10 Tips for Choosing an Elementary School in Portland

It’s hard to believe, but it’s already time to start thinking ahead to the next school year. Choosing your child’s elementary school is big. Not only because it marks a significant step into childhood, but also because it will become a huge part of your daily routine, set the stage for your child’s educational future, and have a big impact on your family’s social circle for the foreseeable future. (Not enough reasons?!)

So yes, the choice is a big one. Here are some questions to think about to help you decide which school to choose. And to help you narrow that list down, check out our Open House Guide and Education Guide.

  1. Do you want to commit to your local public school? There is a lot to be said about choosing your local public school. It’s free, it’s close, it helps to foster a sense of community, it gives you a chance to advocate for and improve the public school system from the inside. For some, those reasons are enough, and public school ends up being a perfect fit. For others, the school and the child may not quite mesh. Check out your local school’s information night, and see what you think.
  2. Have you considered other public school options? Sometimes the desire to attend public school is there, but the neighborhood school and your child just don’t fit. Portland has a robust charter and focus school presence with many different focus options (more on that below). And on top of that, you can also petition to transfer to another neighborhood’s public school. So if you like the idea of staying public, but are not feeling your neighborhood school, you still have a lot of options to explore.
  3. Is there a focus that is important to you or your child? For some parents, it is important that their child grows up learning a language. For some children, they are much better able to learn when exploring learning from a project-based perspective. As mentioned above, Portland has many options for focused learning through its charter and focus school programs. These include foreign language immersion, math and science, technology, arts and inquiry-based learning and more. You can also find private schools that fit all these categories, along with others.
  4. What is the learning environment like? There are dozens of different types of learning environments, and not all kids respond well to all of them. For some, a rigid, more disciplinary school is the perfect environment for your child. With the chaos of playgrounds and lunchtime, having a more firm set of rules can feel calming. For others, just the thought of sitting at a desk and doing worksheets makes them itchy. Instead, a play-based, more child-led school works best. There are lots of options for both these types of learning environments and others in Portland.
  5. What is the classroom like? Class size and child-teacher ratio have become buzzwords in picking your child’s school. You want to look beyond just the numbers though and consider other factors. For instance, your child may be heading into a school with a 1:30 class ratio, but there may be parent volunteers on hand nearly every day. Or your child may be heading into 1:15 class, but you may decide that you actually want your child to be with more children to be exposed to more diversity. Again, there is no one-size-fits-all answer, it’s just what works best for your child.
  6. What’s the play time like? Physical activity can be a huge release for some young children, and essential to allowing them to focus and participate in class. Portland Public Schools requires a minimum of 30 minutes of physical activity daily for elementary school students. Some schools may choose to provide more. And particularly private schools may have the ability to up the physical activity quotient. If this is an important aspect of school for you, be sure to ask what the minimum activity levels are at the schools you’re considering.
  7. Are after-school activities offered? For parents that have to work past school pick-up time, having after-school care onsite saves a lot of hassle—and often expense. If after school care is part of your family routine, check to see if there is onsite care and what it looks like (e.g., are activities offered or is it more freeform). You may also want to inquire if there are any programs that pickup at your child’s school.
  8. What is the physical environment like? The actual physical space of the school is often overlooked when choosing a school. But your child will be spending a lot of time in this space, so it is important to consider. Is there natural light in the classrooms? Is there a playground? Is it convenient to get to from your house? How much do these considerations, or others about the physical space, matter to you and your child?
  9. If you have other children, how would they do at this school? I know I’m guilty of choosing schools based on my first, only to later wonder whether that choice made sense for my other two children as well. If you are looking to streamline commuting by sending all your children to the same school, try to see if you can envision your other children at the school as well.
  10. What’s your instinct about the school? When it comes down to it, you just have to go with your gut. You can get a lot of initial information and a good sense of a school through checking out our Education Guide. Once you’ve narrowed it down, go and visit your choices’ open houses to get a better sense of the space and the administration.
Ali Wilkinson
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