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Guide To Choosing A Private School

January 14, 2011 11:51 AM

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(credit: ABDELHAK SENNA/AFP/Getty Images)

(credit: ABDELHAK SENNA/AFP/Getty Images)

privateschoolalexgrimm98446444 Guide To Choosing A Private School

credit: Alex Grimm/Getty Images

All parents want the best possible education for their children, but sometimes they assume that the best school on paper is the best school for their child. However, just like a career, a school that is appropriate for one may not be right for another. Here are some helpful tips.

Public Versus Private

The basic goal is to match a school with your child’s interests and abilities. Visit both the public and private schools in your area. Trust your instincts. As a parent, you know your child best.

When To Start Looking

Preschool: There are a few schools that will accept names on a wait-list as soon as your child is born. However, most schools do not want to track that information 3-4 years before enrollment. For almost all DFW schools, it is a common misconception that children must be “on the list from birth.”

Generally, most open house dates run between September and December for the upcoming August school year. So, I would recommend starting one year before you plan to enroll your child, typically when your child is almost 3 years old. Most children start preschool as 3-year-olds about to turn 4.

First Grade: Public schools allow first grade admission to children who have turned 6 years old before September 1. In private schools, the trend seems to be that boys are a few months older than their public school counterparts. For example, first graders are usually between 6 years plus a few months and 7 years plus a few months for the most successful school experience.

‘Primer’ is an option that’s offered in select private schools for children who are not yet ready for first grade. A child’s emotional and physical maturity is an important consideration. To enter first grade, a child should already have a solid foundation of basic number and math concepts, beginning reading skills and written communication skills.

Preschool Versus Kindergarten

If you’re considering preschool for your child, choose a school that will introduce your child to the excitement of learning. This is your child’s first exposure to learning — socially, emotionally and academically — and his or her first chance to be involved in the classroom. When choosing a preschool, the DFW area has a large range of options. Look for a school that offers a wonderful introduction to learning, making friends, interactive-discovery and engaging playtime. These skills set the tone for healthy development and a positive school experience.

At the kindergarten level of schooling, children learn through play and discovery. The many centers and activities a child experiences provide a good framework to develop a love of learning that can last a lifetime. They learn the fundamentals of reading, writing and math. They also learn to express themselves and their feelings through language, art, music, movement and blocks. They develop social skills such as learning to care for themselves and their supplies and materials, and how to cooperate and get along with others.

What To Look For

Accreditation: Accreditation is extremely important for creditability. It is a voluntary process that schools may choose to pursue. Each accrediting organization has specific requirements, standards and guidelines to which each school must adhere. Upon completion, the participating schools receive credentials that maintain the standards for their institution.

Learning Philosophies: Though opinions on the issue differ, I feel that accreditation is the most important criterion for a school to have. It is vital to know that a school is teaching “developmentally appropriate” material at each age and grade level. The standards and guidelines that govern private facilities are outlined by the specific agencies the school adheres too. Information relating to private school accreditation is specified by the Texas Private School Accreditation Commission (TEPSAC).

The Montessori Method is a means of scientific assistance to the total development of the child: social, intellectual, psychic and physical. The environment is carefully prepared so that the child’s sense of order is fulfilled and clutter does not distract the learning process. Activities are scientifically designed in a “prepared environment” with didactic materials each child can use individually or with a group. Concentration develops through work with the hands, leading to self-discipline and independence through self-direction. There is also freedom of choice within well-defined limits.

Traditional Classical education covers grammar, logic and rhetoric. Logic and rhetoric are often taught by the teacher who raises questions and the class discusses them. By controlling the pace, the teacher can keep the class very lively, yet disciplined.

An A Beka curriculum is a traditional academic curriculum that is presented in a very structured manner with the content focusing upon the Bible, with a Christian perspective.

The term “progressive education” has been used to describe ideas and practices that aim to make schools more effective agencies of a democratic society. The education of engaged citizens, according to this perspective, involves two essential elements: (1) Respect for diversity, meaning that each individual should be recognized for his or her own abilities, interests, ideas, needs and cultural identity; and (2) the development of critical, socially engaged intelligence, which enables individuals to understand and participate effectively in the affairs of their community in a collaborative effort to achieve a common good. These elements of progressive education have been termed “child-centered” and “social reconstructionist.”

