Education Spotlight

Finding the right school for your child can mean the difference between a good education and a great one

A picture of a girl sitting in class at school.

photo by zsolni gergely – fotolia

For many years, Minnesota has earned a reputation for high-quality public and private school education, ranking at or near the top in nationwide measures. We have excellent teachers and support staff, strong education models, diverse curriculums, and a wide range of learning environments. Not only are there traditional public schools, but private schools, charter schools, magnet schools, online learning options, and state-approved alternative programs.

To keep up in a competitive global economy, it’s more important than ever to support early childhood screenings, enrichment activities, and growth opportunities so students can find success later in life. It’s the goal of dedicated educators around the state to prepare students for higher education and entering the workforce. It’s the job of parents to make important decisions about their child’s early education, and help their child make his or her own decision on where to attend high school or college.

The right education can open doors and lead to greater academic and personal success, but how do you know which environment is the best fit for your child? Finding a school that offers a solid academic foundation, reflects your family’s values, and provides the right mix of extracurricular activities can feel like a daunting task. High test scores don’t always show what goes on in a classroom.

When a school looks great on paper, make sure to visit and get a better feel for the atmosphere before making your final decision. Does the classroom seem chaotic or do the kids seem focused and accountable for their actions? Do they appear to be happy? Are they respectful of the teacher/professor and other students? Does it seem like their curiosity to learn is encouraged? Learning should be fun, and the right environment can help with this.

How to Make the Most of Your School Visit

You can’t tell everything about a school from statistics alone. To get a better sense of the school, you need to walk though the halls, meet a teacher or two, chat with a student, see if you can imagine your child, or yourself, in that environment. By making an appointment to visit a potential school, you’ll get a much better understanding of the overall atmosphere. Here are some ways to think ahead and plan an effective visit.

Schedule Your Visit

Call and explain that you’re considering enrollment and would like to get a better feel for the school by visiting the campus. Find out if you’ll have a chance to meet the principal or university dean and any teachers or professors while you’re there. This can help you get a sense of the teaching styles and their approach to discipline and safety.

Do Your Homework

Read as much as you can before you go. Learn about the school’s culture, programs, and students and check on their “report card” on the Minnesota Department of Education’s data center.

Pay Attention

Take note of the interactions between students and teachers/professors if you’re able to see a class in action. Are the students engaged and prepared? Does the content of the course seem compelling? Are the students asking questions? Do the teachers seem knowledgeable and attentive to their students’ needs?

Raise Your Hand

Ask questions about the school’s philosophy or mission, diversity of the student body, library resources, available technology, extracurricular activities, highlights of the school’s curriculum, and opportunities for parents to get involved.

If you’re scouting a high school, see if they have any school-to-work programs, a good selection of Advanced Placement courses, and available counseling support. To get an idea of how the school prepares students for higher education, ask about SAT/ACT scores and what percentage of students attend college after graduation.

When looking at trade schools, community colleges, and colleges and universities, talk to a tour guide or admissions worker about required courses, flexibility to change majors, clubs and activities, housing options, on-campus job opportunities, and academic and career mentoring.

Compare Your Notes

After looking at a number of schools, compare your experiences. If the pro/con list doesn’t show an immediate winner, trust your gut reaction. Your student, at whatever stage of their education, will have a better learning experience when they feel comfortable at their school.

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