“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 consider changing schools.
“Every child has bad days and times that are difficult academically, emotionally or socially,” says Mary Boat, Director for the School of Education at the University of Cincinnati. “It really does need to be a sustained concern instead of a simply situational issue to warrant the large step of changing schools.”
Before you leave
Although you may already be Googling other school options, before you get serious about switching, make sure you’ve exhausted every available avenue at your child’s current school, experts say.
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
Once you’ve made the decision 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.
“Ask yourself, ‘What’s working now and what’s not working?’” says Kaleigh Lemaster, Executive Director of School Choice Ohio, a statewide nonprofit that aims to inform parents on education options. “We always tell families to do their due diligence and know everything you want and need from a school beforehand.”
This well-rounded 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. “It can take a long time to get to know your child as a learner,” Boat says. “Take time to listen to what your child values and what’s interesting for him or her, and that information can help you find the best possible fit.”
Make sure you have a good understanding of what your needs are. “A lot of families come to us with a list of non-negotiables – things that their child needs in a new school, how far is too far to get to school and how much time they want to spend getting back and forth,” Lemaster says.
Also, make sure to look at the big picture. Lloyd relays this experience when she moved her daughter from her old school to what they both believed would 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.scohio.org. Most schools will also put you in touch with other families who attend. Of course, visiting schools in person is a must as well. “When at all possible, visit the schools in person during the day and see them in motion. Visit a classroom and really get a feel for the environment and if it would be right for your child,” Lemaster says.
While every parent is searching for the perfect school for their child, Boat suggests parents also make sure to give the child space to find his or her own way. “Not every situation will be or should be exactly what your child wants. It’s equally important that they understand that different situations call for different ways for addressing things,” she says. “Having a problem that they must solve themselves – such as the time and effort it takes to make new friends – can help them learn, too.”
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.