Coed Versus Single Gender: This is a personal choice, but many children find their concentration skills are better in a single gender school environment. Other children will maintain that coed schools enhance teamwork, communication skills and peer relationships. Personally, I feel that both have advantages. Seek out the school that best meets your child’s learning needs.

Ongoing Schools: Some schools offer classes through high school. You can choose an ongoing school to avoid your child having to change, however, most children do not go to one school for their entire K-12 career. Parents shouldn’t get caught up in planning their child’s entire lifetime. There is a high likelihood that a child will desire to switch schools before finishing high school, and these preferences should be discussed and considered at the appropriate time. The reality is that it’s hard to know now if, four or five years down the road, that is still the right school for your child. Do what is best for your child for the upcoming two or three years first.

The Admissions Process

The admissions process can be overwhelming, but here are a few pointers to make your child’s admission to any school a good experience.

My first recommendation is to take advantage of question-and-answer discussions at a prospective school’s open house — I find that they are an excellent way to get a sense of the school’s overall environment. After visiting several schools, you should begin to independently research your favorites, looking for obvious aspects that might provide the most comfortable fit for your child, and then request the admittance policies and procedures from each. Experience has confirmed my belief in two educational principles time and time again: first and foremost, you should always trust your instincts; and secondly, you need to be objective and honest about your child’s ability versus the school’s expectations.

All schools require an application form, which should be completed and returned to the appropriate admissions office. Generally, applications are available the first week of September. If you have multiple applications or more than one child applying, it is often helpful to use a calendar specific to the admissions process. There are multiple deadlines within each application, and having a calendar on which these dates are clearly marked will lower the stress level and assist in making sure all forms are returned in a timely manner.

Some schools have open, year-round or rolling enrollment, and accept students at any time if there are openings.

Other forms that may be required:

  • Immunization Records
  • Health Form
  • Emergency Medical Form
  • Birth Certificate
  • Enrollment Form
  • Proof of Medical Insurance
  • School Records
  • Teacher Recommendations
  • Standardized Test Scores (If Available)

Many schools require both a student and parent interview. A member of the admissions office of the respective school will call to schedule the required interviews and/or group observations. Generally, younger applicants are observed in group situations and older children have a formal interview. Remember, appearance is a factor in a school’s admission decisions as well as a child’s academic record, recommendations and extracurricular activities.

Most schools require an entrance test. Specific tests administered vary from school to school. The following is a broad list that may or may not reflect all tests offered by all schools.

  • Entrance Exam Prepared by Individual School
  • OLSAT
  • ISEE
  • ERBs
  • Stanford Achievement Test
  • ITBS Achievement Testing
  • Gesell Developmental Readiness
  • Diagnostic Evaluations (Where Appropriate for Alternative Schools)
  • Woodcock-Johnson-R
  • Iowa Test of Basic Skills

Test taking can be a stressful experience for the student and parent. Be sure to explain the procedure with your child to ease any concerns he or she may have. Becoming familiar with the test format is very helpful for students — knowing what to expect will relieve some of the anxiety of test taking.  Remember, your child can only do his or her best. That is all anyone should expect.

Specific tests administered vary from school to school. Contact your school’s admissions office for this information.

Some standardized tests are accepted by several schools. Therefore, your child will only be required to take the test once and the results will be forwarded to each school being applied to. Be sure to verify what test is required of each school.

Other Important Notes

There is usually an application fee and often a separate testing fee. The application fee varies from school to school.

Out of state applicants are accepted by most schools.

The admissions process is VERY competitive.  It is critical for your child’s self-esteem for her or him to understand that not being accepted to a school is not a reflection on the child’s worth. Many more children are not accepted than are asked to join a school community.

We recommend that your child apply to more than one school to increase the odds of acceptance.

I personally feel that the right school is one in which your child both enjoys the curriculum, has good peer relationships and has a guiding mission that you can support as a family. If your child is happy at his or her school and you are satisfied with the academic quality, I would of course recommend re-enrolling. However, it is sometimes necessary to explore other options and reassess what feels appropriate, both for you and your child.

Sometimes research alone is not sufficient. As an education strategist, I have had the opportunity to meet with countless families to discuss complex issues concerning their educational choices. Some of the more common issues are:

  • A child is asked to relocate to a more appropriate school after it is determined the school cannot meet the needs of the child.
  • A family is new to the DFW area.
  • A family needs an expert opinion in choosing between the schools their child has been accepted to.
  • A family needs additional advice about school evaluation criteria.
  • A family is overwhelmed by the school search, the admissions process or both, and need coaching and/or a comprehensive strategy to ensure educational success.

