CHOOSING THE BEST PRIVATE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
When it comes to choosing the best private elementary school in Miami for your child, there are a lot of factors to consider.
Why choose a private elementary school?
A private elementary school is one where families pay a yearly tuition for their child to attend, and also undergo an admissions and acceptance process. Private schools often offer more freedom when it comes to elementary school curriculum and special programs. They can innovate and adapt quicker than is often possible in a public school.
In private elementary schools, class sizes are often smaller than in public schools, which results in a lower student-to-teacher ratio. Private elementary school teachers work towards giving each of their students the support and guidance necessary for them to succeed. This attention can increase a child’s self-esteem, confidence, and leadership skills. As well, a smaller student population may reduce the risk of negative behaviors such as bullying, thanks to its increased supervision.
Many families choose a particular private elementary school because they like the school’s mission, values, and culture. Because of this, the parents of the child enrolled in the school are often more involved in events and activities in the school community compared to public schools.
Choosing the best private elementary school: a step-by-step guide
Once you have decided you want your child to attend this type of school, there are several steps to follow, and factors to consider. Here are some important things to remember when choosing the best private school for your child:
Know your child
You may have one or two private elementary schools in mind, but it’s important to take a step back and honestly evaluate if they will be right for your child. No two schools are created equal, and each one will have a different educational philosophy and approach to education.
Before narrowing down your list of prospective schools, take some time to consider your child’s personality, needs, strengths, and weaknesses. This will help you find an elementary school that will give your child the support they need, and a learning style that suits them best. You may ask yourself questions like these:
- Is my child learning a second language?
- Does my child learn best through seeing, doing, or listening?
- Is my child shy or confident?
- Does my child have special needs that must be met?
- Does my child need individual attention?
- Is my child interested in physical activity, art, music, science, or other things?
- Does my child like to work in groups or alone?
There is no right or wrong answer to these questions; they are simply factors about your child’s personality that you may rank highly when choosing the best private elementary school for them. For example, if your child learns best through hands-on experiences or comes up with their own ideas to investigate, you may want to consider private elementary schools that offer more expressive and child-centered education such as Reggio Emilia.
Create a list
Once you have a clear understanding of your child’s personality and needs, you can begin to attach other qualities to the ideal private elementary school.
Write down your goals and must-haves for your child’s education. In addition to these, include deal-breaker items that your ideal school should not have. With this list, you can include requirements for your family as well as for your child. Rank these items by importance, and use that list as a basis for narrowing down your search.
For example, you may want a school that is within walking distance of your home or work, is a nut-free facility, is involved in its community, and offers basic musical instruction. You may also want to make sure your child’s best private elementary school tuition does not exceed a certain pre-determined amount.
Some common requirements parents have when choosing the best private elementary school include:
- Distance from home and work
- Focus and quality of curriculum
- Educational philosophy
- Co-ed or single-gender school
- Religious education, if any
- Day or boarding school
- Use of technology in the classroom
- Language education
- Cost of tuition
- Consideration of learning, emotional, or physical needs
- Enrichment activities, including STEM
- Extracurricular activities
- Student-to-teacher ratio
- Class sizes
- School’s mission and values
- Homework policy
- School’s academic performance or achievements
- Particular academic focus, if applicable
- Before and after school program, if necessary
- Number of grade levels available
- Facilities available
- Level of parental and community involvement
- Availability of summer programs
Speak to other parents
Other parents are a great source of knowledge when it comes to how to pick the best private elementary school. Ask around your community and network of friends and family to see if there are any schools that are recommended, particularly if students share a similar learning style or personality with your child. You can ask about the curriculum, daily school life, staff, the admissions process, and even how the school has influenced their child. How do these things align with your own values and wants?
When talking to other parents about the private elementary school their child attends, don’t be hesitant to ask about the disadvantages of the school. Even if the parent is happy with the school, each child is different, so take into consideration any factors that might rule a particular school out for your family.
The opinion of other private elementary school families is not the most important factor when choosing the best school, but it’s good to take their information seriously. You know your child best, but the firsthand experience of other families can be invaluable.
Collect information about each school
Once you’ve narrowed down your list, begin contacting prospective schools. You can ask some initial questions that may help you decide if you want to proceed further. For example:
- What are the school’s main beliefs and teaching philosophy?
- What curriculum does the school use?
- What training do the teachers have?
- What is the tuition and what does it include?
- What are the common fees or expenses?
- Does the school offer classes year-round, or on a traditional schedule?
- What extracurricular activities are offered?
- What are the main behavioral policies and procedures?
- What are the emergency procedures?
- How big is the administrative and support team?
Ask to be sent literature for prospective families. You can use this initial phone call to ask questions related to your must-have requirements that may not be covered in the school’s literature.
After reviewing the literature, you may be able to condense your list of prospective private elementary schools even further.
Book a tour
Once you’ve narrowed down your choices to a shortlist of about five schools, book a tour of each. This is a critical step in choosing the right private elementary school. On a school tour, you can get a sense of the school’s environment, facilities, and staff that you cannot get in any other way.
