Choosing the Right Elementary School for My Child
12 Important Factors to Consider
September 2, 2021
It is more evident than ever that the experience a child has in the elementary school years sets the stage for the educational experiences which follow. These years shape a child’s love of learning and should be life-changing experiences.
The elementary school years are the years of investment. During this time, children hone their skills, develop academic stamina, and learn the lessons of scholarship through sustained efforts and guided practice. These habits and skills are mastered in lower school.
Before beginning your research of the varied elementary school options, take time to define for yourself the “ideal school.” What are the specific needs of your child? How would you describe your own educational philosophy? Ultimately, you are seeking to align a school’s stated mission, educational philosophy and vision, with your own educational philosophy, and the hopes and dreams you have for your child. By establishing and ranking your priorities, you will more easily be able to narrow your choice to a selected school that is a perceived fit. This is the alignment that you are seeking in the school search.
The research confirms the importance of early experiences and the powerful combination of home, preschool and primary school in improving children’s learning.
The Effective Preschool, Primary and Secondary Education Project
The Internet can be a powerful tool in helping you create a shortlist of schools; there is a tremendous amount of school-specific information now available online, including school profiles, policies, test scores, and demographic stats. Information can be found directly on a school’s site or on third-party sites such as: GreatSchools and Niche. This data, while an important factor in the decision-making process, doesn’t provide the complete picture of a school.
When choosing an elementary school, it’s important to ask questions beyond the numbers found on a website. No online review or profile can take the place of a school visit, when you are able to observe teachers and students in a class and form your own opinion of the campus environment. Your visit to campus will give you a true sense of the school’s philosophy, people, and physical plant; ask current and past parents, students, teachers, and alumni to speak candidly about their experience with the school.
Here are 12 key factors to consider before choosing an elementary school. The answers to these questions will help you make an informed decision about the best elementary school for your child.
1. What is the school's mission, vision, and educational philosophy?
A school’s mission or philosophy will ultimately shape the student experience.
The Waterford School inspires individuals to pursue lives of meaning and purpose by providing a world-class liberal arts education that stimulates intellect, ignites passion, and shapes character. Waterford’s Lower School begins the formal process of building a strong, complete foundation to support a lifetime of growth and learning.
2. What is the learning environment like? And how does class size contribute to that learning environment?
Take the time to observe classrooms during a regular school day. You don’t need to be an expert in education to identify engaged students and compelling teachers. What kinds of exchanges do teachers have with their students? Is the classroom a place where you would want to spend your time? Would your child’s learning strengths and needs be supported in the classroom?
Class size is an important factor to consider at the earliest grades. Researchers have found that younger children learn and perform best in smaller classes (20 students or less). A small class size, however, may be beneficial only insofar as a teacher tailors their instruction to the needs of the class (SAGE University of Wisconsin-Madison). Ask teachers how the number of students in their classroom affects their teaching style. Do students work in small groups? Do students receive individual attention?
The quality of any school begins and ends with its classroom teachers. Waterford’s skilled teachers are dedicated to fostering engaging and welcominglearning environments. Teachers acknowledge the tremendous role they play in a child’s social and academic development, and work to make meaningful connections with each of their students to unlock their full potential.
The Waterford student experience is enriched by daily classes with specialists in science, visual art, music, physical education, computers, and movement. Waterford specialists are accomplished practitioners in their areas of expertise: students learn piano from a musician, visual art from a painter, or biology from a scientist. Students meet with specialists in dedicated studios, labs, and gymnasiums tailored to elementary instruction to facilitate in-depth curriculum exploration. Waterford combines specialized arts and science instruction with the core subjects of reading, writing, mathematics, and history to create a cohesive and stimulating educational experience.
Ultimately children will come to love what their teachers love. By design, Lower School students at Waterford are surrounded and taught ably by these passionate exerts throughout their years in the Lower School program.
The Waterford School understands the value of small classroom size. A low teacher-student ratio allows teachers to know their students and appropriately challenge every student in their class. In PreK - Class III the schedule is set up so that teachers can work with even smaller groups of students (5-6) for small-group instruction, allowing for individualization and differentiation.
3. Will my child feel and be safe?
Approaches to discipline and safety vary widely from school to school. Ask how teachers and administrators address behavioral problems and bullying to get a better sense of the school’s disciplinary climate and expectations for student comportment.
4. How much homework is assigned? What is the school's approach to homework?
The Waterford Lower School recognizes the importance of collaboration between home and school in the healthy development of the whole child. Homework assignments offer practice, application, and extension of topics introduced in the classroom. Appropriate amounts of homework establish habits of learning, and homework is assigned Monday through Thursday. A significant amount of this homework time is spent reading and once a month students enjoy a “Read With Me Night,” when families spend their child’s entire homework time reading together. (Time spent on homework per evening by class-- Class I: 10 minutes, Class II: 20 minutes, Class III: 30 minutes, Class IV: 40 minutes, Class V: 50 minutes)
5. How is technology integrated into the curriculum?
At The Waterford School, technology becomes a tool weekly to enrich and extend the classroom experience. Waterford students in Kindergarten-Class II test into their appropriate learning level and work at an individualized pace through reading, math, and science modules.
