Finding the Best School for Your Child’s Needs
Are you a parent that likes to plan, or are you more of a wing-it parent?
I plan the little stuff (like vacation itineraries). And then I wing it when it comes to the big stuff (like my kid’s pediatrician). I’m not saying this is a great method, but planning for large things, like my kid’s future school, is overwhelming to me.
When my oldest child was old enough to go to school, we signed up for the neighborhood program because I didn’t realize it was possible to tour schools or really shop around.
I also had no idea that you can pick a public school that reflects the same values and goals you have for your kids.
Looking back, this explains why some of my friends happily drove their kids quite far to their charter public schools – for them, it wasn’t just a building where they could learn ABC’s. This was a place that strategically taught their children values that were important to them.
If you’re like me and need a starting point for school shopping, try answering these questions from Grand Valley State University’s Charter Schools office.
Whether you find a traditional public, charter school, or private school, these questions can help you find that school that will be just right for your kid.
Questions to Ask Before Choosing Your Child’s School
1 – What did I Love About Going to School?
Start with self-reflection.
“Think about things like the classes you loved, the teachers that made you excited to go to school, and the most important things you learned,” suggests Amirah Vosburgh, Manager of School and Community Partnerships (Grand Rapids) for the GVSU Charter Schools Office.
I loved how every teacher in my school knew my name, even if they didn’t have me in class. (I went to a small school.)
Now look at your child. Do you think they’d love the same things? As an introvert, I liked being known without having to be the center of attention. My extroverted kid, though, may not thrive in the same setting.
“Use your own experiences for guidance, but you don’t want them to be the primary factor for selecting a school,” says Amirah.
2 – What Would My Kid Love About School? What are my Goals for Them?
Consider your child’s unique characteristics.
My small school didn’t have much of an arts program. My kids and I love creating, singing, and performing, so finding a school with a dedication to the arts was very important to me. Already, my kids have had more arts learning opportunities in elementary alone than I did my entire learning career.
You may have loved playing high school sports and think your kid might, too. Amirah recommends looking for a school that has an athletics program that does a great job promoting values both on the playing field and in the classroom. Values like collaboration, determination and creativity.
By creating a list of your top priorities in your child’s education, you can focus on detailed questions to ask teachers and principals to see if a school values the same things that you do.
3 – Are there schools that offer unique learning environments that support my kid’s needs and interests?
Look into different types of schools.
America has been realizing that not all kids learn in the same way. And that you can still get a quality education through an array of learning models.
“Every parent wants their kids to be happy when they are at school and to love learning,” says Amirah. “To do that, sometimes they need a school with a special focus or program that allows students to pursue their passions.”
I think this is where charter public schools shine. They are designed to offer unique, innovative environments for learning. They can take risks and try new things to help students excel in the classroom.
In Southwest Michigan alone you can find 12 charter public schools. The more research you do, the more you will learn about which options may be best. You may even discover some you had never heard of before!
4 – Is the School Connected With the Community?
Investigate the connections the school has with the surrounding area.
Community partnerships enrich the learning experience for kids. Who doesn’t love a field trip? Or a local author visit? My kids have loved when real life firefighters and sled dogs have come to their school.
“It’s important to make sure that your child‘s school is helping them access new and exciting pathways for learning,” says Amirah.
Amirah loves that GVSU’s partnership with these charter public schools allows kids to connect with GVSU in ways other students normally don’t.
“They may build a robot with a GVSU engineering professor, visit campus for an exclusive art education experience during ArtPrize, or receive mentorship from a current GVSU student – all in the same year!” shares Amirah.
5 – How Do My Top Schools Compare to Each Other?
Weigh the factors that are really important to you.
Once you’ve got your short list of incredible schools, how can you compare their academic performance?
Amirah recommends this Parent Dashboard for School Transparency.
When you look up a school you can see how well it’s helping students make progress and achieve great academic results. You can also see how that school is doing compared to other schools that have similar characteristics.
6 – How well can a school adapt to the unexpected?
When COVID-19 hit Michigan, schools had to pivot on a dime. Some were better equipped to do this than others. My kids’ school reverted to distance learning pretty seamlessly. My sister’s school, however, could not. They had to rely solely on homework packets for children, which often got lost or weren’t picked up on time or dropped off on time.
Charter public schools like Chandler Woods Charter Academy, William C. Abney Academy and many more were able to keep students moving forward by offering a mixture of online instruction and paper instruction.
“A recent study found that nearly 90% of charter public schools authorized by Grand Valley State University were able to quickly transition to a blended learning environment within just a couple weeks of the school closure announcement,” says Amirah.
That’s because charter public schools have a close connection to the families they serve, which helps them rapidly make the changes as the community needs it.
We don’t know what the future holds for schools right now, but it’s nice to know that a school can quickly adapt to whatever comes its way.
Don’t Worry – You Will Make the Best Choice
Often parents fret over the school they’ve chosen for their kid. If you do your research, then whatever school you choose will be right.
At every school, there are loving teachers, thoughtful curriculum and friendly classmates. But good research will help you find schools that have a little bit more for your kid – that specific education model, that character code or that extracurricular focus that will let your kid soar.
Want to know more about what makes SW Michigan charter public schools unique? I learned these 8 surprising things about charter public schools.
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