All parents want their child to attend a school that helps them reach their full potential and make the most of their gifts. It sounds simple, but the school search can be complex and overwhelming. Cameron Smith and his wife heard the urban legends of school search insanity when expecting their first child.
To learn more about Bennett Day School, check out www.bennettday.org to attend a school tour Nov. 6, Dec. 1 or Jan. 14, or a TinkerTime Playdate Nov. 22.
Early Admission Applications are due Nov. 2.
The early childhood campus for Bennett Day School is at 657 W. Fulton St. and their elementary and middle school campus opens Fall of 2016 at 955 W. Grand Ave., Chicago.
Now, as a parent and both chief executive officer and co-founder of Bennett Day School, he has seen the school search from both sides.
Smith shares just some of his top items for parents to consider when evaluating schools and what parents can do to help ensure that they find a school that’s a great fit for their child and family.
Know your priorities
“There’s a school out there for every family,” Smith says. He notes, however, that “it is hard for a school to be all things to all people.” He recommends that families make a list of their own top five priorities and use that to guide their search. Finding a school that does those five things exceptionally well will be a better fit than a school that tries to do everything.
On the school tour, note how student work is displayed
Going on a school tour seems obvious, but Smith suggests that, in addition to meeting faculty and staff, parents get a sense of the environment. One way to do this is by observing how the school displays student work and classroom projects. Specifically, parents should note where it is displayed in the hallways. Is it up high, or is it displayed lower to be at the height of the students so they can see, examine and discuss it? See if things are literally going over students’ heads. Parents also can determine if students are encouraged to express themselves by seeing if the pieces are unique or if they all look exactly the same.
Ask about the background of the principal and teachers
Many faculty members have been administrators at other schools and are back in the classroom at Bennett Day School. The experience of those interacting with your child on a daily basis tells you more about their experience than the age of the school itself.
Smith also recommends asking about the time allotted in the school calendar for professional development, which Smith stresses is important because research has shown it is linked to student achievement.
Be open to new educational philosophies
Bennett Day School is Chicago’s first school founded on and committed to the Reggio Emilia educational approach through eighth grade. While it is new to Chicago, it is well established in other parts of the country, including New York and California. In fact, it is the basis for Google’s onsite preschool for children of employees.
With younger students, parents should ask how the parent/child separation is handled and how students are transitioned to a full school day
The transition to school is a big one, and how it is handled is important for both students and parents. Faculty from Bennett Day School visits students at their homes prior to the start of school in August to allow students to get comfortable with them. They then gradually increase the amount of time students spend in the classroom.
When talking with current parents, ask about communication
Current parents are a wealth of information about the school, and one key question to ask is how the teachers handle communication with them. Asking how often teachers communicate with parents and in what form they do so, be it by email, blog, sharing videos, etc., gives insight into the parent-teacher partnership at that institution.
Inquire about the school’s approach to technology
“Learn whether the school sees technology as a tool or just a convenience,” Smith advises.
He cautions that some schools may use tablets extensively, but sometimes that means students are doing the same old worksheets just on a device rather than paper. That approach is far different from the innovative ideas found at some schools where faculty use technology as a tool to document learning and students use technology as a tool to understand how things work.
Keep test scores in perspective
It’s so easy to use test scores as a way to compare schools, but Smith notes that high test scores prove only that students are likely to do well on another test and are not the best indicators of future performance. “Focus, grit, creativity, and patience are attributes that predict success far beyond test scores and GPA,” he says, noting that the Reggio Emilia approach fosters those qualities in students.
While test scores are “a necessary part of applying to high school and post-secondary school, having a portfolio of work when they apply to a selective institution makes a difference. It will show how you are different from all the other kids with the same score,” says Smith, noting that Bennett keeps a digital portfolio of each student’s work that will show patterns and trends as well as a student’s overall progress.
Remember that your child’s education is not the same as real estate
“Location, location, location” are said to be the three most important factors when buying your home, but your child’s education requires a different approach. Location is an important factor on the list, Smith says, but he also notes that parents may not put enough emphasis on other factors. “If you need to go a little bit out of the way in your commute, it’s worth it,” he says. “What’s more important than your child’s education?”