Insider educator intelligence for navigating open houses
BY WENDY ALTSCHULER For Sun-Times Media
On the first day of student orientation at Wolcott School in Chicago, students and faculty show their school pride by forming a "W" on the lawn.
Finding the right school for your child is no easy task; quality choices abound. Learning about all of the facets of the school, the available programs and the education ethos remains a top priority for parents. Teachers and school faculty are there to help parents find the right fit for their child. Take advantage of expert knowhow to make the most of your time at open houses.
“Students that are interested in attending Loyola Academy are encouraged to spend time on our campus through the various admissions and open house events offered throughout the fall,” said Genevieve Baisley, vice president of admission and enrollment. “Prospective families will meet students, faculty members, administrators, athletic coaches and student club moderators.”
Kathleen Creed, director of admissions and financial aid at Woodlands Academy of the Sacred Heart in Lake Forest, recommends that parents consider how challenging the curriculum and academic initiatives are for students. Attending open houses are an ideal way to find out about the prospective school’s curriculum, culture and diversity as well as admission and financial aid information.
“Don’t be afraid to call the admission director or visit in person,” Creed said.
What if you’re interested in a well-rounded education that employs best practices, tailored to your child’s abilities and interests, which gauges learning success outside of regular parameters? Rachel Spiro, director of admissions at Wolcott School in Chicago, encourages families to explore options based on the academic, social and emotional needs of a student and open houses are an excellent forum for this.
“The four years of high school go by quickly,” Spiro said. “It’s critical for students to develop passion and confidence as life-long learners prior to entering college.”
Spiro recommends asking many questions at open houses. What kinds of arts and physical education courses are offered? What is the average class size? Do students have the opportunity to learn via one-on-one technology device programs? Does the school offer modern languages? How do teachers assess learning? Pose questions about the community, facility and school values.
“Wolcott’s model recognizes that the collaboration of faculty, families and students can help each learner appreciate their value, insight, intelligence and importance,” said Dr. Miriam Pike, founding head of school.
Principal at St. Celestine School in Elmwood Park, Jeanine Rocchi, recommended that parents learn as much as they can during an open house. They should inquire about the communication between teacher and parent and find out what the expectations are for parents in terms of helping their child reach their erudition potential.
St. Giles principal, Sue Poetzel, said to find out specifically how students can become successful in the classroom. Open houses provide the opportunity to learn about the avenues in which children can become better learners.
“Do a quick review of the website and any information that you’ve received from the school before the open house,” said Roderick l. Shaw, campus director at Intercultural Montessori Language School in Oak Park. “Jot down questions that come to mind as you review so you’ll remember to ask them at the open house.”
Shaw recommends taking notes during the open house to make the most of allotted time. Parents should ask about teaching philosophies, school mission and implementation as well.
“There is no substitute for a tour of the classrooms where you can see children and teachers at work. It will not only give you a feel for whether or not the school is a good fit for you and your child, but it will also answer unasked questions,” said Shaw. “Be sure to look around and take in all the hard to quantify things. Does the space feel cheerful? Do the teachers seem pleasant? Are the children engaged in their activity? Is there a good balance of freedom and order in the classroom?”
Pattie Fuentes, director of admissions at Regina Dominican in Wilmette, said that parents could best prepare for an open house by keeping an open mind.
“It also helps to have some questions prepared,” Fuentes said. “Don’t be afraid to spend extra time with the faculty and staff that your child will be interacting with the most. This is your time to ask the tough questions.”