the only area they’ll be able to pursue later in life.

There’s No Perfect School

If there’s one thing I’ve learned every year we’ve done the school search thing, it’s that there’s no perfect school. There are a lot of great schools, and a lot of great options for my children, but there’s no one perfect school for everyone.

There is a school in our area that most parents try to get into. It has waiting lists each year close to one hundred kids for some grades. In reality, unless you work there or have a sibling who attends, you’re probably not going to make the list. However, I do not want to send my kids there. It’s not the right place for them. True, I’ve applied to the school based on its reputation. But then I took a tour and paid attention to what they’re teaching the kids. And their values don’t line up with ours. For our family, that’s a deal breaker.

I say all of this to make the point that while there are some great schools out there, not every school deemed “great” by someone else is going to be a great fit for your kid.

In other words, don’t get sucked into the hype.

Keep All Options on the Table

There’s no rule that says you have to apply to one school and only one school. Apply everywhere and see where things fall come summertime. Lotteries move through their lists over the summer. People move unexpectedly all the time. Jobs change, situations change, and schools look different once July rolls around. What you think is the right choice in January may not be how you feel in August.

You have the right to wait and decide later. So right now, fill out all the applications and then sit with the decision for a few months.

Remember to Breathe

Some parents I know get extremely worked up about the school choice. I agree, making the decision for your child is a big deal. I’m not saying you should just close your eyes and pin the tail on the school. But also remember to trust yourself and your ability to make decisions for your child.

After all, you can always change your mind this time next year.

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