Surviving private school open houses  

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Custom care: Parents visiting a private school should pay attention to how adults and children interact, as in this Lake Forest Country Day School elementary language arts lesson. | SUPPLIED PHOTO

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You wouldn’t buy a car without taking it for a test drive. In the same vein, you wouldn’t want to register your child in a new private school without visiting it first — no matter how fabulous its website is.

“When you’re looking for a home, you read real estate listings to get basic information — number of bedrooms and baths — but you attend an open house to inspect the closets and get a real feel for the space,” said Beth Black, director of enrollment and marketing at Lake Forest Country Day School. “School is a child’s second home, so it’s not surprising that the process of looking for the right school for your child is somewhat parallel.”

Open houses provide an accommodating and useful channel for parents to learn more about the prospective school, policies, teachers and administration. What’s more, parents are encouraged and allowed to ask as many questions as they deem necessary. A school visit also affords the opportunity to meet other families enrolled in the school.

“Parents can learn a lot about a school’s educational philosophy and curriculum from the school’s website, but most people don’t base an enrollment decision solely on data. They want a chance to check out the educational space, see school personnel in action and meet parents of current students,” Black said. “An open house provides an opportunity for families to observe, interact and ask questions. Attending an open house helps people judge whether the school vibe aligns with their family’s values and expectations.”

Teachers work hard to foster positive parent-teacher relationships because they realize that parents are strong allies in a child’s education. Keeping parents informed and involved in the education process significantly influences scholastic success for kids.

Frances Robinson, a preschool teacher at Lake Forest Country Day School, said that parents should pay attention to how adults and children interact while visiting the school.

“Are teachers acting as role models by speaking to children respectfully? Also, pay attention to how school representatives answer your questions,” Robinson said. “Is it a two-way conversation about what matters to your family or is someone just delivering a pat message? Look around the classrooms and the hallways. Is the school environment peaceful and purposeful? Do students and teachers seem happy?”

Bob Bullard, who taught eighth grade history at Lake Forest Country Day School for many years and is now the interim head of upper school grades 5-8, said that hallway interactions between children and teachers are important nuances to observe when checking out a school.

“Listen for the bell to ring, then watch what happens,” Bullard said. “You can tell a lot about a school by observing the way students conduct themselves in the hallway between classes — and noticing the tone teachers use to encourage good behavior if some students are too boisterous.”

The next time you are looking into a potential school, visit an open house and pick the brain of all the appropriate staff; find out as much information as you can and then make an informed assessment on what school fits your child best. Be organized in your approach to alleviate feeling overwhelmed, as the details and information can be daunting. Use teachers and administration as well as word-of-mouth from other parents as resources to aid you in your decision-making. Finally, enjoy the process and maintain a constructive yet discerning attitude, as a positive open mind is your best asset when attending an open house.