This article is part of the 2022-2023 Guide to Baltimore Independent Schools.

Searching for an independent school can be exciting, yet overwhelming. Visit any number of them and you’re likely to find sprawling campuses, small class sizes, and an array of extracurricular activities. But look beneath the surface and you’ll note distinct differences that can’t necessarily be discerned by a quick trip to a school’s campus. So, how can you tell them apart and find the best match for your child?   

DO YOUR RESEARCH! 

Observe interactions closely when you’re on campuses, and ask hard questions. We’ve come up with several, broken down by critical categories that distinguish independent schools: academic approach, values, extracurriculars, and support layers.  Many of these inquiries don’t have right or wrong answers, per se. But your informed responses to them will help you decide on the best school for your child.  

ACADEMIC APPROACH  

  • How much focus is placed on grades and tests?  
  • Do teachers encourage critical thinking? Rote memorization?   
  • Does the school teach to students’ different learning styles and strengths, or is it a one-size-fits-all approach? 
  • Do political or religious leanings influence what is taught and, if so, how? 
  • What does homework look like? Does the volume match the grade level? Does it reinforce teaching concepts?   

VALUES MATCH-UP? 

  • What values does the school promote, and do students visibly express them?  
  • Does the school encourage conformity or celebrate individual expression?  
  • How open and welcoming is the school community–from school administrators and teachers to students and their families?  

EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES, ANYONE? 

  • Does the school offer one or more extracurricular activities (sport, art, theater, robotics, etc.) that my child enjoys or might like to learn?  
  • Are extracurriculars focused on skill acquisition or competition?  
  • What skill level is required for students to participate, compete, or excel?  
  • What time commitment is expected of participating students?  
  • Does the activity require special equipment or other resources?

SUPPORT LAYERS 

  • What kind of mental health services are available to students?  
  • Does the school provide academic support for students with learning differences?  
  • What type of financial assistance does the school offer to families?