5 Ingredients to a Successful School Search

in defence of daycare

Written by: Lianne Castelino

Published: Sep 13, 2011

Our Kids Media publishes the Our Kids Canada’s Guide to Private Schools, powers
the school search on OurKids.net and hosts the annual Private
School Expos.  This year’s Private School Expo will be held in Montreal on
September 18, Toronto on October 15, Oakville on October 23 and in Vancouver on
November 27, 2011. Register online for 50% admission at www.OurKids.net/Expo. 

5 Ingredients to a Successful
School Search

With fewer kids and a better understanding of the educational system, parents today know exactly the kind of education they
want for their child, and private schools are becoming an accessible,
affordable, and popular option. Offering much more than tradition, prestige or
religious instruction, qualities which were highly valued in the past, they’re
catering to modern parents who are more concerned about finding a particular
educational approach that suits their child. With a range of schools as unique
as each individual child, finding the right one seems like a formidable task.
But with the right techniques, the school search can be painless for parents
and children, resulting in a valuable education that will please the entire

  1. The Wish List

Before even beginning the search,
families need to decide exactly what they’re looking for. Involving the entire
family in creating the list of wants and needs in a school is also a way to
build excitement, help parents get to know their children better, and support
family bonding. It will also ensure that the money parents spend on education
will achieve their desired goals. Having a list of
“needs”, and a smaller list of “wants” like certain extracurriculars,
technology, or sports teams, will help you stay focused on finding the perfect


Some questions to keep in mind:

    About your child:

  • How is your child doing in their current school? What attention
    or challenges do they need?
  • What is your child’s personality, learning style, academic
    ability, social skills, talents, challenges and desires?
  • Will your child thrive in an environment rich with technology or
    one that is based in social interaction?

    About your family:

  • What are your family’s values, goals and priorities?
  • Do you want a school that is close to work or home?
  • Do you want a school that offers before-school and after-school

About the school:

  • Are you expecting an academic-based curriculum or one that
    attempts to educate the personality as well?
  • Are you searching for a large or small school?
  • Are you looking for a coed or same-sex, boarding and/or day
  • Do you want a school that accommodates all grades or a certain
    age group?


  1. The Preliminary Search

It has probably been a while
since parents have had to do homework for themselves, but finding a private
school takes the same concentration, dedication, and time management as a final
exam or research project. And just like school projects, the amount of time and
effort that goes into the early stages has a direct effect on the quality of
the end product – in this case, a child’s happiness and success at school. This phase of the search can be exciting as you discover
the different learning options available for your child, but the most important
thing is to select the best fit for your child, not to make your child fit into
a school at all costs. And the perfect fit for your neighbour or friend’s child
may not be right for your daughter or son.

Here are some tips on the
preliminary search for a private school:


  • Get
    started early:
    At least a year in advance is recommended. Good decisions are
    best made without time restrictions.
  • Consider your budget: Private schools will vary in cost depending on a number of
    factors – day or boarding, class size, the level of additional services and
    extracurricular activities. Determine your financial situation, how much you
    are willing to spend, and what financial aid is available at each school.
  • Read school profiles and websites: The Internet can be a parent’s best friend. Look at what’s
    written about the school curriculum, mission, values and philosophy. Read
    reflections and testimonials from students and parents. Most schools have their
    own websites with photos and virtual tours, and websites like www.ourkids.net have useful search engines
    to narrow your choices.
  • Ask
    other parents:
    Find other parents who are interested in private school. Ask
    them what they’re looking for, what they’ve found, how they’re going about
    their search, and if they have any feedback about schools you’re interested in.
    Online forums are great if you don’t know anyone personally.


  1. The Private School Expo

An effective preliminary search
should leave families with a better idea of what they are looking for and what
is offered in their area. A relatively new tool for a curious family
researching private schools, expos bring together students and representatives
from all types of schools across a city for parents to use as a one-stop source
of information. School administrators are on-hand to answer any questions
parents have, general or specific, and kids can talk to current students to see
what life at that school is really like. Expos also usually feature helpful
seminars on how to choose a school, what type of school is best for a child,
and how to finance a private education. Expos are convenient places to get a
deeper understanding of what a school values that goes beyond what the website
can convey.


