By Christina Moreland
The first day of school for most students in the Houston area, including those in Houston ISD, Fort Bend ISD and Cy-Fair ISD, is Monday, August 22. For children and parents alike, this day often conjures feelings of anxiety, stress and excitement. As a parent, you worry if your child will socialize and perform well, if he or she will feel comfortable in the new setting and make friends easily. And for children, well, that’s obvious! The first day can be terrifying! Even if you enroll into a private institution beginning at the daycare level, finding the right school for your child can be one of the most stressful tasks in early parenting. If you are required to go back to work, many daycares have a year-long wait list, not to mention the high cost and fees associated with new admissions. How do you navigate the timing properly so you can return to work knowing your child made it in and you chose the right option? And more importantly, how do you finally settle on your school of choice feeling confident about your decision?
To help, here is a list of questions you can use at the daycare and elementary levels to interview administration and staff before making your final decision.
Questions for Infant and Toddler Levels
What training or certification is required for your teachers?
How does your school measure its students’ progress? (Keep in mind this is also important at the infant and toddler levels, when gross motor skills and early socialization need to be nurtured.)
May I see what your typical day calendar looks like for my child’s age group?
May we walk to that classroom and meet the teacher(s)?
(When you walk around, notice if the children appear engaged and happy.)
Why is it this school’s opinion that having a curriculum at the infant level is important? What is the infant/toddler curriculum?
(Typically for this age group it involves working with infants on their gross motor skills, playing music and engaging them, reading, and stroller rides through the school hallways.)
Will I receive regular progress reports and direct feedback from my child’s teacher? How frequently? Daily? Weekly? Monthly?
(Compare this to other schools you’re interviewing.)
What is your teacher-to-child ratio and how does this compare to the state requirements?
Are all teachers infant- and child-CPR trained?
How are teachers and upper level administrative staff trained to handle a crisis? For example, how do they notify parents when a child is injured at school? How does the school assess whether or not emergency personnel need to be called and then parent notified? How often do you run mock fire drills?
As a parent, do I have the ability to show up at school at any time and monitor how my child is doing?
What kind of security does the school offer to protect the children? (Ask about drop-off and pick-up procedures, how other family members may or may not participate, etc.)
What is your student retention rate from year to year? What about teacher retention?
Questions for Pre-K – Elementary Levels
What is the difference between Vanguard and Magnet? If we are not zoned to your school, what ways might we transfer into it?
What do most people do here in this area for schools? Private? Public? Combination?
Do you provide education for parents to get their children into a good program, such as advanced placement classes? What is the first step?
Typically, is this a paid program, or are you grandfathered in based on test scores?
How are children measured once it is determined they want to be placed into a magnet or Vanguard program?
How does this school measure its students’ performance outside of the state requirements and how are parents periodically notified about their children’s performance levels?
Will I know how my child is performing compared to other students his age? How will you update me and how frequently?
What are some things that I can be doing at home to complement your current curriculum for my child’s age group?
Do you have this month’s curriculum calendar for my child’s class that I can take with me?
On a personal level, after having received several parent recommendations for my son’s school and answering all of our questions satisfactorily, our final decision for his school came when we saw the children who attended there. We walked into several classrooms and the children were engaged and active, from the infant level to the Pre-K students. And when we looked at the bulletin board of school classroom photos, almost every single child in every single photo was smiling and happy. This gave us a tremendous amount of comfort. And while no place can be perfect or administer care quite like you can as a parent, there are definite signs to put you in a positive mindset for your child’s school.
Ongoing communication with teachers and administrators is important, so keep in mind the school cannot do its job if you do not voice concerns and work to resolve them as soon as they come up (and they will). Finally, after you have done all the research and cross-referencing in the world, your mom instincts will ultimately be the decision maker, and most likely, they will be right!
Christina Moreland Bio:
Christina Moreland, an H Texas Magazine contributor, is the mom of a growing infant and a bright, spunky 4-year-old. She is passionate about all sorts of parenting and childcare issues. Her goal with this column is to equip families with good, sound information so they can be well informed and create healthy homes. Her writing has been featured in numerous Houston publications. Contact Christina at email@example.com.