It's Kindergarten registration time and I've been thrown back into the whole process again as I gear up to send my youngest to school. It takes me back to the stressful time we had when deciding where to send my oldest three years ago.
As someone pointed out to me recently, some areas don't have a lot of options. Perhaps the options are limited because of the remoteness of the community, or perhaps it is financial. Many of us can't afford to consider private or alternative education.
So I do consider myself lucky that we had several choices in our area, but it did make for a lot of careful deliberation (I almost wonder if one school choice would be easier!) I know what went into our decision, but I was curious how other parents made the choice. So I put the question out on Facebook and got a lot of responses. Below I've highlighted some of the factors you may want to consider when choosing a school for your child:
We are lucky here in Ottawa to live in a fairly bilingual community. It's important for our children to learn French, especially if they hope to stay and work in Ottawa in the future (which we don't actually know at age 4, but hey, you can think ahead for them!) So before you look into the school in more detail, it's probably best to hash out whether you will do full French (both public and Catholic options), French Immersion (public and Catholic options,) or core French (the Catholic board starts with 50% French in Kindergarten and the public board does 200 minutes per week.) For those unsure if full French is the right option, I wrote a post about being Anglophone in a Francophone system.
As one parent wrote: "We went with the closest Catholic school to our house. I liked the Catholic board because of the 50/50 French in kindergarten and the later immersion options."
I am not Catholic, but my husband is. My oldest was baptised in the United Church, and my youngest has yet to be baptised. However, both will attend Catholic school for a number of reasons, and so far we've been really happy with the choice. If you know a great Catholic school nearby, but you aren't Catholic, make sure to contact them to ask about your options!
Several parents commented that location was a deciding factor, which was our case as well. I wanted my children to be able to walk to school, and given our proximity to the school grounds the school we chose was definitely within walking distance - I can actually throw them over the fence and wave goodbye ;)
For those who can't walk, bus schedules are another factor: "The school bus schedule. Yup. Anything to save on paying for before or after care so we can finally start mending the financial wounds of mat leaves and childcare for the past 4 years."
"We chose the alternative system. The teaching style in the alternative system is so exciting and inspiring. We were completely wowed when we went for a visit. It's like home schooling, but at school!!"
Montessori, Waldorf, Forest School etc. There are many options in Ottawa! Check out a recent post by our friend Andrea over at A Peek Inside the Fishbowl, all about Joan of Arc Academy. We even have a public school across the street from us (called La Source) which follows a play-based curriculum. Many alternative schools are publicly funded, but parents will need to consider cost for private schools.
"We printed off profiles of schools from the school board when we were looking for a house and while we didn't intentionally buy our house based on the profile we liked the best, it sort of turned out that way. I liked the high number of kids who's first language was neither English or French. I liked the fact that the school has a hard of hearing program and I liked some of the partnerships that the school had developed with community agencies to support the students."
What types of programs does your school offer beyond the curriculum? Where do they focus their resources? How involved is the school in the community? These are all really important questions to ask at a school open house - parents know that volunteer work and strong community connections can engage students in a meaningful way.
I've added this last one, because I noticed it didn't come up in any of the comments on our Facebook post. I'm not sure parents are considering "rankings" to be an important factor in their decision, probably because of some of the criticisms of how schools are ranked - after all, grades are not the decided factor when it comes to a school's "success." Many teachers I have chatted with all say that rankings are flawed, and that you are better off meeting the principal and speaking with other parents whose children attend that school to decide for yourself.