|Written by Nolababy & Family Magazine|
As you start to plan where to send your child in the fall (or rethink where he or she is now), it’s tempting to look for a program that promises students will be writing sentences and computing with double-digit numbers by Kindergarten, doing complicated algebra by fourth grade, or reading the classics—in Latin—before they reach high school. Being prepared for or engrossed in higher-level schooling, however, is not just about the most ambitious curriculum. It’s about
There are over 60 charter schools in NOLA; each is governed by an elected board, which has independent control over the day to day operations of that school. While each charter is held accountable for student achievement, they are not required to use state-approved text books and have control over the length of their school day and yearly calendar—as long as they meet the state minimum requirements. As a result, school days will vary across the city. The curriculum varies as well, with some focused on the arts, some on language, and others on college preparation.
Charter schools receive public funding (and are tuition-free) but operate independently from many of the laws and regulations governing traditional public schools. NOLA’s charter schools are run under three different entities: The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), The Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) and The Recovery School District (RSD). The vast majority of charter schools have open-enrollment; however, a handful of schools don’t offer it. Lusher Charter School, for example, gives admission priority to children who reside within a small district around the school and requires all other students to submit to a scoring matrix that includes artistic talent, prior classroom grades, and standardized test scores.
Faith-based private schools generally offer a traditional curriculum, similar to other private preschools and schools, but with an added religious component. Many of these schools also carry a lower price tag. Again, there are great differences from one to the next. The common ground among them all is the combination of academics and the underlying religious element. This often comes with a strong sense of tradition and history. Ursuline Academy, for instance, is the oldest school in the United States, founded by the Ursuline nuns in 1727. Their mission is to “foster spiritual formation, academic excellence and a life-long commitment to service.” Principal Kim Shankle says, “the most important component of a child’s academic success is that they gain confidence and learn to like school.”
Immersion programs offer students exposure to a new language and culture at a time when their brains are most primed to absorb that information. Two of the local immersion programs (both in Uptown) are the private school École Bilingue de la Nouvelle-Orleans and The International School of Louisiana, a public program offering immersion in both French and Spanish. Although many elementary schools—and even some preschools—include foreign languages as part of their curricula, the immersion programs have native French or Spanish teachers and classes that are taught completely in the foreign language.
Montessori schools offer an education based on the studies of Dr. Maria Montessori, the first Italian female physician, who spent her time observing the process through which children learn. Montessori schools allow students to select their own activities and lessons from a number of options so that each child follows his or her own unique curriculum. Class size is larger than the typical private school, although the student to teacher ratio is similar. Mixed-age groups allow the older children to teach the younger and reinforce what they themselves have learned. Proponents say that Montessori education allows each child to develop according to their own timetable and interest.
Private schools typically offer a smaller class size and a lower student-to-teacher ratio. These types of schools are individualized toward children’s needs and can meet the these needs through classroom and enrichment opportunities. The curricula of the preschool and early grade levels of private schools tend to cover traditional subjects, introducing students to reading, math and other subjects at stations throughout the classroom or school. Most institutions also include music, art, foreign language and computer components.
In middle and high school, private schools provide a comprehensive, college-prep curriculum with opportunities to explore specific areas of interest—science, math, writing, art, etc.—in greater depth. Tuition varies tremendously from one private school to the next, as do staff credentials, technology within the classrooms, and extras such as field trips or special events.
Waldorf schools focus on creating an exciting and visually stimulating environment to educate the “whole” child—body, mind and spirit—and reflect the educational approach developed in the early 20th Century by Austrian philosopher and teacher Rudolf Steiner. The preschool and kindergarten curriculum focuses on the imitation of practical and artistic activities as well as imaginative play and structure that provide the foundation for future learning. In the primary school (first through seventh grades), students engage in a variety of cultural activities—music, drama, drawing, painting, poetry reciting—as well as basic academic studies. They are usually guided through their studies by one teacher who is dedicated to their class for the duration of their Waldorf education years. There are more than 160 Waldorf schools throughout the United States (including Waldorf School of New Orleans, formerly The Hill School), 250 early childhood centers and 17 teacher training institutes.
Don’t let all of the options intimidate you. “Pay more attention to the quality of the school than to its curriculum type,” says Pat Blackwell, Ph.D., a developmental psychologist in practice at Pelts Kirkhart & Associates and a regular contributor to nola baby & family. Especially at the preschool-level, she says the focus should be on fostering “the desire to learn, allowing them to explore their environment, and building their self-esteem so that they are able to persevere and master new skills.”
By doing your homework to help find the perfect fit for your child, you can be confident that the program you choose together will be a rewarding one.
Local writers Lynne Dardis Pesce and Kelly Leahy contributed to this article.