Questions To Ask When Visiting A School

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Visiting a school in person is really the only way to find out what a school is truly like.  While I was working as a substitute teacher, I worked in several different schools across a school district.  There was one elementary school where the teachers received numerous awards for their teaching and the test scores of the students were some of the highest in the region.  I dreaded substitute teaching in that school because the behavior of the students in that school was so poor.

  The children acted very entitled, were very whiny, and argued with the adults at every opportunity.  These children didn't just act this way with substitutes, I watched these kids react the same way to their regular school staff.  This school just happened to have a number of "helicopter parents," parents who become over  involved and indulge their children rather than allowing the children to experience any difficulty.

By all measures, that school looked great on paper.  Any online research would show the great test scores.  Local newspaper articles highlighted the great teachers and the academic strides.  Just a few minutes in that school was enough time to let me know that I wouldn't want to have my children attend that school.  My children do not like to be around other children with poor behavior. 

It only took a short visit to find out what that school was like.  If you can, be sure to visit a school before you enroll your child in that school.

  Call ahead, and find out what rules for visiting the school has that applies for you to come and visit the school.  Ideally you will spend some time getting to observe the classes where your children will be while the classes are in session.  Touring the school during a school day will give you the clearest picture of what the school is really like.

Before you visit, think ahead to what questions you have about the school so you will be able to look for the answers to your questions.  One of the first things to look for when visiting a school is What the school feels like when you walk in?  Is the school inviting and warm?  Does the school lend a busy and structured tone to itself?  Is it regimented and orderly, or free flowing with a  creative spirit?  

Each school has its own unique culture and charm.  You can gain a sense of this right away from the moment you walk into the school.  Throughout your time at the school, be sure to be continuously aware of this sense of feel.  This particular quality is something that can not be summed up purely with numbers or a simple across the board description for all schools.  The feel of a school is a quality that varies tremendously between schools.  Pay attention to how the school feels throughout your visit to the school.

Certain features of a school are worth making sure you can see first hand, if allowed.

 Be sure to ask the school staff if you are not able to visit these parts of the school while it is in session.  What Access is there for a School library?  Your children will visit the school library to learn about books, libraries, how research different topics, and also to find recreational reading material.  

Physical activity is important for anyone to be productive and to be ready to learn. This is especially true for children and teens.  How much time for PE, Gym or Physical Activity is there?  Ask about outdoor recess time, how much time children spend in PE, and what other time for movement is provided.  Look for a mix of unstructured time, such as recess and breaks, and movement provided in class during learning.  Many teachers today create lesson plans that encourage children to move.  This could be dancing and using their arms in the younger grades, or moving between stations or between partners in high school classes.

Where students eat lunch and what lunchtime is like at a school will be a part of the school experience your children will remember.  What is the lunchroom like? What about the school's food?  Do school students all go to a lunchroom together where all students get to mix and eat lunch at the same time, or do students stay in their classrooms and eat lunch as a class?  Look at the school lunch food being served.  

Parental involvement is another factor to explore during a visit to a school.  Do you see parents volunteering in the classrooms?  Is there a parent lounge or other places in the school for parents to meet?  Are their bulletin boards to keep parents connected with the latest school news?  There are many ways for parents to be involved with their children's education - be on the lookout to see what the involvement is like at a school.

You can also look at the condition the school campus is in.  Does the building appear well cared for?  Is the playground equipment in good condition? If not, what are the plans to repair or improve the school?  The condition of the building combined with the way the people in the school treat the building will let you know if the students and staff respect and care for the school.  If a school is older and in need of updating, asking about the efforts being made to repair the building will let you know more than just what the current appearance will tell you.

Once you have completed your school tour, you are ready for the next step.  Ask What documents you need to bring with you to enroll your child in the school.

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