Before the kids even start packing up their toys and taking down the posters, it’s time to ask one of those Big Questions: where will you send them to school in your new hometown? If you’ve got a number of options, choosing the best school requires a solid checklist. Here are the steps you must take when you’re moving with kids.
First, make a list of must-haves for your ideal new school. What is most important to you and your children? Relocating with children means you now have the opportunity to select an educational opportunity best suited to your vision. Then, if you are moving long distance, set up a call to ask these questions of potential schools:
- How far are the schools from your new home?
This will impact whether they can ride the bus or public transit as well as how convenient it is for you to bring them their forgotten homework. As you’re listing out your options, use Google Maps or something similar to check the commute time from each potential school and decide what your cutoff is.
- What is the student to teacher ratio?
Most parents want to be sure their children are receiving enough 1:1 attention, so take a look not only at the size of the school itself but at the number of teachers and, if possible, class sizes in the grade your child will be entering. Most schools should make this information readily available.
- Are the school lunches up to par?
Does the cafeteria provide healthy, fresh lunches for students, or do they count pizza as a vegetable? If your child will be eating breakfast at school, are there good options to start the day off right?
- What are the qualifications of the staff?
Find out whether the staff are experienced and highly educated, including the principal or director. Ask what her or his background is, and inquire about what sorts of support staff work at the school: career counselors, athletics, etc.
- What is the curriculum like?
This depends on your personal educational philosophy: is it experiential? More traditional? How is grading handled, and what are the academic expectations of students? Does the school offer languages, arts, or other diverse learning opportunities? How much mandatory testing goes on through the year?
- What types of extracurricular opportunities are offered?
If your child is an athlete or a musical prodigy, will they be supported in their training or studies? Perhaps he or she has always taken an interest in debate, but has never had the opportunity. Now is your chance.
- Does the school offer field trips?
If so, how many per year? Are they funded, or do they cost extra? Will you be asked or offered the chance to go along as a chaperone if you’d like?
- How safe is the school?
Many public websites offer safety ratings for city schools, but you can also ask about safety precautions that the school takes. Are volunteers background checked? Are teachers trained in what to do in the case of an emergency? How do they handle bullying? Do they have a nurse on staff with ample supplies? How do they handle school visitors?
- How well is the school funded and equipped?
If it is a public school, what kind of budget do they have for supplies? If it is private, what kind of endowment does the school have to purchase new supplies? Do they have a good library, and modern science and computer equipment?
- Are there modified educational opportunities?
If your child is advanced or needs special assistance in some areas, does the school have the ability to accommodate those educational differences? At the high school level, do they offer college preparatory or AP classes?
- At the high school level, how does the school rank nationally?
High schools are regularly ranked in terms of academic excellence among other qualifications. Testing scores can be one indicator, but private schools are typically ranked on another scale. You can also look at where graduating students attend college, as well as successful graduation rates.
- Is there a PTA or other parent involvement group?
How are parents encouraged or invited to participate in guiding the school’s path? How involved do you want to be in the school’s decisions?
- Is quality child care available before and/or after school?
If you work 8-5, your child will need after-school programming — or maybe even before school programming too. Does the school provide options for these times that are high-quality and well-supervised?
- How much of a lunch break is provided, and how much outdoor time are the kids given each day?
More and more research is showing that outdoor time is important. Make sure there is ample time and space for this to happen daily.
Getting the answers to these questions will help you narrow down the choices and decide on the best school for your child. One less thing to stress about while you’re moving. For more info on moving with kids, read our article on how to help your kids adjust to a new city or school.