"Help me I'm so confused, I don't know which school to choose for my child". This is what a lot of parents come up to me asking every year at this time of school enrollment applications. So let's organize our thinking and form a guide for every parent to use on this school hunting mission.
We will divide the process into 5 Major Steps:
1. School Fees and Location
2. Your child
3. Research schools
4. Visits and Orientations
5. The application process
First Step: School Fees and Location
Since each family has a certain budget for school fees, this is the first area to explore so as to exclude the schools that are too high for your budget. I do advise parents though to explore schools a little bit higher than their specified budget if affordable because sometimes a slight financial difference provides a huge service difference. Also do not commit the mistake of excluding a school because you think the fees are too low. Some of those low budget schools though not many can surprise you with excellent or at least the required performance.
After choosing the schools within your family budget start narrowing it down further by location considering the traffic status in Egypt and the daily torture adults go through to commute from home to work, try to spare your child or at least delay his subjection to long hours on the bus.
Second Step: Who is your child? What are his/her need?
You know your child better than anyone else, so you are the best person to decide which type of education he/she requires. So ask yourself:
· Does my child need a more structured or less structured environment?
· Does my child need more individual attention?
· Does my child need an environment that encourages creativity and self expression?
· Does my child learn best by reading, writing, listening or touching?
· Does my child have musical or artistic talents?
· Is my child a logical or mathematical thinker?
Third Step: Research Schools
Consider yourself performing a major research project and start collecting information about the schools in your narrowed down list. Go to School Orientations, Parents Open days and Annuals School Events, and don't forget to take your little notebook to jot down any acquired information. Search the internet and ask other parents who have enrolled their children in the school. But be ware of the generalization problem. We Egyptians commit this mistake daily, if a parent has a problem with a teacher at the school for example, it doesn't necessarily mean that the whole school is a disaster, also make sure to ask about both positives and negatives because some people only monitor the pros while the majority only talk about the cons.
· What curriculum is the school following?
· What are the core subjects and foreign languages?
· Is there an effective reading program?
· Is there a strategy for gifted learners and slow learners?
· What are the extracurricular activities offered?
· Does the school have a particular approach to learning?
· Is there a character education program?
· Is there a discipline outline for all the teachers to follow?
· Is there a school counselor at the school?
· What's the homework policy?
· How large are the classes and what's the ratio of adult to child?
· What is the schools academic performance the previous years?
· Does the school has a health and safety plan?
Fourth Step: School Visits and Observation
By now your list should have narrowed down to 2 – 5 schools which you will now start visiting to see and observe for yourself if the school is up to your expectations, on location look for the following:
· Are the facilities well built and safe?
· Are there adequate areas for physical activities, music and art skills?
· Is there a well stocked library?
· Is there interlibrary loan?
· Do students have regular access to the internet and computers? Are those computers child safe?
· Is there a stage or large assembly room?
· Is there a full time school doctor?
· Does the school offer a well balanced nutritious lunch?
Observe students and teacher:
· Do students appear to be happy and disciplined?
· Do teachers seems helpful and friendly?
· How do teachers deal with misbehavior?
· Do you hear any shouting or threatening?
· How often are parent/teacher conferences?
· In general what do people mostly say about this school?
· Has the school won any awards?
· Where in the community are the graduates of this school?
By now for sure your choices have been trimmed down to 2 – 3 schools, please take into consideration 2 criteria:
1. There is not yet a 100% perfect school, every school has its pros and cons, we just need to fid out which cons you are able to tolerate and which pros are you a priority for you and your child.
2. The previous criteria and questions are not final; you can alter, add or remove a criteria according to each families priorities and way of thinking.
Fifth Step: The application process
So, now you have done all your homework, as a parent it's time to go through the actual process of application and enrollment interview.
Apply at the top three schools on your final school list least you are not accepted at your number one choice you should be accepted at your second or third choice.
A few more days then you get your acceptance phone call and the dilemma is over. You take a deep breath and start preparing your child for his first school tear.
Dr. Mona Youssri,
Child Psychiatrist and Family Counselor