A good start in elementary school can lay a strong foundation for a lifetime of learning and achievement. When you begin the search for a school for your child, examine not only the characteristics of the school, but also how well the school's style and environment will work with your child's personality and needs.
Meeting Student Needs
A good school is one that can work with a variety of students, including those with special needs. Your school should have an excellent special education program if your child needs special education and you may even want to consider a school designed specifically for students with special needs. Ask about testing and referral services, and ensure that teachers are well-educated about spotting trouble before it affects grades or behavior.
Look for a school with top-notch teachers. According to the Economic Policy Institute, teachers with advanced training and certification in their subjects of expertise produce better-prepared students. Teachers who engage with students as individuals, who check in with students regularly and who carefully monitor student progress make for a great school. Highly experienced teachers also generally have a leg up on their peers, so a school packed with veteran teachers may offer a better quality of education.
It's not just the academic life of a school that matters, but also the environment. A low student-to-teacher ratio ensures that every student gets individualized attention. Check for an anti-bullying policy and ensure that the school environment is safe. Teachers should not send students home with unfamiliar people and students should be carefully monitored throughout the day. A school that calls to check on absent students can help prevent truancy and alert parents to potential problems.
A wide variety of programs can improve the academic life of a school and ensure that each student gets an opportunity to excel. Look for after-school clubs and programs, sports teams and a wide variety of electives. An active science program with a science fair, participation in a local spelling bee and an emphasis on excellence in all areas can all signal a great school. Your child should have ample opportunity to pursue her unique gifts, whether they're in music, art, sports or science.
Parental involvement plays a key role in the success of a school. Ask about the school's parent-teacher organization and look for signs -- such as school bulletins, parent-sponsored activities and communication between parents -- that parents are involved in the life of the school. Open communication, regular conferences and activities for parents are all signs that a school values and nurtures parental involvement.
- PBS Parents: Choosing an Elementary or Middle School
- Education.com: What Makes a School Effective?
- Association for Middle Level Education: Essential Attributes and Characteristics of Successful Schools
- Maine Department of Education: Nine Characteristics of High-Performing Schools
- Economic Policy Institute: Teacher Quality
- Photo Credit Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images