School Visit Advice?

So I have this open house coming up at Jenks in a week.  I am going primarily to learn about the school, obviously.  However, as this will be my first experience, I am also hoping to learn about the process of open houses.  What kinds of questions should I ask?  What should I be looking for?  I will definitely be paying attention to what the other parents are asking so I can get ideas.  I assume that school officials will try to show off their best attributes and that parents will focus on what they might perceive to be the weaknesses of the school or specific needs of there children.  Are there other questions that you suggest?

Similarly, I also want to visit schools during school hours so I can see the schools and teachers in action.  I have the same concerns there about what to ask, but they are magnified because I will not have any peers to look to for guidance.

Does anyone out there have suggestions on questions to ask and things to look for on open houses and school visits?  I am assuming that many of these questions will answer themselves as I visit more schools, but I want to hot the ground running as much as i can.

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5 Responses to “School Visit Advice?”

  1. ANONYMOUS Says:

    Some thoughts off the top of my head…

    (and a “disclaimer” that I haven’t done a school search as a parent yet, just beginning to look at preschools for my son for Fall 2011, but I am a “teacher-on-hiatus” with experience teaching in and being on the Admissions committees for two local independent schools).

    The most ambiguous thing I’d look for is “the vibe” – you’ll know when the vibe feels welcoming and child-friendly and when it just feels wrong somehow.

    Diversity (race/ethnicity, religion, family structure, socio-economic, etc.) of student body and faculty/staff.

    Homework policy…are kids in the youngest grades getting no homework (thumbs up), just a teeny tiny bit of homework, or too much homework?

    How active/involved are parents in the community?

    How are conflicts between students handled? Is there a social curriculum that proactively helps students feel connected to one another and helps them learn appropriate ways to share feelings/opinions, stand up for themselves, etc.?

    Does the curriculum reflect students’ interests at least some of the time or is everything students learn from Sept-June coming from the “top down?”

    How much of student learning is through hands-on, experiential projects/tasks and how much is just sitting and listening/reading?

    What “specials” (art, music, etc.) are offered and how often?

    Look for how teachers are interacting with students and how faculty/staff interact with one another.

    How often do kids go outside? Does a little drizzle keep them in? Snow?

    How much playtime (for both the younger and older grades) each day? How much of that play time is of the “free choice” variety (e.g. kids might choose imaginary play in a “playhouse” or constructing with blocks, etc.)?

    If an issue arises for your child (academic, behavioral, social), does the teacher get in touch with you sooner rather than later?

    What approach is used to teach reading and writing? (e.g. basal readers, authentic literature, workshop format)

    There’s so many more things, but those are what came to me right now. Hope it helps!

  2. Erika Says:

    Interesting topic! It reminded us of an article from a 1997 edition of the Notebook. I’ve reposted the article on how to observe a class, http://www.thenotebook.org/content/how-watch-your-childs-class and started a thread on our site about this topic, http://www.thenotebook.org/blog/102081/archives-classroom-observation

    Thanks for the prompt! Also, thanks for linking us in your blog roll, we’ve added you to our blog roll as well.

  3. Samuel Says:

    This is a good question. I agree with the other responder regarding feeling the vibe of the school. I would play close attenntion to students, they can offer the best insight into a school culture. Some schools have parent walk throughs, where parents get to walk through classes looking for evidence of of teaching and learning. My son’s charter schools, Mastery Charter have parent walk throughs that seem to be on the same level as walk throughs administrators have. If you could visit a school during a walk through process, they may give lots of insights about the teaching and learning at the school.

    By the way, thank you for linking to my Philadelphia Public School Notebook blog post about Charter Schools.

  4. ANONYMOUS Says:

    the point made about “vibe” is really key. The principal and teachers and say a whole lot about what goes on but the vibe may not fit with what they are saying. I found it helpful to visit schools more than once – the open house, the group tour if they offer that option, and personal visits where I could observe the classrooms in action. (I was able to do this at both Houston and Henry – the principals were very open to it) You get different info from teachers in a one on one conversation than in the open house group format. I.e. a teacher at Houston started telling me how she moved to the burbs because she wouldn’t send her kids to Philly schools. . .

    The group of parents from MAPN who were looking at kindergartens two years ago scheduled to visit Houston together – I found this helpful because other parents asked questions that I didn’t think of. This was the same when we did the monthly tour at Henry.

    Good luck!

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