In Alberta, we are fortunate to have an abundance of educational opportunities and school choice. Even amongst the independent school options, there is a wide variety of missions, programs, and focus-areas. To help you set your child on the right path, we’ve taken a step back and compiled this objective list of questions you can use to evaluate each school you are considering.
1. What type of student is the school focused on? Some schools are known for fostering academic talent, while others have a more balanced approach, blending academics with artistic, athletic, and service pursuits.
2. How does the school help students succeed? You know your children best. Have an open conversation with the school and be specific about what your child needs to feel happy, challenged, and engaged to ensure they will have access to all they need to succeed and flourish.
3. When you visit the campus, does the environment feel like a good fit? Touring a campus during a regular school day lets you see how students and teachers conduct themselves and treat each other, inside and outside of the classrooms. It is essential to get a ‘gut feeling’ about the school by physically being there.
4. Is the school all-boys, all-girls, or co-ed? An all-boy or all-girl student body might provide fewer distractions but learning in a co-ed environment could provide a stronger foundation for socializing and future relationships.
5. What is the school’s average class size? There’s no consensus on the perfect class size, but some believe that student achievement can rise as class size drops, or with a tighter student-to-teacher ratio that allows for more individualized attention.
6. Is there anything that makes the school unique? The programs offered, and the amenities and facilities located on each school campus can vary wildly. Any number of these unique features could sway your decision.
7. Is the school accredited? Accreditation assures you the school is accountable for meeting and maintaining certain quality standards set by an external organization.
8. Is there a wide variety of co-curricular programs and activities? Many schools provide co-curricular programs that extend past the final school bell, giving students additional opportunities to socialize, learn new skills, and pursue their passions.
9. How does the school work to build character in students? Some schools go out of their way to instil strong values and social responsibility in students through organized programs, field trips, and class study.
10. Does the school follow a specific educational approach or enrichment program? It is important to understand if a school aligns with your educational priorities. Alternative educational systems like Montessori, Waldorf, and Froebel take different approaches to a student’s spiritual, physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development. Also, several schools offer International Baccalaureate (IB) or Advanced Placement (AP) enrichment programs. It is a good idea to gain an understanding of the benefits and differences between all of these options, and to ask questions if unsure.
11. What is the school doing to foster good relationships? Feeling a sense of belonging is one of the most important correlates to students being happy at school. Ask about any programs and policies that promote a more personal and caring atmosphere, help students find their place, and encourage students to connect with teachers and each other.
12. How does the school deal with discipline issues, bullying, and online behavior? Great schools exist with a strong, vibrant, and caring community, a partnership with students’ parents, clear expectations and values, and a shared priority for the well-being and educational success of their students. It is imperative that you and the school your children attend are on the same page when it comes to how issues will be addressed. Ask how discipline is handled at the school and if they have a student code of conduct and clear policies around social media, bullying, and academic misconduct.
13. How does the school assess and provide support for individual students? Every student can benefit from a degree of personal attention, and having their progress evaluated and supported, in addition to test scores and class grades.
14. How are learning differences addressed by the school? For students who are overachieving or struggling, a school may offer alternative curriculums for students who learn differently or at different speeds.
15. How does the school engage parents during the school year? Find out how each prospective school builds community, keeps parents engaged, and makes school activities and student progress visible from the outside.
16. Does the school provide travel opportunities? Schools often create opportunities for field trips, study abroad programs, and international homestays as part of their curricular or extracurricular offerings.
17. Does the school offer modern language instruction? A modern language, i.e. French or Spanish, learned and practiced during the elementary and high school years can be a great personal and career asset to students later in life.
18. Does the school offer health and physical education, and opportunities to be outdoors? Studies show that physical fitness, connecting with nature, maintaining a balanced, healthy lifestyle, and developing ‘life skills’ are important factors in students’ ability to focus and their overall well-being.
19. Are there STEAM programs at the school, and are they mandatory? STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) education is crucial in preparing the next generation for a rapidly changing global economy. The right school for your child may be the one that can foster your child’s interests or demonstrated talents in design, music, drama, fine art, or writing, and integrate them with other core subject areas to ensure your child has the tools to be successful in their future endeavors.
20. What key competencies does the school focus on, and how do they measure student success? It’s important to know what key competencies or skills the school aims to instill in students and how they know they are meeting those goals.
21. How do they teach core subjects such as math and science? There is a lot of discussion and media attention around differing teaching methods and outcomes in core subject areas. Ask schools about their teaching methodology, desired outcomes, and how they support students with different learning styles in succeeding.
22. Does the school offer athletic programs or have athletic requirements? Some schools emphasize parallel development of athletics and academics, while others offer a broad range of sports programs for students to enjoy when they aren’t in a classroom.
23. Do the school’s athletic teams compete in leagues outside of school? Schools with internal sports teams and leagues may also participate in inter-school competitions citywide or nationwide, offering additional opportunities for travel and personal development.
24. Does the school provide post-secondary guidance? Ask if the school you’re considering provides advice and support to students considering different colleges and universities for the next stage of their educational journey.
25. What is the school’s relationship with its alumni? A strong and active alumni network is a testament to the positive experiences of former students and may create unique opportunities for students after they graduate.
Lara is the Director of Strategic Enrollment Management and Communications at Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School (STS). STS welcomes students who embrace intellectual and physical challenges and opportunities, are curious about the world, seek out adventure, and are the first to put up their hands to volunteer. Located south of Calgary on a 220-acre campus, STS is Alberta’s only Kindergarten to Grade 12 independent co-ed day school focused on developing well-balanced students for a life of purpose by inspiring excellence in scholarship, leadership, and character. For more information, visit strathconatweedsmuir.com.
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