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After identifying their needs, parents should ask questions of and visit the prospective schools they are considering for their child.BAYVIEW GLEN COLLEGE SCHOOL

COVID-19 and on-site restrictions have made the process of choosing the right private school for your child more challenging, says Patti MacDonald, executive director of the Canadian Association of Independent Schools. But even before short-listing schools and deciding which schools to visit, whether in-person or virtually, parents first need to identify what their needs in a private school are.

“People need to sit back and talk about why they are considering independent school in the first place,” she says.

“Are they looking for a specialized program, be it an academic program or a sports program? How important are extracurriculars? Are they looking for their child to find kids more like them? What is it that’s driving that search in the first place?

“Then it’s also their values around education. Are they looking for a school … that is really thinking about developing head, heart and hand, or are they looking for a more back-to-basics, traditional program? There are questions they need to dig deep into before they even begin their research.”

Initial questions to ask:

  • Where is the school located? How much is transportation a factor?
  • Do you require a boarding school?
  • Does your child have any specific learning needs that should be addressed?
  • What is the curriculum and policy for grading?
  • What is the instructional model and philosophy of the school?
  • What is your budget for private school education?
  • Are you looking for a co-educational, all-girls or all-boys school?
  • Does there need to be a religious component to the education?
  • Is your child better suited for a smaller school or larger one?
  • How often are classroom materials updated?
  • How much should extracurriculars be part of your child’s education and what does the school offer?
  • How proactive do you want to be as parents in activities and decisions concerning the education of your child?

Parents should also ensure their prospective school is properly accredited with an external organization so that they can be assured that the school deploys best practices in terms of education programs and is run well. Another important point to look at is current teacher attrition and the school’s teaching methodology.

“We know that the world is changing incredibly quickly,” MacDonald says.

“Schools that are excellent today may not be excellent 10 years from now, perhaps not paying attention to how the world is evolving and being responsive to that. So schools resting on their laurels are not schools that will meet the needs of children who are starting next year.”

One advantage of private schools is that they tend to be smaller in size, and are able to be more nimble in adjusting their programs than large public boards of education, MacDonald says. For example, private schools adjusted rapidly to virtual learning in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

After doing some research – with school websites being a good start – create a shortlist of schools that align with what you are seeking.

“I think you actually can find out a lot about what the school’s values are from their website and their social media posts: what the school’s mission is, what their students are involved in, how much the student voice is there. You’re looking for a school that welcomes diverse thought. You’re looking for a school that supports students,” says Maggie Houston-White, executive director of strategic enrolment management at Havergal College, a day and boarding school for girls in Toronto.

Then it’s best to go visit the schools of interest. MacDonald recommends planning to visit at least three schools. A physical visit is ideal but, with pandemic restrictions, she says, schools have been creative in communicating what they are about. Many have virtual tours.

Havergal College offers interactive sessions with the administration team and teachers to help guide parents in their decisions, Houston-White says. Havergal’s virtual tour includes a video with footage of spaces at the school and comments from student prefects, giving families a sense of the facilities and an overview of the school experience.

The school’s outdoor walking tour of the campus, called Beyond the Ivy, allows families and visitors to stop at various locations of the campus to learn more about buildings and spaces. There is signage posted outside at each stop on the tour, with a QR code that takes visitors to a website with information on the corresponding tour stop. This has allowed families to safely visit the campus in person, even when they couldn’t be indoors, and explore the grounds and familiarize themselves with the space.

“These events allow families to get a sense of the school and what we stand for,” Houston-White says. “It’s not just about when you come in the door. It’s about potentially that 14-year journey and beyond, when she becomes an alumna of the school. We need to make sure that parents and the school are aligned in their support of the student.”


A SNAPSHOT OF WHAT SOME OF CANADA’S PRIVATE SCHOOLS HAVE TO OFFER


BAYVIEW GLEN SCHOOL

BAYVIEW GLEN SCHOOL

“Bayview Glen is an academically invigorating, internationally connected, co-educational, preschool-through-Grade-12 independent school.”

Founded in 1962 with two closely connected campuses in Toronto. A member of Round Square, Advanced Placement and the Youth and Philanthropy Initiative, with mission statement of Whole Child: Whole Life: Whole World.


BRENTWOOD COLLEGE SCHOOL

BRENTWOOD COLLEGE SCHOOL

“That students choose Brentwood is what makes this place so special. When a student truly wants to be here, and they’re surrounded by a family of like-minded friends and supporters, they can choose to be … anything.”

A co-educational, university preparatory boarding school for Grades 8 through Grade 12 located on an oceanfront campus in Mill Bay, Vancouver Island, B.C., that offers a Tripartite Program for students from 55 countries.


HOLY NAME OF MARY COLLEGE SCHOOL

HOLY NAME OF MARY COLLEGE SCHOOL

“We ensure that our girls are getting exactly what they need, from academics to leadership skills and social engagement, for a future that is exciting and expansive and like none that we have ever seen before.”

A progressive, independent Catholic school for girls in Grades 5 through Grade 12 on a 25-acre setting in Mississauga, Ont., with rich educational opportunities and a multitude of co-curricular activities.


THE LINDEN SCHOOL

THE LINDEN SCHOOL

“My daughter’s self-esteem and self-advocacy have improved tenfold since the beginning of the year. I love the small class sizes and great teachers. No ‘slipping through the cracks.’ Unbelievable school spirit. One big family.”

A K-12 university preparatory day school for girls in midtown Toronto where innovative best practices in girls’ education promote and strengthen student voice, well-being, academic excellence and global engagement.


MACLACHLAN COLLEGE

MACLACHLAN COLLEGE

“Much more than a place where your child goes to school. It is an active hub for learning and development for students in PK to Grade 12. Our teachers deliver creative and innovative programs so that every child’s needs, potential, interests and talents are nurtured and developed.”

Co-educational school in a historic building in Oakville, Ont., with a challenging curriculum that cultivates curiosity and adaptability to prepare students for success in an ever-changing world.


ROTHESAY NETHERWOOD SCHOOL

ROTHESAY NETHERWOOD SCHOOL

“RNS is a small school with a big reputation worldwide. Our rigorous academic program and extraordinary life experiences provide our diverse student body with unparalleled opportunities to make a lasting difference in the world.”

Founded in 1877, a co-ed boarding and day school for Grades 6 to Grade 12 in Rothesay, N.B., whose mission it is to provide a nurturing environment that empowers students to embrace their individuality and pursue the greater good.


SHAWNIGAN LAKE SCHOOL

SHAWNIGAN LAKE SCHOOL

“Shawnigan is the living model of our values of curiosity, compassion, community and courage. With the largest number of full-time boarders of any school in Canada, our unique journey purposefully guides students through a distinct, unparallelled and bold educational experience.”

An independent, co-educational boarding school for ages 13 to 18 on Shawnigan Lake in B.C.


ST. MILDRED’S-LIGHTBOURN COLLEGE SCHOOL

ST. MILDRED’S-LIGHTBOURN COLLEGE SCHOOL

“We believe courageous girls can challenge and change the world.”

Founded in 1891, SMLS on 10 acres in Oakville, Ont., is a CAIS-accredited, all-girls school west of Toronto that focuses on the social, emotional, spiritual and physical well-being of students from preschool to Grade 12.


WEST POINT GREY ACADEMY

WEST POINT GREY ACADEMY

“The West Point Grey Academy experience is authentic. A strong academic foundation is enriched by our commitment to character development, global learning, social justice, environmental sustainability and mental well-being.”

A JK-12 co-educational day school with inspiring views on Vancouver’s west side and residing on the Jericho Lands, the unceded traditional territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations.


Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.