a peek inside the fishbowl

25 Jan, 2016

What questions should parents ask at a school’s open house?

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Fishbowl patrons

This is the time of year that many Ottawa parents start to think ahead to school enrollment for their kids. September seems very far away, but in terms of school planning, it isn’t. Choosing a school is a big consideration and I know how stressful and overwhelming it can be.

I asked Derek Rhodenizer, Assistant Head of Joan of Arc Academy*, to tell me what parents should look for when they attend a school’s open house. What kind of questions should they ask? (I tend to focus on the artwork on the walls, but there’s more to it than that!)

Joan of Arc Academy

Derek says parents often ask these two questions: How do you quantify the difference from one school to another and what makes your school different from other schools?

“Class size, curriculum, facilities, teacher and administration qualifications are probably the most obvious, and are very important,” says Derek. “After that, it’s hard to get a tangible understanding of what a school is and what makes it the place for your child or not.”

Derek says a great way to kickstart your research process is to visit the school during the day when students are in class. You want to see how the school works on a day-to-day basis.

“A school is a community, and it is the intangibles that you will notice right away,” says Derek. “How do people interact in the school? Look to see how the students interact with each other, with adults they know (teacher and administrators) and adults they don’t (you). Do you notice that a lot of pride is taken in the school? Are the display boards well put together? Are there creative projects happening? This is a great chance to get a feeling for the atmosphere. It should be busy with learning but not out of control.”

It is very important to get a good understanding of the overall program. In terms of questions to ask at the school’s open house, Derek says your list should include the following:

  • What courses are being taught, what educational experiences will my child get outside of the curriculum?
  • How do you approach discipline?
  • How do you foster a positive attitude towards learning at your school?

“I believe that last one one sums it up,” says Derek. “If you have students that are comfortable at school then they will be prepared to take risks. If they are prepared to take risks, then they have the chance to succeed.”

Talk to the administration. They should be able to explain how the school fosters positivity. If it fits with your own philosophy perhaps this is the best school for your child.

So, to summarize: get into the schools you are looking at, walk the hallways with the administrator, and make sure you meet some teachers and students. When you find the right school, you’ll know!

*Joan of Arc Academy is a Fishbowl patron. (You can read a previous post about JOA here.)  For the past 60 years, Joan of Arc has provided an outstanding enriched bilingual education for girls from Junior Kindergarten to Grade 8. JOA is hosting an open house on January 28. It’s a great opportunity to visit, ask questions, and see what they’re all about!


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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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