What to ask when visiting a prospective school? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 11 Old 10-22-2013, 11:42 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I have a couple of elementary school (private, public, charter) visits scheduled in the upcoming months.  I thought I had decided on an elementary for DS's entry to kindergarten next year, but recent changes in the school are making me take a second look.  

 

What are some of the questions I should ask or things I should look for?  How open would you be about your child's abilities both advanced and delayed?  Anything you wish you had found out about your child's school before they entered?

 

My particular concerns are a kid 4 to 5 years ahead in reading, 2 to 3 years ahead in math, LOVES science and language, very emotional, rigid, SPD, fine and gross motor delays, possible dysgraphia.

 

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#2 of 11 Old 10-22-2013, 09:16 PM
 
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Hi- I'm following a bit because we may be school shopping soon. If you like the look/feel of the school, I would ask about differentiation. I would follow up specifically to ask how they accomplish it. Small groups? Pull out programs? How do they serve gifted students? I've discovered that some schools "say" they do this, but don't implement it well.

I would be open about the possible motor and learning challenges. The last thing you want is for your little one to settle into a school then discover that they can't accommodate disabilities. Many private schools in our area are open about the lack of services- so you should check websites for words like "normally developing." I would also be open about advanced abilities. I was too passive and vague about discussing my son's advanced abilities and now he and I are both frustrated by his current curriculum.
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#3 of 11 Old 10-23-2013, 01:23 PM
 
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I don't think there is any point in trying to get them to commit to differentiation or advanced curricula. As CamMom describes, it may be so much lip service. I'd rather try to get a feel about their attitude and values. An emotional child needs relaxed teachers, a rigid child with SPD needs flexible teachers, and a child that's working light years ahead needs teachers and administrators who are ready to admit that they may not have seen a child like that one before and that at the moment, they may not have all the answers. If they insist that "lots of kids are that advanced in our school" and "we teach an advanced curriculum anyway and differentiate so that it fits everyone" that would be a reason to be suspicious for me. Ask whether they have done subject acceleration or  full grade skips before and what their procedure is - that is how you can tell they have really worked with gifted kids and know what to do.

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#4 of 11 Old 10-25-2013, 01:48 PM
 
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Originally Posted by Tigerle View Post
 

I don't think there is any point in trying to get them to commit to differentiation or advanced curricula. As CamMom describes, it may be so much lip service. I'd rather try to get a feel about their attitude and values. An emotional child needs relaxed teachers, a rigid child with SPD needs flexible teachers, and a child that's working light years ahead needs teachers and administrators who are ready to admit that they may not have seen a child like that one before and that at the moment, they may not have all the answers. If they insist that "lots of kids are that advanced in our school" and "we teach an advanced curriculum anyway and differentiate so that it fits everyone" that would be a reason to be suspicious for me. Ask whether they have done subject acceleration or  full grade skips before and what their procedure is - that is how you can tell they have really worked with gifted kids and know what to do.

Very much this, what Tigerle said.

It also depends on the age of the school. DS goes to a relatively young school (only going on it's 10th year) so they do not have the plethora of experience with the spectrum of kids as other schools do. When I asked my very excited and very eager questions prior to DS' kindergarten year, they were non-committal. Of course they could have also seen me as the easily impressed mother of her own child (I still am. LOL). What struck me though was the relaxed atmosphere and the joy in their students' eyes. It had such a different vibe than the other schools I visited. Every child I saw that day seemed to be excited about something. That was more telling to me than if they had a set gifted program or anything... because I was fairly sure that among those kids that I saw that day, there had to be those who were highly, highly intelligent. So if they all looked happy and excited, I was willing to wager a bet on that.

 

OTOH, a spot also opened up for DS at a charter school that had a reputation for rigorous academics, operating a year or two above grade level. When I had asked about what accommodations/extensions are available for gifted children, the principal was fairly dismissive and said that their curriculum is designed to address that because they are already operating above grade level and they ability group for math. Yeah, no.

 

Going back to the non-committal school, I found that my instincts were proven regarding their flexibility and open-ness to problem solve with the parents with the way they are dealing with DS' needs. So even though I didn't initially get the "we have an awesome gifted program" commitment from his school 3 years ago, I know I chose the right school solely because they see my child as his own unique person with his own unique needs just like they do for every child in that school, gifted or not.

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#5 of 11 Old 10-26-2013, 09:30 AM
 
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We're currently looking at preschools for our DS. My favorite questions so far have been:

 

What do you do with students who are ahead academically... say a kid that comes in reading or counting past 100? (I like to give specific examples for reading and math, to make it clear what "ahead" means to me, but I try not to go on and on about DS.)

 

What if that isn't enough? 

 

I try to keep my questions as open-ended as possible. I want them to do most of the talking, because what and how much they say about giftedness helps me get a picture of how the school handles students like my DS. For example, I toured one school with a woman who began with good, rehearsed answers. I kept responding with, "Oh! Tell me more about that!... Hmmm. Can you give me an example?... How would that work in math/reading?..." I made every effort to be polite and sound like my answers were coming from a place of interest. I didn't want her to feel like she was being grilled, as I'm sure she often is. When it came down to the specifics, she could only give me 2 real examples of differentiation in language arts (both of which were pretty weak). I followed up with, "How would that work in math?" She responded, "We have some really great iPad apps that kids can work ahead on." (Really? I don't iParent, and I'm definitely not paying a school to iTeach!) After that it was clear that she had run out of ideas. She commented, "You know some kids start out ahead, but it all really evens out by 2nd grade."  I stopped asking any further questions. With that comment, she had summed up the school's views on giftedness. 

