Finding out what families at a particular school are really like is one of the most challenging and elusive parts of the private elementary school process. Of course you want the school where you send your child to be a great place for your child and you. But how can you be sure that will happen?
If you’ve been on a private elementary school tour, the tour guide may have been a parent at the school. Most likely, the school selected a friendly and knowledgeable person to lead the tours (this is a highly coveted volunteer job). But, not always. We went on one tour where the mom leading our tour was rude, snobbish, couldn’t discuss the school’s curriculum and wouldn’t make eye contact with us. But, we did find out that her husband was an important plastic surgeon (who, it was obvious, had done work on her face) and she was wearing Chanel! Not exactly what we were looking for. We passed on that “trophy” school. It was hard to ignore her behavior and look at the school beyond the tour guide. If we had like the school more, we would have gone back for a second tour.
So how can you find out more about what the families at a school are really like? It can be hard to ever really know until you’re actually a parent at the school, because you don’t know which families will be in your child’s class. But, here are a few tips to give you some ideas to sort it out:
Look at a school’s yearbook. You can get a feel for the school from the yearbook photos, theme and style.
Don’t be misled by the school’s location. Schools in very affluent areas can be warm and down-to-earth and schools in less affluent areas can be extremely pretentious.
Look at the “feeder” preschool to the elementary school. This can give you a clue about the families. If the elementary school accepts a lot of kids from a co-op school or a temple school that might help you understand the type of families your child will go to school with.
We’ve said this before, but if possible, try to go to school events like Book Fairs and other events where prospective parents can mingle with existing families.
Ask people you know about the parents at a school you might want to apply to. Be specific. If you’re concerned about a particular issue, ask a parent who is already there.
Each class and each grade is different. And, the economic cycle may impact who a school admits for financial reasons. Schools may change over the years and admit more families on financial aid in some years and wealthier families in other years.
If you want an ethnically diverse school and you don’t see diversity when you visit the school, it may not be the right school for you. Don’t assume it will diversify by the time you arrive…it takes years to build a diverse student body.
Sometimes you just know it’s going to be the right school. That’s a great feeling!
We pulled this reader question from our April 8, 2010 post, “Your Family’s Key Messages”. In case you missed this in the comments section…
I just discovered your blog and find it enormously informative and helpful. I am trying to decide if we should start our daughter in private K or for middle school. I am finding that many LAUSD elementary schools end in 5th grade while private schools have major entry points in 7th grade. Are there other schools that accept students for 6th grade? How do other making the switch to private for middle school deal with the gap year?
June 10, 2010 8:34 AM
Christina Simon said…
Dear Anonymous, thanks for reading our blog! We love writing it!
Your question brings up an issue lots of LA parents deal with. Here are my thoughts. If you start in public kindergarten, you will need to find a school for 6th grade, since public schools are K-5. Then, if you decide to move your child again for 7th grade, that could be 3 schools in 3 years. That’s a lot of transition…just something to think about.
Or, you could move your child to a private school that has a 6-12 or a 6-8th grade and create more stability for your child. Kids get admitted to private school from public schools regularly. Private schools are very well aware of the “gap” problem and tend to be understanding of it, if they have space.
Some private schools DO except students for 6th grade, Brentwood and Crossroads are two that I believe accept applications for 6th grade. At other schools, there are less spots, as I understand it for 6th grade. However, it can be done. Generally, points of entry are K, 3rd (limited spots), 7th, 9th (limited spots).
The “gap year” issue is a tough one for everyone. It’s something that certainly can be handled, it will just require some time and effort to plan ahead, knowing it’s coming up ahead for your child. You could also leave public school for 3rd grade, 5th grade, etc. Sometimes, this is a smart strategy that a lot of parents use. Openings occur every year in every grade, it’s just a question of numbers. If you prepare in advance, you will find a spot, I’m sure. Just remember, like kindergarten, you’ll need to apply to several schools, not just one. And, there is an exam your child will need to take to get into private middle school.
One last point. A very savvy educational consultant told me recently she tells her clients that if they have a “gap” year to go to public school for a year and then apply to private for 7th, since private schools don’t like to “poach” students from other private schools. In other words, if you go to a private for one year and then apply out to another private right away, that can be tricky, for the reason called “poaching”. Interesting advice.
Hope that helps!!! Good luck!- Christina
June 10, 2010 8:58 AM
Thanks again for this helpful advice!