Here are some of the main initial things to look out for during a tour of a private elementary school:
- Does it seem like an environment that would be good for your child?
- Is the teaching style what you envisioned for your child?
- Do students seem engaged and happy?
- Does staff seem helpful and friendly?
- Are the facilities clean and safe?
- If other parents are there, do they seem open and welcoming?
- What is the interaction like between students and teachers?
The National Association of Elementary School Principals suggests several more considerations for parents during a school tour, including:
- How often are textbooks and classroom materials reviewed and updated?
- Does the school have clubs for special interests like music, drama, and chess?
- How does the school communicate with parents?
- What is the class size?
- How are students assessed?
- Do teachers work by themselves with students in small groups or do they work in teams to teach larger groups?
- What types of parent involvement take place at this school?
- How does this school encourage and monitor students’ progress toward meeting academic standards?
- What are some of the school’s greatest accomplishments?
- What are some of the biggest challenges this school faces?
You may want to use our checklist of the top 25 questions to ask during a private elementary school tour:
- What is your typical student like?
- What are the typical families of your school like?
- How is your school philosophy applied in the classroom and the community?
- What is the student-to-teacher ratio?
- How much individual attention do students receive?
- Do you have students with learning disabilities or special needs?
- What training and qualifications do your teachers have?
- Are there professional development opportunities for teachers?
- What is the turnover rate for teachers and staff?
- What extracurricular activities do you offer?
- Are there special conditions or fees for activities?
- Is there financial aid available?
- What technology do you use in the classroom?
- Is there language education?
- Do you have enrichment programs such as art, music, science, and technology?
- Are students graded? If so, how? If not, how is progress measured?
- How do you keep parents informed of their child’s activities and progress?
- What is the student attendance rate?
- Do parents get involved in school life?
- What is your discipline policy?
- How do you handle a child who is learning at a different rate from others?
- What are your emergency procedures?
- What are your safety and security procedures?
- What is your homework policy?
- Why do students enjoy coming here?
This list is not exhaustive, and you may want to customize it based on your own requirements and questions.
Attend parent interviews or other admissions events
Some schools will hold interviews with parents, or have specific events designed for prospective families to learn more about the school. For example, some schools will hold an open house, where parents can hear from top administration and ask questions. These will help the school to get to know you, and give you more information to help you make your decision.
The school tour is your best chance to ask detailed questions about your prospective private elementary school, but admissions events and parent interviews are also an ideal opportunity.
In addition to parent interviews or admissions events, some private elementary schools will allow your child to attend a class. This will give your child the opportunity to see if they would like to attend the school. Your child may be shy or nervous in this new environment, but it’s important to not discount their feelings after attending this class. You want to pick a private elementary school where your child will thrive and be happy.
Choose your top schools and apply
Once you have created and pared down your list of prospective schools, talked to other parents, reviewed the schools’ literature, and taken tours, you should have a good idea of which private elementary schools will be the best for your child. Even if one school seems perfect, applying to more than one is recommended. Your child may not be admitted to one school, but may be admitted to your second or third choice.
The admissions process for private elementary school varies by school. However, the most important thing to keep in mind is to begin the process early to ensure you meet all relevant dates and deadlines.
Be sure you understand all that’s required of you in the elementary school admissions process. Aside from their own admissions forms, some schools will require supporting documentation from you such as:
- A copy of your child’s birth certificate
- Up-to-date physical examination and immunization records from your child’s pediatrician
- A school recommendation form
- Other letters of recommendation
- Your child’s student transcript, if applicable
- Your child’s test scores, if applicable
- An essay, if applicable
When it comes to filling out the application forms, admission advisors recommend being as detailed as possible in order to ensure that your child’s needs will be met. In particular, make note of any learning struggles, need for specialized attention, or advanced academic skills your child may have.
Many private elementary schools also hold in-person interviews with applying families and children. Depending on your child’s age and the school in question, this interview may be formal or informal. Generally, schools like to discover what the child likes to learn about, what their interests and beliefs are, how well they get along with others, and their general personality. Because families become part of the private elementary school family, getting to know you may be part of the admissions process as well.
Once you have completed the admissions process, your child may be placed on a waitlist. This means that your child is considered qualified to attend the school, but there are not enough spaces available for them to enroll. If another admitted child’s family does not end up accepting an offer of admission, then their space may be made available for your child. While waiting can be difficult for some, you may be able to write to the school to assert your interest. You can also check in periodically to follow up, unless the school has made it clear that they do not accept these types of questions. Taking the initiative in this way may keep your child top of mind if a space opens up. However, there is not much that can be done to expedite the waitlist process, so it’s best to remain patient. It is also important to explore options at the other schools on your shortlist, and not rule any of them out.
With these tips, you will have a better chance of finding a private elementary school where your child will thrive and learn many important skills. Investing in your child’s elementary school education will give them a strong foundation for the future.