Smart School Choice builds Strong Kids

The strategic changes needed to bring out the best in your children

By Dwight Bain, Nationally Certified Counselor & Certified Life Coach

Recently I had dinner with my friends Bill and Nancy Palmer and the subject of school choice came up; mostly because at one time they had each of their five children in five different schools. If you think that schedule sounds crazy, then you’ve never met the five remarkable young adults they raised who have launched successfully out into the world. It was extremely stressful at times to keep things organized but they were committed to building strong kids and were creative enough to always find options to help each child grow in strength and confidence. How did they do it? Simple, they picked the educational experiences that were the best fit for each of their children at each stage of life regardless of convenience.

Many times parents are afraid of school change, or don’t realize they have so many choices available to them in guiding their kids toward their strength zone. First let’s look at what makes a ‘good’ school actually ‘good.’ Since it’s not really one thing it’s a combination of many factors that when combined together can create a learning environment which can brings out the best in your child. Here are some of the most common elements to consider when you begin the process of selecting a school to bring out the best in your son or daughter.

-Key factors of a ‘good’ school

1. Strong parental involvement, as the old saying goes, a school is only as strong as the level of parental support that it receives
2. Clear community support, especially from elected officials
3. Focused school leaders, especially in administrative roles
4. Well structured academic programs to cover different learning styles
5. Committed and caring teachers focused on the needs of their students
6. A safe and secure learning experience
7. Budgets that allow for extra-curricular activities to positively impact multiple areas of development, such as the arts, music, journalism, ROTC, languages and sports
8.Guidance departments focused on a personalized plan to help students achieve who ‘think outside the box’
9. Smart classrooms with access to current and cutting edge computer and Internet technology
10. A learning experience that honors your families faith and values, instead of attacking or shaming your child for holding onto a strong system of faith

Of course any parent would want the best for their children, but it’s been my experience that the word ‘best’ actually floats on many variables through the different stages of childhood. So, since ‘best’ isn’t actually a single school campus this opens the door to explore many experiences that often accelerate the learning environment for the kids who live at your house. This can only happen when you begin to see that the main goal is to find out what needs your the child is facing to then select the school choice that can guide them to a position of greater strength. This just going along with whatever may have worked for your child last year. Remember, a child’s maturity changes year to year, and for many kids this means their academic choices should change with it.

-Chart to solve the confusion of discovering the best schools

Begin to make smart school choices to help your child be their best by building a chart to literally ‘score’ the school options available to your child on a legal pad, running across the top of the page. You should include every option you can think of to do a complete analysis of what is available to your child. Even if you only think that you have one option, really sit down to consider the school choices available to your child in the coming school year. This way you will be able to actually track the metrics to see a visual number at the bottom of the page to see what each school choice brings to the table in best meeting the needs of your son or daughter at any stage of their educational development.

Here’s a sample of how to structure across the top of the page, except it’s more personal and more powerful if you actually place the name of each of the schools you are considering in that particular column, (for instance list out the choices facing your child, like: Orange County High, Mountain Prep, Holy Family, The Community School, Math Magnet Prep, Military Leadership Academy or an online virtual school

Smart School Choice
Public- College Prep- Christian- HomeSchool- Charter- Boarding- Private- Magnet- Military- Online or Virtual School and so on

Once you have created a list across the page of every available option you have available to meet the needs of your child, then it’s time to add the list of variables, (preferably in order of importance to you in meeting the unique needs of your child), to rank or score each school choice against your own personal standard of what’s most valuable to bring out the best in your son or daughter. Create this list on the left margin of your legal pad and include factors like the following.

Strong leaders
Involved parents
PTA-PTF groups
Costs or tuition
Fits personality
Fits career goals
Fits academic goals
School size
Well equipped classrooms
Class size to teacher ratio
Campus maintained
Clean school facilities
Hot lunches and cafeteria
Wide range of sports
After school activities
Tutoring- academic help
Music, choirs, band
Fine arts and drama
Bible or faith classes
After school activities or child care
School life- socials or proms
Trips- unique learning experiences
SAT or ACT prep classes
Strong guidance department
Tuition assistance programs
Partnerships with community groups
(Boys & Girls Clubs, Scouting, etc)
Partnerships with business groups
(Junior Achievement, career training)


-Stronger scores reveal stronger school choice

Once you have developed your as many categories as fit the unique needs of your child, then it’s time to go back and score each school at the top of the page against your specific priorities listed along the left column on a numerical scale of 10, (best) down to 5 (average) then on down to 1 (terrible).

Be honest and don’t play favorites as you really consider the needs of the students in your family, since this process works from selecting a pre-school all the way to college. Leave any areas blank that are unknown to you, yet since this will greatly reduce the score for that particular school it indicates you need to do more research to create a fair analysis on some of the schools you may have selected for your child.

Another technique you can use is to do a detailed web search about each school, however, I recommend that you take your child with you to preview new schools with you in person. Walk the campus, talk to teachers or other students, or if possible visit the school when it’s in session and ‘shadow’ a host student throughout the day to see what the school culture is really like first hand.

This school choice process can be repeated every year as needed based on the needs of your son or daughter. Add in the maturity level of your child to complete the process of selecting what’s best by identifying where you believe your student to be at during this stage of their academic career.

Child (up to age 13) Teen (13-19) Young Adult (20-25)
Dependent Developing Independent
Irresponsible Growing Responsible

It is wise to consider the maturity level of your child since some school settings will require a higher level of responsibility or independent decision making. Once you have identified the maturity level then just factor in the scores from your school choice chart to narrow down your search to find the best school. Remember, the higher the score, the more likely that it’s a better fit to help your student to reach their best during this or any school year. Strong students often are able to build strong lives, so the time you take now to guide your children into the best direction, (even if it means making the sacrifice of car-pooling different kids in different directions for several years) will lead to strong and confident young adults for a lifetime, and that’s an excellent trade.

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About the author- Dwight Bain is dedicated to helping people achieve greater results. He is a Nationally Certified Counselor, Certified Life Coach and Certified Family Law Mediator in practice since 1984 with a primary focus on solving crisis events and managing major change. He partners with media, major corporations and non-profit organizations to make a positive difference in our culture. Access more counseling and coaching resources designed to save you time by solving stressful situations by visiting his counseling blog with over 200 complimentary articles and special reports at

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