Many parents worry about how to pick the right private elementary school for their child. Selecting the right school can be challenging. We’ve agonized over these decisions ourselves. And, the competitive nature of private elementary schools in Los Angeles can limit a family’s choices because there’s no guarantee that your child will be accepted at your favorite schools.
To help you choose the best possible school for your child, here are some excellent tips from Christina Simon, Anne Simon and Porcha Dodson, collaborative authors of a new book, Beyond The Brochure: An Insider’s Guide To Private Elementary Schools In Los Angeles: (Read on to learn how you can WIN one of FIVE copies of this incomparable guide!)
- Tour as many schools as possible. The authors recommend parents see between eight and ten schools to really learn how different each school is from another. This is easier if you start looking at schools two years before you apply (which is one year before your child will enroll in kindergarten). Los Angeles has excellent private elementary schools, but each one is unique and unless you visit the school, you won’t get a good feel for what it has to offer.
- Location, location, location. Geography matters in Los Angeles. It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of finding an outstanding school that you know would be a great fit for your child. The only problem: it’s an hour drive each way to and from the school. Don’t ignore this geographic reality. A commute of this distance will be difficult on your child and the entire family. And, don’t forget about your child’s play dates and events that require you to be at the school during the day and on more than a few evenings.
- Be aware of the popularity contest. It’s easy to choose a school because it’s “trendy” or “popular” or filled with celebrities. Don’t forget, these trends change from year to year and this isn’t a good reason to select a school. When parents at your child’s preschool are abuzz about a particular school, take a step back and ask yourself if you are being influenced away from your own values. Be confident in your choices even if they are not the most sought-after schools.
- Plan ahead (but not too far ahead). K-6? K-8? K-12? Should you pick an elementary school that has a middle and/or high school? A number of the top private elementary schools in Los Angeles have middle and/or high schools. How important is this when you’re choosing an elementary school? THe authors think you should focus on the elementary school at this point. It’s impossible to know whether your child will remain at the same school until he or she goes to college. The lack of a middle or high school shouldn’t deter you from touring or selecting a great elementary school. Remember that a school that is devoted to elementary education will keep its primary focus on the programs your child will benefit from now.
- Calculate the costs. Tuition at the top private elementary schools in Los Angeles can range from $17,000 to $24,000 per child, per year. Some schools are slightly more expensive and parochial schools cost less. You should know that schools increase tuition annually. And, you need to consider additional out-of-pocket expenses. Every private school asks families to contribute to their annual giving campaign. Your child may want to take enrichment classes or need after-school care. Summer camp, hot lunch and other expenses can add up quickly. If you don’t think you can afford the full tuition, inquire about financial aid, which, if awarded, could cover all or part of your child’s tuition and other expenses. Many private elementary schools place a very high priority on having an economically diverse student body. Money should not deter you from seeking the best education for your child.
- Find the right fit for your child. Most importantly, don’t lose sight of your family’s core values during this process. Look around each school and observe the classrooms, teachers, administrators, students and other parents. Try to see the students in upper grades. Can you feel a connection with the culture of the school? Do you think your child would feel comfortable at the school? Would he or she be excited to arrive at school every day? If your child is artistic and the school lacks an arts program, is it really the right school? Your goal is to find a school where your child will be inspired, challenged and nurtured. Your family should feel comfortable with the other parents. Ideally, your parenting style and family values will be similar to other families at the school. This helps build a sense of community and belonging.
The right private elementary school for your child is there. You just need to find it!
For more info: Beyond The Brochure: An Insider’s Guide To Private Elementary Schools In Los Angeles, available at Amazon.com. Visit FatEnvelopePublishing.com or see what’s new at the book’s blog.
Christina Simon is the parent of two children at the Willows Community School.
Porcha Dodson is a former teaching partner and director of diversity at the Curtis School.
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Tell us your number one concern when looking for the ideal school for your child: Is it an arts program? a style of teaching? the availability of enrichment classes? Tell us and win! Five random winners will be selected on October 16, 2005.