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.

As you begin the process of considering 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, s/he will be spending a lot of time at the school. S/He needs to believe that this is a place where he will feel excited about learning, as well as feel happy and comfortable.

Attend School Tours/Open Houses

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 as one or many ways in which a school articulates the learning that is taking place. Feel free to ask lots of questions.

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

  • What are my child's interests? Is she interested in a particular topic/subject area? Should you encourage this course of study through a school program or 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 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 kinds of students does the school serve best?
  • How diverse is the student and teaching body?
  • Is the class size important? What is the student to teacher ratio?
  • 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? Is a metro card available from the Department of Education?
  • What athletic and extra-curricular activities are offered? Does my child need to be super athletic to participate in sports or can anyone?

A word of caution. Although looking at a large number of schools might help you narrow your search, it can be especially overwhelming to a ten year old.

Talk with Other Parents and Students

Talk with other parents whose children are exploring middle schools options as well as those whose children have recently made the transition to middle school. These parents are a rich source of information about the middle schools you are considering. Compare notes with parents who have already visited schools and talk with those on the school visit; get their reaction to what they are observing. Try to learn which schools they are considering and why. As you listen to their observations and comments, remember that you may have values and priorities in your school search that differ from theirs.

Students enrolled in the middle school(s) you are considering will be able to provide an inside look at the day-to-day experience of the school environment. Ask what their school day is like, what they like most about the school, what they like the least. Ask them what they think about the teachers, their schoolmates, extra-curricular activities, etc.

Explore Your Options with Your Child's Teachers

Your child's past or current teacher(s) are an important source of information. They have special insights about your child in a classroom setting and can provide you with guidance on which teaching and learning approach might best suit his or her learning style. Share your excitement and concerns about the schools you have visited. Ask for their opinions, learn what they know about the middle schools in the district or elsewhere and find out which schools they suggest you visit.

Talk with your Child

Continue to talk with your child about middle school and the options you are considering. Remember, that while networking is an important source of information, a school that does not work for one child can be just right for another, and vice a versa. Trust your and your child's judgment.

Look at the Transportation Routes

In NYC, it is common for middle school students to begin to travel alone or with friends. Review the bus and train routes to the schools that interest you. Do you feel comfortable with available transportation? Would you consider, and can you afford, to hire a private bus company to transport your child to and from school? Ask each school you their policy about bus transportation. Even if there is no school bus service for middle schools, eligible students will receive free or half-fare bus/train passes. Although most children travel on their own, you will need to make an independent decision about whether your child is ready to do so.