The right school ignites a spark in your child. It can help them fall in love with learning, connect with teachers who inspire them, uncover talents and gain confidence.
Finding that school, however, may take a little time.
With so many private, public and charter schools in the Tampa Bay area, it can be overwhelming just figuring out where to start the search process. But fall is the perfect time to begin looking for the following school year. Many schools offer admissions open houses, inviting potential families in for an overview of their programs and a tour of their facilities.
Conducting preliminary research combined with on-campus visits will help you narrow down your school options and identify a good match. These tips will take you through the different phases of your school search and the types of questions you should ask along the way.
Before Your Visit to the School
You can begin looking for a school without even leaving your house. Your first step is to think about your family’s priorities.
- What type of school are you interested in? Are you looking for a private independent school, a public education or a school that offers religion classes? Do you want a school that specializes in certain grades or takes your child from preschool to high school? Does your family value exposure to the arts, global perspectives, athletic opportunities or a commitment to community service?
- What makes the most sense for you? Balance your wish list with practical considerations, such as your commute to work or your hours. What location is ideal for you? Will you need bus transportation to your neighborhood or an extended day program for afternoon child care?
- What do others say, and what does the school say about itself? Recommendations from friends and neighbors, online searches and advertisements can help you identify the local schools that align with your preferences. Sift through school websites for answers to questions surrounding lunch programs, dress codes, after-school activities, tuition and fees, accreditations and more. You’ll see what academic programs they highlight and the kinds of events on their calendar. School social media sites can give you a feel for daily life on campus and a sense of the school’s approach to teaching and learning, its culture and community.
Once you have honed in on your top choices, it’s time to head to campus for a private tour or to attend an open house.
An admissions open house provides families the chance to experience a school firsthand without any pressure.
Every school has its own approach to open houses, but generally school leaders share an overview of their programs, educational philosophies and core values before allowing guests to meet some staff and visit classrooms.
If the open house takes place during the school day, when Corbett Prep schedules its admissions events, families have a chance to see the school and students in action.
Your earlier research will have given you general information about the school, but visiting campus and meeting faculty members can teach you more about topics important to you.
You may want to know about teacher training and the type of professional development the school offers as well as the strategies teachers use for differentiating instruction and engaging students.
You can ask about class size and how it affects learning. You can get details about typical schedules and find out how often students attend enrichment or specials classes, how much free play they have daily and whether they include social-emotional learning in addition to academics.
When the time comes for a tour, pay attention to what you see and feel.
- In the classrooms, are students engaged and happy? Are they sitting in traditional rows of desks or working collaboratively? Are the facilities clean, in good condition and well equipped?
- Are there outside spaces available for kids to work or play? How are they used? Corbett Prep has fields and playgrounds for physical education and play time but also has benches, tables and other spots for reading and lessons outside.
- Does the school embrace diversity, and is it reflected in its student body and faculty?
- What’s the energy of the school? It may be hard to pinpoint why, but you’ll have a gut feeling about a school. It’s worth listening to your instincts.
Throughout your visit, keep track of questions you have about what you see and hear. An open hour may be too busy for you to find out everything you need, and you may want to return for a personal tour or eventually schedule a time for your child to shadow in a classroom.
The last question is one to ask yourself – is the school a place where you could see your child happy and successful? Ultimately, this is an individual decision.
It may take some legwork on your part as a parent as you sift through recommendations and research, but with so many choices, you’re sure to discover a good fit for your family.
*Presented by Corbett Preparatory School of IDS | Originally published in November 2022 of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine.