The perfect fit

Not all private schools are created equal. Education writer Sheryl Bennett-Wilson tells you how to find one tailored to your child

Choosing the right private school for your child is a big decision. And finding the right fit — for both the child and the school — is important. Joyce Walker-Steed, registrar at Turnbull School, likes to make this search personal. “We’re doing individual tours for fully vaccinated adults in our early morning hours,” says Walker-Steed. “It’s an effective way for parents to see the facilities we offer, and it lets me understand what the parents want for their child.” It also prompts parents to ask questions, depending on the age of the child and what grade they will be going to be in — and vice-versa: Walker-Steed takes the opportunity at this time to ask parents about their child. “We do have a multi-step admission process at Turnbull,” explains Walker-Steed, “and I often have many conversations with the parents about the importance of working collaboratively with them to provide their child with an optimal learning environment.”

Joyce Walker-Steed

Turnbull staff don’t just look at grades but also try to gain a sense of a child’s social development. “In pre-COVID times, we would have the student visit for the day and be paired with a buddy,” says Walker-Steed. “That can be informative for both the prospective parents and for our school. You can tell when a student is excited about attending the school.”

For Kristy Larose, principal at Blyth Academy, communication is key. “I believe that the child needs to be involved as much as the parents are when you are making a decision about attending a private school,” says Larose. This is especially the case for teens. She also agrees that it must be the right fit. If the student doesn’t want to be there and really dislikes being at the school, then it’s not healthy for anyone. “I always encourage parents and their child to ask questions about how the school functions and how they think they’ll fit in and add to the Blyth community,” says Larose. “And I’ll ask them to think about what they need now and how that might be different in five years.” She also recommends that parents and their child visit several schools before making a decision. “We want all our students to feel content, comfortable and supported at Blyth,” says Larose. “And if we’re that fit, great.”

Kristy Larose

A family’s expectations are an integral part of choosing the right school, says Philippe Courjault, headmaster at Lycée Claudel. “This is a big commitment for a number of their child’s school years. So we must align with those expectations.” Courjault says parents should be asking about how students are supported in their school experience and how they can get involved in school life. And if it’s required, whether there are childcare options available for younger students. “Parents must also understand that they and their child have to follow the values and philosophy of the school,” says Courjault. “That will be part of knowing whether Lycée Claudel is a good fit, and they have to feel, and the child has to feel that they’re comfortable and will thrive.”

Philippe Courjault

Lycée Claudel follows the French international curriculum; all classes are taught in French with a strong emphasis on languages, although kindergarten doesn’t require French proficiency. This may open up opportunities for Anglophone families. In addition, “our teachers will help your child integrate with classmates,” says Courjault. By elementary school, both the student and parents must understand that they have to maintain an academic level and a level of French to continue; and by high school, the curriculum becomes more diverse, and students must demonstrate a sufficient academic level. “We encourage parents to visit the school during the day so they can see how the school functions and how their child fits in,” says Courjault. He says they evaluate each student personally with admission tests and interviews. “We want to ensure the best possible experience for every student and to know that this is a good fit.”