Written By Jennifer Good
for Chesapeake Family Life Magazine
Sarah walked into an Open House at Annapolis Area Christian School armed with her long list of questions. This was her first stop as she began a thorough search for the perfect school for her two children. With her list of important questions in her hand, she was feeling both anxious and excited, understanding the importance of this decision.
Private school admissions offices are well equipped to answer the long list of questions that parents such as Sarah have when searching for a right fit school. Questions about academic offerings, athletics, college preparation, technology, and diverse learning styles are among the most common. Although these are all very important questions, there is one all important aspect of a school that should top the list of questions. Parents should begin their evaluation of a school with an in-depth look at school culture.
School culture or climate is like the personality of a school. Do students respect one another? Do they feel safe, cared for, and engaged? Is it welcoming? Do you see joy on the faces of teachers, students, and school leaders? The culture of any school has very deep roots and is difficult to change, even as new families join the community and graduating seniors depart. Yet research has shown over and over that it profoundly affects student learning, engagement, self-esteem, confidence, and achievement. The school you choose may have all of the curricular elements you’re looking for, but a toxic school climate will make it all meaningless.
Common questions from prospective parents like Sarah on topics such as academics, technology, athletics, and learning styles are easy to answer by the admissions office. The answers tend to fill the pages of school profiles, brochures, and websites. It’s factual information. School culture on the other hand, has to be observed and experienced. A healthy school culture helps your child thrive. At Annapolis Area Christian School, school culture is a continual top priority. Here are five aspects of school culture that you can observe and experience as you search for the perfect private school.
Relationships are a key component of a healthy and vibrant school culture. Every student is a unique work of art from the hand of the Creator and you should see evidence of this truth as you walk the halls, look in classrooms, and watch how faculty and staff interact. Remember that students learn best from people who love and care about them. Does the school feel warm and welcoming? Are students attentive and respectful in the classroom? You should be able to observe polite and kind behavior as you experience and observe the school.
If you’re looking for a Christian school, make sure it isn’t Christian in name alone. All Christian schools will have information on their website and marketing materials about their beliefs and faith. Yet faith is not just what they say they believe; it should be evident in their actions, attitudes, and relationships. What are teachers doing to continue to grow in their own faith? How is faith modeled and nurtured for students? Ask! These are important aspects of a distinctively Christian school.
Do students and faculty look engaged and happy to be at school? You should see clear evidence of joy as students learn, interact, and work in community. Do you see gratitude and smiles? At AACS one of our core values is “steadfast joy.” Life brings many challenges yet we remind ourselves daily of the gospel of grace and God’s unchanging character amidst ever-changing circumstances. There will be many times when your child will need encouragement and grace. A joy-filled school culture should be a top priority.
Look for a school that will partner with you as you raise and educate your child. Does the school share your family values? Will the faculty model, teach, and encourage the character traits and beliefs that are important to you? It is your responsibility as a parent to “train up a child in the way that he should go” (Provers 22:6), yet your effectiveness will increase when you surround your child with other adults who share your values.
Raising and educating children in today’s world can feel overwhelming at times. If you’re looking for a private school, you’re looking for a community that will support the values, hopes, and dreams you have for your child. School culture is by far the most important aspect of your private school search. Once you’ve found a culture that feels right, it’s then time to take out your list of questions about everything else.