How to choose a high school

Parents need to do extensive homework when trying to decide where to send their kids to secondary school



When Diana Brocca’s daughter Alexa entered fifth grade, she quickly noticed that parents were talking about something new: high school. She was initially surprised. After all, these kids were only 10-year-olds.

But then Brocca did some calculations. What if Alexa wanted to apply to private school or a public school that required an entrance test? If the family waited until the following year to start visiting, they would have very little time before Alexa would be facing the exams.

Brocca says starting the high school search early reduced the stress for her. “You have more time to think and to ask questions of the schools,” she says. It also gives families time to consider how best to prepare a child for entrance exams. Here are some tips for parents:

Narrow your choices

Thanks to the Internet, it’s easier than ever to gather basic information about schools. Visit your local school board’s website for information on high schools in your area. The Quebec Association of Independent Schools’ website, qais.qc.ca, allows you to gather information about English private schools and you can find similar information for French private schools on the website of the Féderation des établissements d’enseignement privés, feep.qc.ca.

You can also attend the Montreal Families Education Fair on September 25, 2016 where you can meet representatives from several local public and private high schools.

Attend school open houses

Brocca says visiting a school while your child is in 5th grade relieves some pressure the following year. “It means you can go back a second time when your kid is in 6th grade and ask the questions you thought of later.” You’ll also be able to get an idea about when a school holds its entrance exams (late September, early October, November). Open houses are usually held in September and early October, although some public schools hold them later.

Start preparing your questions

Open houses give parents a chance to ask questions such as: How many students are in each class? How many students are in each grade level? What is your graduation rate (i.e. how many students leave or are asked to leave before reaching the end of Secondary V)? What resources are available for a child who needs some extra help (after school tutoring? Guidance counsellor?). What extracurricular activities are available? How about field trips and special outings?

If you are looking into an English high school, you’ll want to find out how much time each day or week is devoted to French instruction. Finally, don’t forget to ask your child for his or her questions. They will be the ones attending the school.

Be realistic about a child’s choices

Highly sought after high schools often turn away many qualified (and disappointed) students because there aren’t enough spots. Brocca suggests parents ask schools how many people apply and how many are accepted each year. Discuss these statistics with your child and encourage him or her to have a “back-up” plan (for example, applying to more than one school).

Think about exam preparation

Many high schools require students to pass an entrance exam. Talk with your child’s teachers who can identify strengths and weaknesses and may be able to suggest some strategies to help improve in certain areas.

Families take a variety of approaches towards exam preparation, with some doing little or no tutoring and others doing quite a bit. You can find books that offer sample exams and ideas about preparation. Some children form study groups over the summer while other kids work with a tutor. There is no “right” way — it all depends on your child. (A list of companies offering tutoring services and exam preparation can be found in the Education section of our resource directory at montrealfamilies.ca).

Start instilling good organizational and study habits

It’s never too early to get kids in the habit of being organized and staying on top of their school work. These skills will become vital in high school, where they’ll be juggling several courses and expected to arrive with books at hand and homework done with no reminders.

Many elementary schools insist that children use an agenda, but make sure your child is really using it (i.e. noting down assignments and important dates). Implement a homework routine and figure out a system now if he or she consistently forgets to bring required materials home from school.

Lay the groundwork and then relax

Once you’ve visited some schools and have a plan for applying, then ease up on the high school talk. You and your child will have plenty of it in sixth grade. Lay the groundwork now and reduce the anxiety for the following year.

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