What I love about Baltimore is that your high school is more important than your college. The question, “Where did you go to school?” is not about ivy league universities, but names equally powerful – the cadre of independent Baltimore schools both inside and outside the city. From Kindergarten through 12th grade and beyond, your school is important. And for those looking at Kindergarten for the first time, it can be daunting. What if you like your rival school better than your alma mater? Or worse, what if everyone in your neighborhood sends their children to the local public school – and you have other plans in mind?
Having worked in the independent school world for more than 15 years, many of them in Baltimore with Kindergarten applicants, here is my advice.
- Look around you: Think of children you know and like. Children of friends, children of relatives, or children of colleagues. What qualities draw you to them? Are they bright, enthusiastic, polite, and excited about school, music, sports? Find out where they go to school.
- Turn to the internet: With this information in mind, make a preliminary list of schools you might want to look at, and start by reviewing their websites.
- Pick up the phone: Call and ask about their Kindergarten and beyond, and be sure to ask what differentiates them from their competitors. The person you speak with should be knowledgeable, welcoming and clear, and you should have a tour scheduled before you get off the phone.
- Take the tour: When you tour an independent school, be sure to get into the classrooms. Do they feel right, are they clean, and are the students happy; can they tell you about what they are learning? Is there a sense of mutual respect?
- Reassess your priorities: Once you have seen several independent schools and Kindergarten classrooms, think again about exactly what you want for your child. A few things to keep in mind are teacher qualifications, the balance between teacher-directed learning and student-directed learning, diversity, commitment to global education, communication between parents and teachers, outdoor play spaces, frequency of Physical Education, music, art, science and STEM classes, before and after care, cost, and availability of financial aid.
- Narrow down your options: Choose two (maybe three) schools and submit applications. Schedule visits for your child at each school and ask your pre-school teacher to complete the Common Referral form for each school you apply to.
- Prepare for the visits: Take a weekend drive onto the campus of each school your child will visit, and explain that everyone who goes to school has a chance to “practice” at that school before they enroll. Talk about the new friends they will meet during their practice visit, about the new teachers they will work with, and about the new things they will learn. Encourage them to think about sharing their experiences later with their teacher and classmates.
- Do NOT agonize: As long as you are hearing good things from your current pre-school, do not torture yourself by imagining the worst as you go through this process. If you are visibly worried, your child will carry that anxiety into the school visit. If you are unusually effusive, your child will probably withdraw and be reluctant to stay, wherever you take him. Show your child the confidence she deserves.
- Listen: Ask for feedback from your child’s visit day and then listen. Often Admissions Directors are happy to share details, and you should be satisfied that the child they got to know is the same child that you know and love.
- Revisit and decide: Once your child has been accepted to the schools on your list, go back for another visit. Ask for a tour with a Middle or Upper School student. Don’t be shy about asking for a list of college acceptances. You can even ask to talk with a current family to get the insider’s view. And, go back to those priorities you put together at the beginning of the process to see how your ultimate school choice matches up with your original list.
It is really not so hard to find a school for your 4 or 5 year old – the hard part comes (for you) when they go off and start spending all their days there! But if you have done your homework, the best things that can happen at an independent lower school will become part of your family life, and soon your child will be following three-step directions, singing new songs, and telling you they can do “it” on their own.