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New to Boston? Time to Find the Right School for the Kids - Here's How!

Posted by Devin Cole  September 29, 2011 03:22 PM

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Cassie Firenze is the talented Director of Admission for the Shady Hill School in Cambridge (beginners through 8th grade). She loves matching students and schools together and feels that the right match can lead to success both in the classroom and in a child's self confidence. Newcomers and locals alike take heed; Cassie's advice is well worth listening to.

What should you look for and how do you get to know about schools in the area?

Ask around! Ask people with whom you have things in common about their experience with schools. No one family's experience will tell the whole story of any school. Plan to spend time at open houses and visiting schools until you find a few that feel right to you. Don't try to find the school that is like the one you left behind" or "like the one you went to when you were little". Schools change over time and no two are alike. Examine a school for what it is today and who your child is as a learner.

How do you decide which school would be a good fit for your child?

Spend time investigating. Visit web sites, talk to people who do (and don't!) have their kids at the schools you're interested in. Be focused on the match as opposed to the reputation. Talk to objective folks who know your child in a way that you don't (preschool teachers and directors, etc.), people who have worked with kids with a similar profile as yours and can help you think through what factors in a next school would provide the best match.

Be realistic about the logistical things that do/don't matter to you. Is there an afterschool program? Do you have to pack a lunch every day? Is there a dress code? How diverse is the student body and faculty? Is communication encouraged between parents and the classroom teacher?

What should we know about the lower/middle school admissions? process?

Know that you will need to invest time because you will trust this school with your child and your money. Each school will invite you to visit a few times to get a sense of the campus, mission and curriculum.

Do you have tips on getting connected to schools?

I don't think "connections" are so important. As you visit schools, some will speak to you and feel right. Don't be afraid to ask the admissions rep to connect you with someone in the community with whom you have something in common (i.e. hometown, preschool, ethnic/religious background, etc.)

What is the application cycle?

Each school is different and you should call to find out specific dates. For my school, the cycle is:

Open House - fall (October & November)

Parent Visit & Interview - mid-October through January

Applications due - for B&K, December 15, for Grades 1 and higher, early January

Supporting materials due - mid January

Student visit - January

Decisions mailed - March 10

Family reply date - April 10

What happens if you move in the middle of this cycle and miss the admission deadlines?

Call schools; each school has a different policy for late applications. Some schools will consider them, others will not.

How would you describe schools in Boston?

Diverse and unique. Each school has its own flavor. Beyond the easy demographics of size, location and grades offered, you'll find different mission statements, curricular approaches, etc.

How do you decide who is accepted?

At my school, we are interested in finding a good match between student and program. We're not looking for the most over-achieving students, but for kids who will be excited about our program and will work well here. The child who will be successful at X Academy is not the same child who will be successful at Y Academy. We also look to create groups of kids who will work well together and learn from each other.

What happens if your child doesn't get in?

Relax and be patient. There are often waiting lists and spots do open. It?s okay to call the schools and ask for feedback (although do not call immediately upon receiving the news, give yourself time to calm down). Some schools will give feedback, others won't. Ask about later entry points and whether the school would encourage you to reapply.

Where do I start?

Visit the AISNE website for a listing of open houses this fall. There is a school fair in October where you can meet representatives from many schools, preK-12. The date can be found on the AISNE website.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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