Preparing Your Child For A Successful Education

Common Characteristics of Successful Students: According to Dr. Sharon L. Ramey and Dr. Craig T. Ramey in “Going to School: How to Help Your Child Succeed,” there are ten common characteristics, as follows:

  1. They are eager to learn.
  2. They ask a lot of questions and they ask for help.
  3. They work hard and know that their effort matters.
  4. They have well-developed social and emotional skills.
  5. They are good at assessing their skills.
  6. Their parents are role models for learning.
  7. Their parents promote learning by “natural” teaching at home.
  8. Their family routines support doing well in school.
  9. Their parents are effective at setting and maintaining limits.
  10. Their schools have high expectations for student achievement, support teacher development and communicate frequently with parents.

Helping Your Child Be Prepared for Preschool: Tell your child that you’re looking for a school and drive by the school to show it to the child. This way, he or she can begin to feel comfortable with the environment. Explain the basic process of starting school, prepare them for a few questions the school may ask them and take a tour with the child, if possible, so the comfort level rises.

Helping Your Child Be Prepared for Kindergarten or 1st Grade: There are many activities parents can do at home to help their children. Just remember to keep it fun, as this is how children learn best. A few things to do include: sorting and classifying (buttons, socks from the laundry, pictures, etc.), pretend play (grocery store, post office, etc.), using rhymes and making up stories to help with language skills, writing (writing letters can be fun!), copy and make up your own patterns, dot-to-dot pictures, mazes, dominoes, puzzles and lots of games (any board games or activities like “I Spy” to encourage cooperation and observational skills). Of course, reading books should be a very important part of every day!

Developmentally Appropriate Skills for a 5-Year-Old: A 5-year-old has become quite adept with language, often having a vocabulary of over 3,000 words. However, it is still possible and quite normal to have some speech difficulties, especially with R, V, L, TH, J and Z. Socially, a 5-year-old likes to choose his or her own special friends, and will be able to play games, negotiate rules and try to resolve conflicts. They are often very competitive. Physically, children can throw balls well and are learning to catch, using hands alone. They have learned or are learning to button, unbutton, use zippers and tie their shoelaces. Most 5-year-olds are learning to hold a pencil or crayon correctly and will enjoy drawing and writing. Intellectually, children at this age are starting to use some logical thinking in games such as Tic-Tac-Toe or Concentration. They are starting to understand spatial relationships, calendars and time.

The Importance of Play: Play is important to all areas of development. Socially, children learn to take turns, cooperate and share. They make up rules, follow rules and learn to work through conflicts. Children may learn about leadership. Play is also important to language development. Children learn new vocabulary from others, as well as communication skills. Story comprehension can be improved through relating events and sequences of events to others. Intellectually, children learn new ideas and skills, as well as improving their problem solving abilities. Physically, children improve their stamina, flexibility, strength, coordination and fitness.

Other Notes

Boys With Summer Birthdays: Most private schools enroll at 7-years-old and public schools at 6-years-old. Schools are looking at maturity for their 1st grade enrollment. Boys are often held back a year in either preschool or kindergarten.

Acronyms: The private school industry has many acronyms that parents must understand. These acronyms describe how private schools are organized. Know this lingo — it will help you in the long run. The various accrediting organizations have specific guidelines to which each school must adhere.

  • ACSI: Association of Christian Schools International
  • ACTABS: Accreditation Commission of the Texas Association of Baptist Schools
  • ICAA: The International Christian Accrediting Association
  • ISAS: Independent Schools Association of the Southwest
  • LSAC: Texas District of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod
  • NAEYC: National Association for the Education of Young Children
  • NCSA: National Christian Schools Association of America
  • SACS: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
  • SAES: Southwestern Association of Episcopal Schools
  • TAAPS: Texas Alliance of Accredited Private Schools
  • TCCED: Texas Catholic Conference Education Department
  • TSDA: Texas Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists
  • Additional Schools
  • Alternative Schools
  • Curriculum Alternatives
  • Montessori Schools
  • TDPRS: Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services
By Lynn H. Magid, www.metroplexbaby.com
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