Much of the research required to select a private school can be done through studying websites, talking to others who attend the school and reading online reports. But how can parents and students really get a feel for a school’s atmosphere and have many of their specific questions answered? The best way is through attending an open house or other campus visit opportunities, according to local private school representatives.
"Coming to an open house is a great opportunity to experience the school’s environment and watch teachers and students in action," says Britton Fox, director of admissions at Riverfield Country Day School. "Visiting will give families a great feel for the school’s culture and philosophy."
Open houses come in various forms and include opportunities for families to meet faculty and current students, as well as for students to try on-campus activities.
"A review of the school website or a conversation with a director of admission is nothing compared to working with another student on a lab experiment, joining in a choral song or speaking with a softball coach within the context of the school community," says Olivia Martin, director of admission at Holland Hall.
Miss Helen’s Private School hosts open houses for families who want an initial impression of the school, says Director Jayme Wingo-Martin. But she offers tours by appointment to address more specific questions, a step she recommends parents and students take before choosing a school.
Bishop Kelley High School holds an annual High School Preview: a Sunday afternoon during which parents and students can tour the campus and hear from current students, faculty and administration, as well as learn general school statistics such as class size, teacher-to-student ratio, college acceptance information, curriculum requirements and co-curricular offerings.
"Our High School Preview covers the nuts and bolts of the school and tries to give the prospective students and families a ‘profile’ of the school," says Jane Oberste, Bishop Kelley’s director of admissions.
But Oberste considers Bishop Kelley’s Shadow Days "the best way to experience everything our school has to offer." The Shadow Days offer prospective students the opportunity to attend classes and interact with current students and teachers "to get a feel for the school community," she says.
And the only preparation necessary for a Shadow Day at Bishop Kelley is to "come with an open mind."
Holland Hall also offers Shadow Days for elementary through high school students and similar Play Days for prospective preschool students. Martin recommends families research information on the Holland Hall website, review the school’s admissions packet and prepare questions in advance of their visit.
Kerry Hornibrook, director of school advancement at Cascia Hall, suggests parents also "talk to administrators, teachers, students and other families who have attended the school to get a complete picture.
"I think everyone with school-age children should attend an open house just to take a look," she says. "Education is so important, and we want everyone to ensure they find the best fit for their child."
Questions to ask
To get the most out of an open house at a private school, it is important to come prepared with questions.
"Choosing a school is an extremely important decision, and parents should solicit as much information as they can in order to decide which school best addresses their children’s needs and aspirations," says Holland Hall’s Martin.
She also advises parents to bring questions that relate directly to their child’s interests and strengths.
"If a student is a gifted cellist, parents should ask about the strings program and its record in competitions," Martin says. "If a student hopes to earn a Division 1 soccer scholarship, parents should ask about the team, meet the coach and ask a college counselor about recent soccer-playing graduates."
Hornibrook of Cascia Hall suggests asking questions such as whether financial aid is available; the criteria for admission; and how the ACT, SAT and Advanced Placement scores of the school’s students compare to other schools across the state and nation.
Wingo-Martin of Miss Helen’s Private School recommends a wide variety of questions, including those about teacher qualifications. Some examples are: What degrees do teachers hold? Are teachers contracted? What is the teacher-student ratio? Does the school conduct Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation background checks?
She also proposes questions about the process for student assessments or report cards and what to expect regarding communication between parents and teachers.
Riverfield Country Day School’s Fox suggests questions to help get a feel for the school’s philosophy — inquiries such as: How can the school meet my child’s individual academic, social, physical and emotional needs? She also advises parents to ask about the school’s philosophy on homework, what extra-curricular activities are available, and what aspects of the school set it apart from others.
Fox says, "I am always impressed when someone has done a little bit of research about Riverfield and asks questions based on how their child’s needs will be met in our context. I appreciate an open, friendly conversation."