Top 10 questions parents should ask when choosing an elementary school for their children

The elementary school years span a period of significant development in your child’s life – mentally, emotionally and physically. It is a spring board into future learning.  Finding the school for your child and family is an important decision. To help with this decision, keep in mind some questions to ask the schools you are considering.

1.    What distinguishes this school from others?

Educators should be able to articulate in a concise way exactly what makes their school different from other elementary schools.  You should get a clear sense of their commitment to this focus through tangible examples and actual programming initiatives.  

2.    How do you support children with different learning styles and needs?

Depending on your child, you may be looking for different answers to this question, but the truth is, your school of choice needs to be able to accommodate every child’s unique learning needs.  Teachers need to be able to differentiate all lessons and homework plans, depending on the needs of the specific students. 

3.    Does the school stay abreast of the latest educational research and reflect this through innovative programming?

Today’s learning needs look very different from those of 10 years ago and schools need to reflect these changes in their classrooms.  For example, in the 21st century learning classroom, traditional desks have been replaced by modular furniture that allows students to be more active in their learning and teachers more dynamic in their lessons planning.  Innovative programming such as “Mindfulness” and computer coding should be incorporated into the regular curriculum.

4.    How are behaviour problems handled?

It is important to understand a school’s culture and climate. Do they have the measures in place to ensure that behavioral issues are handled and are you comfortable with their approach?  Does the school have dedicated professionals who work on social development programming to promote team building and a positive, inclusive culture within the school? Does the school have a proactive plan in place to respond to bullying? 

5.    Does the school have specialists to support the various academic areas of the curriculum?

In some schools, teachers are expected to be the “jack of all trades”. Ideally, schools should have specialists in the place to focus on technology, art, science, math and help team teach in the classroom so that students can benefit from their expertise.

6.    Is STEM an important priority in the academic roadmap of the school?

STEM is a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in four specific disciplines — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — in an interdisciplinary and applied approach. According to recent research, by 2018, projections estimate the need for 8.65 million workers in STEM-related jobs. Our students need to be learning these skills at an early age and your choice of school should reflect this new reality.

7.    Does the school offer extra-curricular activities that interest your child? 

Extracurricular activities are an integral part of your child’s elementary school experience. Not all children are interested in the same activities so it is important to have diversity and lots of opportunities for your child to stay active outside of regular programming.

8.    How are teachers supported and motivated to continually provide the best experience at school?

It is important to understand the professional culture of a school. Do teachers collaborate and have a unified vision and goal for their students. Is there a “Professional learning community” where teachers can meet regularly and learn from each other?  Research has shown that these types of environments improve teaching effectiveness and develop a positive morale among the staff. 

9.    What are the school's expectations for its students?

Extensive research shows that school and teacher expectations exert powerful influences on students’ behaviour and academic success in school.  If a teacher holds high expectations for students and the students feel supported in reaching these expectations, they will excel. 

10.    Does the school “fit” your family?

At the end of day, make sure that your choice of school feels good for your child and your family.  The fit between home and school is such an important partnership and very often can make or break your elementary school experience. Do the school values mesh with your own?  Will you feel comfortable being a part of this community for the next seven years of your children’s elementary school life?

Jennifer Fraenkel is Head of School for Akiva School, a Jewish Elementary school located in Westmount.  Akiva School teaches to the whole child, focusing on the intellectual, social/emotional and moral character development of every student. Our school promotes independent, creative thinking, anchored in Jewish values and a strong Jewish identity. For more information on Akiva School, please visit our website.