Here’s a list of questions to
prepare for a visit to a private school expo:

  • What makes the school unique? What is the school’s philosophy?
  • How does the school encourage involvement amongst parents,
    teachers and students?
  • Ask for an outline of the school calendar. How long is the
    school day and the school year?
  • What curriculum guidelines does the school follow and how are
    students evaluated? How do they respond to students who fall behind?
  • What are the teachers’ qualifications?
  • What is the average class size?
  • What are the transportation options for my child?
  • What is the admission process for my child? Is there a waiting
  • How much is tuition and what other costs might I incur (e.g.
    uniform, books, equipment)?
  • What are my payment options? What student financial assistance
    is available?


  1. The School Visit

As the search nears its end, it’s
time to address what is thought to be the most distinctive aspect of a private
school – its campus and community. The atmosphere of a school cannot be truly
understood unless a parent and child physically experience it themselves. By
now a parent’s list of potential schools should be small enough to manage a
visit for each one. You can either contact the school to arrange a personal
tour, or check school calendars for open house dates. The
school visit is also a time to speak with principals, teachers, counsellors,
and other students to get information from different perspectives. You can also
ask for the names and numbers of current parents or alumni, whom you can
contact as references.


While at the school, keep an eye
out for these qualities:

  • The quality of the campus grounds, lunchroom, sports facilities,
    and classrooms: Are they clean, operational, and safe?
  • The diversity of the school: Is the student population
    multicultural enough for your child, or is that important to you?
  • The classroom dynamics: How do students and teachers interact?
    Is that relationship what you’re looking for?
  • The hallway scene: How do students interact with each other? And
    will your child fit in?
  • Student supervision: How do administrators maintain a safe
    environment? How do they approach discipline?


  1. The Application

Compiling all the information
gathered over the research process, parents should be able to come up with a
final choice of two to three schools in which their child will flourish.
Families are encouraged to apply to more than one school to keep their options
open, because, although you may have preferences, chances are there are a number of schools that could be an appropriate


Each school looks
for different qualities in their students, but here’s what an application may

  • Completed application forms (many are now available online)
  • Interview and possible entrance exam
  • Non-refundable application fee
  • Confidential school report from child’s current school
  • Previous report cards (up to two or three years back)
  • Test scores (depending on your child’s age and the school, it may be necessary for
    your child to write the Secondary School Admissions Test (SSAT) or another
    entrance exam)





Schools Look for in Students

As families search for
the perfect school, schools are also looking for the perfect student to
contribute to their community. Here’s what schools want to see in their

  • that they as a school will be a good fit for both the child and
  • that the student really wants to attend the school and is not
    just being pressured to do so
  • a clear representation of the child’s ability
  • the potential for the student to become a participating and
    integrated member of the private school community
  • that both the family and child fully understand the school’s
    philosophy, vision and expectations at the outset



Specialized Private School Programs

students in the private system are there because they cannot receive the
specialized attention or curriculum they need from a public school. Here are
some examples of unique programs that are giving private school students a


International Baccalaureate: The IB organization
works with schools, governments and international organizations to create
academic programs to challenge students while promoting intercultural respect
and understanding. Three programs aimed at varying age groups (3-12, 11-16,
16-19) feature subjects like math, science, physical education and the arts,
but also personal and social skills, humanities and technology. Students must
also study a second language and complete a personal project.


Advanced Placement: The AP program allows high school
students to take university courses for an extra challenge and to give them a
head start in their post-secondary education. There are now over 30 rigorous AP
courses and exams spanning many subjects available to high school students in


are able to direct their own learning at their own pace under the guidance of a
trained teacher. Teachers then introduce children to the next level of
complexity when they are ready. Children of different ages are placed in the
same class to stimulate conversation, create community and allow the older
children to be role models.


Waldorf: To
facilitate the learning process, teachers use the most suitable techniques in
their repertoire that consider the age of their students’ physical and mental
being. For example, elementary students at Waldorf Schools aged 7 to
approximately 14 years old learn through artistic mediums such as drawing. Once
they reach high school, the focus shifts to more direct intellectual


Round Square: With exchanges available in 60
schools worldwide, students are able to travel between cultures, participate in community
service and simply experience a variety of learning environments to develop the
Round Square IDEALS of Internationalism, Democracy, Environment, Adventure,
Leadership and Service.


Duke of Edinburgh: The Duke of Edinburgh program is
for students aged 14-24 and encourages personal growth through life experience.
Students choose either a Bronze, Silver or Gold level of program, and must
complete a personal activity in various sections: volunteering, physical,
skills, expedition and residential.


Special Needs: Schools offer many different programs
to cater towards
students with any degree of physical disability, mental disability,
communicative disorder, behavioural disorder. Almost always they’ll include
one-on-one instruction and approved specialized learning materials.

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