“I hate school!” It’s something nearly every child has screamed at least once between kindergarten and high school graduation, and like many challenges, important lessons are often learned from working through a difficult situation.
But what happens when things don’t get better? When children are consistently unhappy at school, report being bored academically or experience bullying – these types of scenarios are when many parents start to consider changing schools.
“It’s not as simplistic as saying, ‘I don’t like his teacher this year,’ or ‘I don’t like the curriculum they’re teaching at this grade level.’” Says Angela Lupton, Assistant Dean of the College of Education at Butler University. “If you are unhappy with the school your child currently attends, you should get to the root of what is going on first before taking the step to change schools.”
Carol Lloyd, mother of two and Vice President and Editorial Director for GreatSchools, a national nonprofit that provides searchable information and ratings for all types of schools, encourages parents to have uncomfortable conversations with school administrators before considering a move. “I, too, tend to start thinking about moving schools before it’s really reasonable. I’ll do it because I think the school can’t change, or I’ll assume that all of the resources I know about are all the resources that exist,” she says. “But before you start thinking about changing schools, you can’t be afraid to go to the very top. Talk to the teacher, yes, but talk to the principal to see if there’s anything that can be changed higher up.”
It’s also important that you determine exactly what is causing issues for your child and ask directly if anything can be changed in that regard, such as your child’s schedule, teachers or the way in which they’re being taught.
Finding a new school
If you ultimately decide to move your child to a new school, it’s time to get serious about researching local options, examining the needs of your child and your family and making in-person visits.
Assess your current situation
While it may be tempting to start from scratch when searching for a new school, it’s important to look for things that actually work for your child in his or her current school so you can look for those qualities in a new school.
“You should understand the things your child likes about school, including their favorite subjects, extracurricular activities and social needs,” says Lauren Peterson, Manager of Community Engagement and Outreach for Enroll Indy, a relatively new nonprofit aimed at streamlining the school enrollment process in Indianapolis. “What you want to focus on is, what is the best individual fit for that child?”
This approach can also help you avoid what educators call “school whiplash.” For example, if your child was bullied and your only focus is putting them in a school where they won’t be bullied, you may be overlooking other important criteria, such as academic rigor or the afterschool activity that your child loves.
Make sure you have a good understanding of what your needs are, Lupton says. “It really is beyond which school is best. It’s actually more about all the external pieces that have to come together so your family can still, for example, eat dinner together or get everyone to school on time. If you have kids in three or four different schools, that’s three or four back-to-school nights, three or four PTOs to support and lots of afterschool activities to coordinate. You have to think about your whole family dynamics.”
Lloyd says she ran into this very issue when she moved her oldest daughter to what they both believed to be the ideal academic environment. “It really was the perfect school for her, but she had to take public transportation for more than an hour a day, and it just ended up destroying her quality of life,” Lloyd recalls. “For me, I learned that, yes, high academic quality is important, but there are also some basics, like having your child well-rested and building community.”
Research and visit
Once you’ve assessed the needs of your child and your family, it’s time to research local school options in earnest.
There are several websites that allow parents to compare school information, ratings, reviews and demographic information, including www.greatschools.org and www.enrollindy.org. Most schools will also put you in touch with other families who attend. Of course, visiting prospective schools is a must. “We tell parents, just because this tool is here, that does not replace visiting the schools,” Peterson says. “Go see if you can sit in for a couple of hours to see how the school functions on a day-to-day basis, and by doing your research ahead of time, you’ll know what questions to ask.”
It’s also a good idea to bring your child along to visits if possible. But Lupton urges parents not to put the final decision about switching schools on their child’s shoulders. “In some cases, I see parents of kids in elementary school asking their child, ‘Well, where do you want to go to school?’” she says. “You want to include your child and see where their interests and passions lie, but we have to be very careful that we are not asking children to make decisions that are not developmentally appropriate for them.”
Deciding to change schools is a big decision, not just for your child but for your whole family. Before making a switch, take the time to understand your child’s needs and how they may be better addressed in a different environment. Research and visit schools that meet your criteria and include your child in the process. If you decide to commit to another school, going “all in” with a positive attitude, from both you and your child, can set everyone up for a better school year.