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#6 of 11 Old 10-26-2013, 01:26 PM
 
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We wanted a school that was flexible for our twin DDs special needs and academic skills.

 

For Preschool:

 

We avoided anything that was academic. For prek, we did play-based with just touches of K readiness.

 

I will say that the PreK teacher ( my daughters 3 years to 4 years old) did differentiate for reading and writing. Both DDs were reading and instead of alphabet work, she had them read and talk with her about the text. Same with writing, instead of doing circles and lines, she had one DD write words that she was interested in. It was great because it was completely child-led (she read and worked on things my DD was interested in). The rest of the curriculum was play based and mostly social skills- which both DD really needed! AWESOME teacher and good program. It really was the teacher that made a huge difference because she also made unofficial accommodations for special needs for my DDs as well (outside of the IEP/504). 

 

PreK (my daughters at age 4 to 5) with the next program was similar to HighScope and very child-centric. They did themes and the kids were allowed to explore on their level. Even though both DDs were reading, writing, doing math, etc it really was not a huge issue. They did help pass out papers and hand things out because they could read the names, but other than that- it was a nonconcern. They wrote in journals, read books in the classroom, and participated in all the activities. It had a heavy science weight so lots of hands-on experiments (making balls, listing was did/did not float, growing seeds, etc).

 

For Elem. We went straight to 1st due to a bunch of unusual circumstances (age 5 to 6). School did not have formal program, but had made accommodations. We are in an area with a lot of academic-y families so many kids think 'its cool to be smart' and they always had a peer group to work with ahead of grade level. Reading, spelling, and writing is differentiated. Math has enrichment groups. Science/Social Studies is hands-on. We've been happy for the most part. Accommodations have been made as needed for both GT and special needs. There a  few things I would change, but overall it has been positive. The fact that they school is very very very anti-bullying and very pro-community building has been great as well.

 

Questions:

 

What curriculum do they use?

What are examples of differentiation?

How many peers do you anticipate working at/above grade level?

What is the homework level?

What social supports are in place?

What after school programs do you have?

How do you match teachers & students?

 

 

Sometimes a curriculum and a student is a poor match, but the school can still be great. Or you can have a GREAT teacher and a curriculum that is not a good fit and vs versa. We have had super teachers so far, and honestly that makes a BIG difference. 

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#7 of 11 Old 10-26-2013, 03:45 PM
 
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We have had super teachers so far, and honestly that makes a BIG difference.

I agree with the above.

If my son's school never offered a gifted program, I'd still choose that school because of the excellent teachers the school has.

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#8 of 11 Old 10-26-2013, 03:53 PM
 
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Oh and the few schools that I visited when DS was in kindergarten also offered sample portfolio of the students. From there you can see how open ended the curriculum is and how much flexibility it can allow for deviations from standard.

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#9 of 11 Old 10-28-2013, 08:08 PM
 
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I found it very illuminating to sit in on classes after talking with the teacher and principal.

 

I remember one school where the teacher talked about how creative and interesting the curriculum was, and how important it is to avoid worksheets. It sounded fantastic--and then, lo and behold, they sat the kids down and had them do a worksheet! Or another school who talked about how every child does reading at his or her own level, but when we visited the classroom we saw every single child dispiritedly working away at a long vowel worksheet.

 

And thoroughly agree with everyone who warned against places that say their curriculum can meet every student's needs (especially who say that to an individual parent without first asking what kinds of material the child is working on!!!), or who say everyone evens out at a certain point.

 

Heather

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#10 of 11 Old 10-29-2013, 05:59 PM
 
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I wonder pranava if you have considered a Montessori school? I am going to look at a local Montessori that practices pure (not hybrid) Montessori through the 8th grade. I have visited quite a few schools and Montessori seems to be one of the few environments where I have seen effective differentiation. Montessori makes me nervous because I want my DS to have a lot of "hard" knowledge when it comes to mathematics and writing/reading skills- but we will see. 

 

I would recommend (not sure if someone else mentioned this) looking not only at kindergarten classrooms but spending some time in the middle and upper elementary classes. We're currently facing a (not uncommon) situation where we loved DS's kindergarten program and are disenchanted with the first grade. I think there are some wonderful early childhood programs that simply can't transfer the "magic" to elementary. 

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#11 of 11 Old 10-29-2013, 08:13 PM
 
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I have not read the entire thread but have to chime in about montessori. while it hasn't been perfect, and there has been some back and forth with getting the school to understand my child, it has in many ways been wonderful. he is in a 1-8th charter montessori school and they are great for academic and social needs of gifted kids.

 

the math is *excellent* and the writing allow a child to develop their own voice as an author. I am a huge supporter of montessori and especially montessori teachers who are aware of gifted education as well.


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