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Evaluating Middle Schools

When it is time to consider a middle school for your child, you will have a better understanding of what kind of learner your child is, his academic strengths and challenges, and her extracurricular interests (i.e., art, music, sports). These characteristics will help guide your search for a middle school that would be a good fit for your child.

When thinking about middle schools, it is important to engage your child as much as possible. Talk with him about what he would like in their new school, take her on tours with you and encourage her to ask questions. Ask about his observations of the school and listen carefully to his comments. Remember, she will be spending a lot of time at the school. He needs to believe that this is a place where he will feel excited about learning, as well as feel happy and comfortable.

While on the tour, observe the school environment. Listen carefully to what you hear: at the orientation, the discussions taking place in the classrooms, the tone of the teachers. Take notice of any work in the classrooms and the hallways. Feel free to ask lots of questions.

The following are some questions to consider before and during the tour:

Location and Size

  • What is the overall size of the school? How many students are there per class and grade?
  • Is the class size important? What is the student to teacher ratio?
  • Are you comfortable with a small school or would you prefer a larger school? Are you seeking a school for the middle school years only? Or are you interested in a school that continues through high school?
  • Are you interested in a school with a large college like campus? Or an urban campus?
  • Do the younger and older students interact with each other? In what ways?
  • Would your child benefit from being in a single sex school? Or is a co-ed setting ideally suited?
  • How will your child get to school and home each day? Are you comfortable with her traveling alone? Can she travel with a friend or neighbor to school? Are there private bus companies that can transport her?

Educational Philosophy and Curriculum

  • What are my child's academic strengths or weaknesses? Will a particular middle school further develop her strengths and help her to overcome her weaknesses?
  • What are my child's interests? Is she interested in a particular topic/subject area? Do you want to encourage this course of study through a school program or help your child explore a new area of study to expand her interests?
  • What is my child's learning style? Does he do best working in groups or individually? Does he need a traditional or a more open environment in which to learn? Would he be more comfortable in a larger sized school or a smaller school?
  • 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? How does the school articulate the expectations?
  • What kinds of students does the school serve best?
  • How diverse is the student and teaching body?
  • 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?
  • 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?
  • Where do students go for high school? What kind of support/guidance will your child receive when applying to high school?

Facility

  • What are the facilities like? Are they well-maintained?
  • 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?
  • What athletic and extra-curricular activities are offered? Does my child need to be super athletic to participate in sports or can anyone?

Need Assistance?

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

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