The years have flown by, and suddenly your chubby faced toddler is now a fast-growing adolescent. With middle school graduation just around the corner, it’s time to tackle the task of choosing where your child will spend the next four years of secondary education.
From academics to school safety, high schools in your local districts can vary drastically. Navigate school tours like a pro by assembling a checklist of questions to ask teachers and administrators before making your decision.
Academics: Classes, rankings, and student achievement
When it comes to choosing the right high school, a reputation for academic excellence likely tops your list of must-haves. Jeff Rickey, Vice President and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at St. Lawrence University, states in a New York Times interview that selective institutions performing holistic reviews will first compare the courses the student has taken with the courses offered at the school. Grades are equally important, but a high school offering a wide selection of advanced placement (AP) and honors courses can give your child a leg up during the competitive college application process.
In addition to standard questions such as student-teacher ratio and average class size, ask your tour guide about the principal’s expectations of both the student’s and school’s performance. This will give you a better idea of the school’s goals for the upcoming year.
Questions to ask
- What is the school’s state/national ranking or report card?
- What AP, honors, and elective classes are offered? How are students performing (on average) in these courses?
- Is college counseling available? What about SAT prep courses and workshops?
- What is the typical daily homework load for students? Is homework usually assigned during weekends and holidays?
- What academic support is offered to students who are struggling or failing?
Extracurricular activities: Education outside the classroom
Be on the lookout for after-school programs, clubs, and sports that will allow your teen to follow her passion during high school and beyond. If your child enjoys competing in swim meets or singing popular tunes, then sending her to a school with a competitive swimming team or active show choir will improve her chances of being happy and well-rounded as she prepares for college.
Questions to ask:
- What are the requirements for playing on sports teams and participating in clubs?
- What organized student activities does the school offer? Dances? Field trips? Overnight trips?
School safety: Learning in a secure and supportive environment
It’s no secret that school safety has increasingly become a top concern for parents, teachers, and administrators. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) School Survey on Crime and Safety, 84% of the U.S. public high schools surveyed use security cameras for monitoring purposes. High schools are also more likely than primary schools to have an electronic notification system for school-wide emergencies.
Nevertheless, high schools are still less likely to control access to buildings, and most forbid the use of cell phones and text messaging during school hours. Don’t hesitate to inquire about the security systems and school policies designed to protect students while they’re on school grounds.
Questions to ask
- Are students required to wear school I.D.s or badges at all times?
- Does the school perform metal detector checks or random sweeps for drugs, contraband, and other prohibited items?
- Does the school have a formal anti-bullying policy?
- What technologies and notification systems are in place in case of school-wide emergencies?
School culture: Student, parent, and teacher interaction
We all remember our teenage years particularly high school as a period fraught with raging hormones, pressures of fitting in, and the precarious balance between friendships, homework, and social functions. Unfortunately, these academic demands and social pressures sometimes create mental stress and emotional turmoil that can negatively impact a students performance.
As you tour the school, observe the work and social dynamic between students and faculty. Your tour guide should also provide information about teacher-advisory groups, which are often available to help students build self-esteem, develop leadership skills, and resolve conflicts.
Questions to ask:
- What are the student demographics on campus (e.g. ethnicity, geographic area)?
- Are there opportunities for my child to shadow a student during a regular school day?
- Describe the student atmosphere. Are students open, friendly, cliquish, or competitive?
- What social and emotional support does the school offer students? Are there licensed therapists and social workers on campus?
About the author: Bridgette Austin is a freelance writer based out of New York City. She has written a variety of online publications for organizations ranging from environmental consultancies to college textbook companies. Bridgette holds an M.A. in global communications from the American University of Paris. She received her B.A. from New York University Gallatin School of Individualized Study.