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Looking for a middle school? Here are 5 things to look for.

Updated: Jun 5, 2019

So, your kid is going to be a fifth grader right after summer. Did you know you need to get him/her to apply for middle school anytime from October through December? Yes, most schools have open houses or online inquiry openings starting in September/October. Public school admission processes in Miami for Magnet schools usually open October 1 to January 15 but please check web for updates.

We usually encourage parents to attend our annual event on October 5, 2019– where they will get to interact with some of the middle school principals, teachers or directors and ask questions. Also, most schools will be offer tours in the fall. We came up with some insight into what to look for in those tours. Here’s what to look for:

Quality of teaching

Try to look beyond the school's physical space to the quality of teaching. Look at the kids' faces. Are they interested and engaged? Bored? Staring off into space? Are they using iphones in class? Ask about what opportunities for professional development for teachers are available.

School atmosphere

What's the noise level in the school? A good balance is of course what we are looking for. Kids should be talking to other kids and to grown-ups. In a good middle school, teachers meet regularly to discuss everything from curriculum to individual students' progress and problems. Multi-disciplinary and collaboration among teachers is a great indicator of the type of school that engages students beyond a traditional mindset.  

A good mix of offerings

Does the school have special rooms, such as a maker space, an art studio, a music studio or any specialized learning space? Do the kids' books look interesting? Look for rich classroom libraries; novels and biographies, science discovery books, colorful atlases and original source materials such as diaries and historical documents. The more books the better—in the classroom as well as in the school library. Also, how much access to technology is there.  It should be a good mix of options, schools that rely too heavily on textbooks and or technology alone are uninteresting.

Students’ attitudes and manners

From the many school tours that I have done what usually strikes me as a great indicator is the vibe of the students. Do they look at me in the eye? Do they say hi and act politely yet authentically? Are they relaxed yet respectful of the administrators and school staff? This point is important when it comes to middle school as well as high school.

Quality of students' work

Are the walls empty, or are there lots of bulletin boards with kids' work? Look for examples of children's writing. Is the quality of work good? Are there art projects, science or different imaginative work around the school?

Other important considerations:

  • Ask questions. The Q&A period after the tour is a good time to get a feel for the philosophy and atmosphere of a school. You get a more revealing answer if you ask open-ended questions such as "How do you approach behavior?" rather than "Is your school safe?" Ask whether parents may visit the school and classes during the year. A school that welcomes parents is not afraid of what you might see on an impromptu visit.

  • Make sure your child is qualified to apply. Some schools limit admissions to children living in the district. Many gifted programs and selective middle schools will not accept applications from children who do not meet cut-off scores on standardized 4th-grade tests.

  • Involve your child. If there's a tour, consider taking your child out of school to accompany you.

  • Prepare for the tests and interviews. Some schools require a test or audition. Some interview kids.  

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