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Evaluating Elementary/Lower Schools

Visiting schools, talking with parents and the director, and observing classes in action will help you gain an understanding of each school setting to determine which are among the “best” school options for your elementary school-aged child. No school will have every quality you want, and no school is right for every child, but there are many good educational options for your child and schools with which you will want to be involved.

As you begin to consider and visit elementary schools, it is important to be reflective and clear about your family values, goals, and needs. As your child grows it becomes increasingly important to be realistic about what kind of learner your child is. Seek guidance from your child’s current teacher about suggestions for schools or classrooms where she will thrive, look for learning environments that will both excite and support her, and search for schools with resources that can cultivate her interests.

The following is list of questions to keep in mind as you consider and tour elementary schools. Families seeking admission to JrK and K programs may also want to refer to the list of questions in the Nursery school section.

Location and Size

  • Are you looking for a school in your home neighborhood? Near your job? Can you and your child handle commuting by bus or train to school? Or is a school within walking distance preferred?
  • How will distance affect the quality of life for you as a family? Will you be able to participate in school activities?
  • Will inclement weather hinder your ability to get to and from school? Or add unnecessary stress?
  • What is the overall size of the school? How many students per class and grade? Are you comfortable with a small school or would you prefer a larger school? Are you seeking a school for the elementary school years only? Or are you interested in a school that continues through middle school or even high school?
  • Are you interested in a school with a large college like campus? Or an urban campus?
  • How do the younger students interact with the older students in the school?
  • Would your child benefit from being in a single sex school? Or is a co-ed setting ideally suited?

Educational Philosophy and Curriculum

  • What is the school’s guiding mission and vision? What is their education philosophy? Are you comfortable with these statements?
  • What is the school’s academic plan? How is this articulated through their pedagogy and curriculum? How does the school teach the core courses: math, reading, science, social studies? Does the course of study make sense? Does the school take advantage of the City’s many resources?
  • What is the school’s philosophy on homework? In what other ways are students evaluated? Tests? Projects? Other Activities?
  • What are school and classroom routines and expectations? How are they articulated to the children?
  • Are activities are directed or regulated by the teacher, the students, or both? Are the expectations are clearly outlined and defined? Are activities open-ended?
  • Do students work alone or in groups? Is there a mix of individual and collaborative group projects?
  • How diverse is the school overall? How many children receive financial aid? Where do families live? Are there students of varying racial and ethnic backgrounds? Is there an international population? Does the teaching staff reflect the student body or the school’s philosophy on diversity?
  • Are the classrooms diverse and comprised of students with different learning styles and abilities? Are children tracked by ability? Would your child thrive in a setting with students of similar abilities or a mixed group? Are you more comfortable within homogeneous or heterogeneous groupings?
  • If a student is challenged academically, what resources are available for them to receive support? If a student is excelling academically, what support is available to support them to grow and have an enriched learning experience?

Facility

  • What are the facilities like? Are they well-maintained? Is the outdoor space within the school, or must students walk a distance to a park?
  • How are children’s special interests and needs met at the school? What kind of opportunities and resources are available for students to explore sports, arts, drama, music, and languages? Are there science labs? A library?
  • Are computers an integral part of the school’s curriculum? How are they used? Must all students have their own computer or are computers available on loan from the school?

Parent Involvement

  • How involved are parents in the school? Does the program require that parents dedicate time or service? Do you have the time and ability to volunteer at the required level of commitment?
  • Are there occasions or events where parents can interact with one another?
  • How do teachers maintain contact with parents? What opportunities are there for parents and teachers to discuss their child’s development, engagement in classroom activities, and their successes and challenges?

Need Assistance?

The Parents League of New York sponsors school fairs, information sessions for parents, and consultation on school options.

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