OPINION – One of the most important decisions a parent will make is selecting a school for their child. And when it comes to a child’s needs and learning style, a parent is the one who knows exactly what it takes for their child to be successful. That’s why school choice matters. It empowers a parent to choose the best school for their son or daughter.

By collecting information, talking to other parents, visiting schools, and exercising the right to choose, a parent can take the lead in making sure that their child receives a high-quality education and a positive school experience.

That’s what Sheila Jackson, a long-time DC resident, did for her daughter. She knew that her daughter Shawnee was struggling in middle school, so she applied for a scholarship through DC the Opportunity Scholarship program, a program that provides scholarships to low-income DC children to attend a private school.

“I was so grateful for this scholarship because it afforded me with the opportunity to important factors, like safety, curriculum, staff and school activities into account when selecting the perfect school for my daughter,” said Sheila.

While parents truly know what is best for their children, finding the perfect school can be an intimidating task. Here are just a few items that a parent should consider when looking for the best school fit for their child.

Curriculum – A parent should be able to decide what his or her child is exposed to in the classroom, and understanding the curriculum of a school is a vital aspect of a child’s overall education. Setting up a one-on-one meetings with the principal to get a feel for the school and its’ culture is a critical first step. It is also important to attend open houses and participate in school tours. A parent should always ask the administration and faculty questions about classes and what sort of subjects the school emphasizes.

Parent Involvement – All parents should also explore ways that they can get involved and meet other parents whose children attend the school. Attending a parent-teacher association meeting, frequenting online parent forums that highlight schools in the area and reviewing blogs that provide information about a school from those who know firsthand are just a few suggestions.

Safety of the school – Asking questions about the safety practices of the school and requesting the plans and preparations for emergencies or unexpected events are also important. A parent can even go as far as contacting the local police department to inquire about incidents of violence in the school or the surrounding community as well. Knowing that a child is in a safe environment not only puts a parent’s mind at ease, but also shifts the focus on learning.

Learning Environment – All schools have individual and distinct cultures and learning and teaching philosophies. As well, there are aspects of a child that will affect how a school should teach and interact with them both in and outside of the classroom, including: learning style, motivation, physical and mental health challenges, behavior challenges, learning disabilities, and self-understanding. A parent should take all of these factors into account and closely examine the school’s approach to teaching, learning and testing.

And when it comes to teachers, schools that share best practices, invest in their teachers and provide them with the mentoring and professional development are always best.

For example, Sheila knew that Shawnee performed better in smaller environments, so she ruled out larger schools. Today, Shawnee is a 19-year old college student at St. Augustine’s College, on the dean’s list and still thriving in a small school environment.

Her story proves that if a parent utilizes available resources, then they can and will make the right choice for their child. There are many good resources for parents available online, something Sheila discovered when researching about schools for Shawnee. “You can’t be afraid of the internet,” Sheila says. “If need be, go to the local library and they can help you get started.” is one website that provides a comprehensive overview on available schools, and is another more comprehensive resource, containing information like school philosophy, test scores, school environment, parent reviews, and even homes for sale in the area. The Picky Parent Guide ( is another useful guide for parents struggling to find the right school fit for their child. Resources like these, as well as, printed directories from local community and family resource centers provide a wealth of information.

There is no doubt that children benefit tremendously when a parent is actively involved in their education. Not every school works for every child, so it’s important that a parent invest the time to make the right decision, so that their child will strive, thrive and succeed.

“You can’t be shy when checking into schools,” said Sheila. “This is your child, and their future is at stake. Network, do your own research, ask lots of questions and speak to friends, co-workers, and church members and you too can pick a great school for your child!”
By Kevin P. Chavous
Urban News Service

Executive Counsel, American Federation for Children