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School Tours: COVID Edition

We have blogged before about what to ask during a school tour...just before Covid-19 became a serious reality facing schools everywhere in the U.S. So much in the public and private school systems has since changed! As we are seeing a bit of uptick in some families moving and others questioning their initial school arrangements, we thought it was a useful time to set forth a new version of important questions to ask.

Some questions remain the same, of course; the quality of education that your child receives is heavily dependent on certain factors that should, theoretically, not change. Yet, as we all know, Covid has altered the daily look and feel of school in many ways.

As always, a key factor is identifying what your child needs and what matters most to your family. You can learn a lot about a school's environment almost immediately during your visit. Take notice of whether you feel welcome, whether the staff and students look happy, and how students and teachers interact with each other. The tour director should welcome direct questions about curriculum, educational approach, and safety measures.

It can be quite stressful making decisions about how to handle schooling during Covid. Some families may even be finding at this point that the initial decision they made some weeks ago is no longer a good fit. Being a parent is never a low-key job, but this year is particularly rife with stressful uncertainties. You are not alone! There are no easy answers; each family must decide what is right for them based on health, work schedule, financial resources, and time available at home.

If you are moving to a new area or simply looking to tour a new prospective school locally (public or private), here are some questions we hope will be helpful in making the decision of how and where to educate your child this year.

Questions on Curriculum and Remote Learning

  • If the school is fully or partially virtual/remote: how many hours per day are spent in live (synchronous) instruction? How many hours are asynchronous, independent work? How many hours are on paper / off screen?

  • If the school is operating fully in-person, what circumstances will cause a single class to switch to remote instruction? Or the whole school?

  • What is the cap for class size? What exceptions are there for raising the limit? Does seating reflect social distancing guidelines? What kinds of opportunities will my child have to work in small groups for differentiated instruction?

  • How does your school encourage a love of reading? What does a day of reading and writing look like? How do you teach spelling and grammar? If remote, what format(s) or resources are you using to have students read at home?

  • How do you teach science and engineering principles? What curriculum do you use? If remote, how will my child conduct hands-on science experiments at home? Will the parents have to lead the science instruction at home, or does the teacher do it?

  • Do you offer or require foreign language? For what grade levels? How many days per week, and for how much time each day? Do native speakers have a separate class or track? Does the parent need to know the language to be able to assist the student learning remotely?

  • How do you structure your math curriculum? What types of activities do children perform during math class? If remote, will instruction be synchronous or asynchronous?

  • How much and what types of homework will my child receive each night? If remote, will additional homework also be on-screen work? What is the total length of time my child will be on a device at home?

  • Tell me about your arts program. How often will my child participate in arts classes (especially fine arts and music)? What does that class time look like? If remote, are arts classes still included? How does that instruction take place remotely?

  • How many standardized tests will my child take each year? How many instructional days are spent on testing? How much time is spent during class preparing for the tests? How much is teaching geared toward the test? If remote, will standardized tests still be administered?

  • What guides the teachers' instruction? Is it textbook-driven? Do you adhere to any state or international standards? How do teachers ensure your child's individual needs are being met?

Questions on Health and Safety

  • How do you handle classroom behavior and what is your approach with discipline in the classroom?

  • What ages or grade levels are required to wear masks? During which parts of the day, in what locations, or under what circumstances? How much social distancing is required? Do all students mingle together in normal (i.e. non-Covid schedules) hallway transitions, or are they staggered?

  • How does your school define "close contact" for the purposes of Covid? What is your notification policy for students' families in cases that test positive?

  • How do staff enforce safety measures for Covid? Are there punitive measures in place or more positive reinforcement?

  • How is the school balancing health and safety measures with mental health of students? How do you support students who are experiencing elevated levels of stress or anxiety?

  • Will my child spend time outside every day? If so, how much? Is loss of recess time regularly used as a disciplinary action for misbehavior? Are masks required while outside?

  • How do you incorporate character education in your overall curriculum or classes? How does your school approach encouraging respect for each other, building friendships, and resolving conflict? What does conflict resolution look like with social distancing requirements?

  • How will you inspire a love of learning in my child?

  • What opportunities will my child have to pursue individual interests? Are elective classes available? For what subjects and grade levels?

  • How frequently will my child have the opportunity to go on field trips? Have field trips been cancelled this year? If so, when will they be reinstated?

  • What opportunities will my child have to interact with members of the community or perform acts of service outside the school with their class? Are these types of activities permitted during Covid? Under what circumstances or restrictions?

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