Define your ideal school

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Every independent school provides a unique educational experience, so how do you decide which schools will be a good fit for your child? Think about:

  • School Type. Do you want a day school or boarding school? Coeducational or single-sex? If you’re not sure, search for articles and opinions or talk to an educational consultant about which environment might be best for your student.
  • Grade range. Do you want a school that focuses on your child’s age range, or one that can serve your child through elementary, middle, and high school?
  • Location. Convenience matters, especially if you want your child to take part in school activities. Time the commute before and after school just to be sure.
  • Student body. Consider both average class size and total enrollment. A smaller population may mean fewer social opportunities, but more chances for your student to shine. Also consider the diversity of the student body.
  • Educational philosophy. Most independent schools fall along a continuum between traditional and progressive, but what does that mean? How are classes taught? How are expectations conveyed? How are students tested? Ask to sit in on a few classes to see how the philosophy plays out.
  • Curriculum. What courses are offered? Which are required and which are elective? In what order are math, science, and humanities courses taught? Is there an interdisciplinary emphasis, so that what students study in English meshes with what they’re learning in history? Does the curriculum fit your student’s learning needs?
  • Faculty. Examine the faculty list (online or in recruitment materials). Where did teachers go to college? How long have they been teaching? Do their degrees match with what they teach? Is there much turnover? In primary grades, how many teachers are in the classroom? Watch a class to see how teachers interact with students and engage them in the learning process.
  • Facilities. In addition to the overall condition of the school, look at the facilities your child may use. Is the art department well-stocked? Are sports facilities well-equipped? Are computers up to date? How extensive is the library/language lab?
  • Special programs and extracurriculars. Does the school provide programs that fit your student’s needs and interests? Consider academic support, language programs, arts, athletics, leadership opportunities, and service programs. Is the school a place where your child can blossom?
  • Courtesy of the National Association of Independent Schools, nais.org

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.