How to Make Sure the School You Choose Fits your Family
Brought to you by Grand Rapids Christian Schools. All opinions are my own.
As parents, we have precious little lives to take care of and with that weighty responsibility comes lots of big decisions. One important decision we must make is determining the best school for our child.
Picking a school can be especially difficult, since kids and families are so different, and since West Michigan has so many options for school! (This is kind of a good problem to have, but stressful nonetheless.)
I thought I’d share about how my husband and I made the BIG school decision in hopes that it helps you think through what you want in a school.
We happened to choose Grand Rapids Christian Schools and our experience there has been nothing but positive. I also have friends who send their kids to public and charter schools that they think are fantastic and I know that homeschooling has a very vibrant community around Grand Rapids. I love the options that Grand Rapids offers!
Our decision for Grand Rapids Christian Schools is deeply personal, and choosing a private school is a privilege that I do not take for granted. That being said, it is important to note that private schools like GRCS do offer financial aid and other helpful cost-saving options like the TRIP program and payment plans.
So what should you consider when deciding what school is best for your child?
Check out my FIVE helpful tips below!
How Can Parents Choose the Best School for Their Kids?
1- Do Your Homework
Investigate your options and spend time researching the schools in your area. The time you spend will be well worth it. If you are considering a public school, check out the school’s report card from reputable websites like www.greatschools.net and www.schoolmatters.org. When considering a private school, you will want to make sure the school is providing a high-quality education (see point #2 below).
There may be certain values or things you are looking for through an independent private or charter school, as well. Does their mission statement resonate with you?
A few more questions you may want to ask include:
- What type of programs does the school offer?
- Does the school’s proximity work for your family?
- What makes this school’s curriculum standout?
- Does the school provide bus transportation?
- Will our financial situation work with this school’s tuition and/or payment plan?
- What is this school’s reputation in the community?
- How are the school’s amenities (e.g. gymnasium, library, playground, etc.)?
- What is the classroom teacher to student ratio?
Furthermore, does the school have a plan in place to measure their students’ achievement? GRCS, for example, has a strategic plan in place to ensure their curriculum and programs are of the highest quality. They measure their students’ achievement through nationally-normed tests and locally-developed assessments.
“I know, in fact, our programs our rooted in very cutting-edge opportunities for students. We work very diligently to ensure we are well-resourced to make sure our programs are current and our instructional practices are strong.” -Tom DeJonge, GRCS Superintendent
2- Is the School Accredited?
If you are considering a private school, then you will likely want to know if the school is accredited. This is a great way to find out about the school’s quality and overall health. If you are not very familiar with accreditation, this process involves a governing agency outside of the school system to review the school in its entirety. Basically, this occurs when a private school opts to have a form of educational quality control.
Grand Rapids Christian Schools recently went through a lengthy accreditation process through Christian Schools International (CSI) and AdvancED. GRCS has been accredited for many years and they typically go through this process every five years. I recently spoke with GRCS Superintendent Mr. Tom DeJonge about this experience. He reflected on the process saying it was, “the best, most thorough accreditation process” in his thirteen years with GRCS.
To be granted accreditation, CSI and AdvancED examines four major significant areas of a school system for health and quality: 1.) Healthy, functioning board of trustees 2.) Financial health and strength 3.) Policies and procedures to ensure smooth operations 4.) Educational program rooted in best practices to maximize student achievement.
Talking to your friends and neighbors about their experience at a particular school is great and something I would recommend! Nothing, however, can beat an in-person classroom visit. Once you have narrowed down your school list, be sure to visit the schools in person. Observe a classroom and/or attend an open house.
While visiting the school, bring a notebook and pen and take notes. Ask yourself questions like the following:
- Do the students look engaged?
- How does the teacher relate to the class?
- How well-maintained does the school appear?
- Does the teacher have proper support staff for his/her classroom size?
- How does the playground look? Is there a gymnasium?
- How are behavior problems handled?
- How do parents and teachers communicate?
Visiting GRCES in person helped us get a better feel for the school, allowed us to ask important questions and helped solidify our decision to send our son to GRCES.
4- How are children with different learning styles/needs accommodated?
Kids are not all the same. Some students operate at an accelerated-level and require assistance from their teachers to stay challenged and intellectually-stimulated. Some children with learning disabilities require assistance navigating the hurdles that come with learning challenges.
You may want to find out what special services or supportive programs are in place to help support kids with learning differences. Does the school integrate children with varying needs into general classrooms or do they have separate special education classes? What resources and expertise is available to students with special needs and circumstances?
GRCS was thrilled to be the first school to receive an Educational Services Endorsement from the Christian Learning Center Network. They strive to support students with comprehensive learning needs, so this endorsement was a great affirmation of their efforts.
“We were honored for GRCS to be the first school system to pilot the new Educational Services Standard as part of our full accreditation process with CSI. This new tool allowed us to celebrate the strengths of the comprehensive services that we provide to learners. We were also able to identify areas of growth that we will continue to address in order to even more effectively serve God’s image bearers on each of our campuses.” -Sheryl Jo, Director of Student Support Services
5- How Will This School Help Shape My Child?
This question is an important one for my husband and me. We want our children in a school system that deeply and holistically cares about them as an individual. I grew up going to private, Christian schools and was able to develop strong bonds with my teachers, classmates and coaches. I keep in touch with my private school teachers even today! I hope the same for my sons and that is one major factor in our decision to choose Grand Rapids Christian Schools for our family.
“At Grand Rapids Christian teachers are intentional about building community. Our focus on helping children to grow in their relationship with God and with each other is what makes Grand Rapids Christian such a special place.” -Ann Bakker, Academic Program Coordinator
Even at the preschool level, I have seen how the teachers’ intentionality has fostered strong community at GRCS. My son feels safe and very loved by his teachers. What more could a parent want?
Learn more about GRCS
To learn more about Grand Rapids Christians Schools visit their website or call them at 616-574-6017 to schedule a tour and classroom visit. The school decision is not an easy one for parents, but Grand Rapids Christian Schools would love to have your family join their academically strong and spiritually encouraging community.