Some you drive by every day. Some you regularly see on the news. Some you’ve never heard of before.
There is no shortage of private school options in Oklahoma, but parents must sift through numerous defining factors to determine what school is the right fit for their child. Religious affiliation, cost, class size and educational philosophy are just some of the big questions parents must ask.
Obviously, not every school will fit every child.
“The curriculum, schedule, class size, special programs, tuition, atmosphere of a school and other factors determine the school’s ‘fitness’ for your child,” says Olivia Martin, interim director of admissions at Holland Hall.
There are certain factors that all parents should consider when evaluating if a school is right for their child.
As simple as it sounds, the feeling a school gives parents and students is a great indicator of fit.
“It’s the feeling the parent gets when they walk through the door,” says Matt Vereecke, school director of Monte Cassino. “Schools really take on the feeling of their community, so parents can usually identify if the school has a good administration, whether the kids there are happy or sad, and they’re not going to put a student in a place where they’re not going to be happy. If they’re not happy, they’re not learning.”
Structure or independence? Quiet or community? Parents must first know their child and his or her strengths before evaluating school programs.
“As the parent, you know if your child has certain needs and/or preferences and in what kind of classroom/curriculum her/she will thrive,” says Martin. “Does the school provide programs that challenge and inspire your child in his/her interests and strengths?”
“Every school has its own personality and, really, its own charisma,” says Vereecke. “These are the people that will become the parents’ friends and their student’s friends. Parents have to ask, ‘Who will my student be when they leave this place?’”
The community aspect of the school should not stay inside the schoolhouse doors either, says Martin.
“School is a second home to students, and the school culture should mirror a caring family,” she says. “The school should not only foster a sense of close community within its walls, but also work to make the larger community in a city a better place through community service and participation in civic events.”
Schools that encourage students to be an active part of the community often have more successful students leaving high school.
“A well-rounded student is more likely to attend the college of his/her choice and will also take a variety of skills and knowledge into the larger world,” says Martin.
Regardless of age, small class size and individual attention can make a difference to students.
“Students often experience more success in all areas if they are in smaller classes with qualified and nurturing teachers,” says Martin. “The classes should be small enough that the teacher(s) can truly know each child on a personal level.”
Many private schools across the state have a religious affiliation, which some parents seek out and some don’t really consider.
“The religion question is usually the biggest we get,” says Vereecke. “We’re focusing more on universal human values like building community, learning hospitality and serving others than on proselytizing. We would say our values are Catholic, but they’re really universal aspects: If you’re Catholic we want you to be a stronger Catholic; if you’re from a different religion, we want to help you be stronger in your faith.”
Though certain criteria are more important at certain ages – for preschool level students, the teacher is one of the most important considerations a parent must make, while middle schools can be evaluated on how prepared their students will be to enter high school – the match of the school to the student remains the most important factor for determining fit.
“Discovering whether your child can thrive and grow in all areas in that particular school” is the most important factor, says Martin. “If you instantly feel you belong there when you visit the school, you probably do.”