Classes III - V attend computer class three times a week for 45 minutes in an Apple computer lab. Classroom assignments are completed in the lab using a variety of computer applications such as Google Docs, Keynote, Garageband, Numbers, and Pages. Their computer instruction also includes digital citizenship, keyboarding skills, email etiquette, and programming skills in Scratch and Code.org.
6. How do the arts fit into the curriculum?
7. What extracurricular activities are available for students?
Extracurricular activities allow students to pursue interests outside of the school curriculum, build positive social relationships with peers and mentors, and have been found to have a positive effect on academic performance (U.S. Dept. of Education). What types of after-school activities does the school offer? Are these activities available to all students? Do you anticipate your child being interested in any of the activities offered?
8. How does this school support students with different strengths and needs?
Waterford is a college preparatory school with a challenging and demanding curriculum by design. Work is differentiated in each classroom to meet the needs of each individual student.
The Waterford Lower School employs a full-time school psychologist who addresses the needs of individual students through the use of student plans. The school psychologist works with the administration, faculty, and parents to facilitate collaboration between home and school in order to maximize individual student learning.
Waterford has a state-of-the-art, in-house Academic Support Program for reading, writing and math. Our tutors are trained by Waterford professionals and work closely with classroom teachers to provide support for our students when needed.
9. What professional development opportunities do teachers have? How do teachers collaborate?
The Waterford School employs teachers with extensive experience in elementary school education. The school seeks, supports, and retains talented faculty members who share a deep passion for teaching; the average years of service among Waterford Lower School teachers is 15 years. And all Specialist teachers are highly-credentialed within their disciplines.
Teachers attend weekly grade-level planning meetings, as well as several cluster and Lower School meetings throughout the school year. The main purpose of these meetings is to provide an opportunity for collaboration as well as share and exchange ideas among teachers. Educators are expected to always be looking at the latest education research to determine revisions and additions that should be made to the curriculum as guided by the research. A teacher’s ability to read and understand research and then create effective curriculum is valued and developed in Waterford teachers. Waterford teachers are encouraged to apply for professional development funds to attend conferences and classes, view webinars, participate in online training or other opportunities.
10. How does this school keep parents informed? How can parents be involved at the school?
Waterford School is a community of families where collaboration between home and school is key to the success of their children within our programs. Waterford parents have many opportunities to help with classroom activities, homework, and extracurricular activities. At Waterford School, teachers and parents are partners in a child’s education. Teachers intimately know their students and actively communicate with parents. Extensive progress reports are provided at the end of each trimester and parent-teacher conferences are held three times a year to discuss student progress.
Additionally, getting involved at Waterford is possible through many events and activities throughout the year. The Parents Association meets monthly to discuss relevant, topical issues as stakeholders in the Waterford experience. And parents are invited to join as volunteers at the many on- and off-campus events during the school year. Finally, parents are kept informed by a weekly newsletter that both recaps and shares stories from the past weeks, but also looks ahead at ways to be involved.
11. What is the physical environment like?
Every Waterford Lower School student attends P.E. twice a week, in addition to dance once a week. Morning, lunch, and afternoon recesses are important, and are scheduled in as part of each student’s day.
The Waterford School believes there is a clear link between well-designed facilities and academic excellence. The campus spans 40 acres at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains and is comprised of 10 buildings totaling 250,000 square feet. The Waterford Lower School campus includes a library, gym, and specialized spaces for science, music, art, computers, and a state-of-the-art Outdoor Classroom.
12. What distinguishes the school from others?
All schools, both public and private, have their strengths and special focuses. A school’s commitment to a certain program or philosophy will give you a sense of the school’s core values. Ask yourself if the school’s values will align with and support your child’s interests, strengths, and personality.
The Waterford School is deeply committed to providing every student a rich educational experience rooted in the Liberal Arts. The verticality of Waterford’s rigorous curriculum gives each subject area real purpose in a student’s journey from preschool to commencement. The Waterford Lower School offers an academic program that effortlessly blends the subjects of reading, writing, mathematics, and history with daily visits to specialists in the subjects of science, visual art, computers, library, music, dance, and physical education. At Waterford, all of these disciplines (together with a variety of extra-curricular activities and programs) come together into a cohesive, unified educational experience.
Making A Decision
Don’t leave your child’s elementary school education to chance. Take the time to schedule visits to your preferred schools. Use the above list of questions as a starting point for discussions with school administrators, teachers, and parents. Choosing an elementary school is one of the most important decisions you can make for your child.
Celebrate the choice — you have an exciting opportunity to pick a school partner in your child’s educational journey. Above all, remember to trust your instincts — you know your child best!
We would be delighted for you to schedule a campus visit to Waterford School. Come see for yourself why Waterford is a leader in elementary school education.