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Choosing a school for a child can be difficult, especially when presented with all the options available in Greater Cleveland. That’s when families should take advantage of open houses.

Jill Rembrandt Calo, director of upper school admissions at Hathaway Brown School in Shaker Heights; Christina Townsend-Hartz, director of admissions and financial aid (junior K-12) at University School in Shaker Heights; and Virginia Wagh, director of admissions at The Lillian and Betty Ratner School in Pepper Pike, suggest in many situations families attend more than one open house for a school to see the big picture.

“There are lots of different opportunities to meet lots of different people when you come to several open houses,” Calo said. “You might go to one open house and meet faculty and staff who teach in a particular area, and the next open house, you might have more of an opportunity to engage with students or faculty in other areas. It’s about having different experiences each time they come.”

Calo said attending many open houses also allows parents to get a good feel for the school.

“It’s important for any parent to feel like they are going to feel comfortable in the community they are looking to join,” she explained. “So, it’s almost as important for our parents to feel like they’re a valued member of the school community. So, coming to open houses, meeting with faculty and students, and meeting other parents can be a key piece to feeling like it’s a comfortable fit.”

Townsend-Hartz said older students particularly benefit from visiting a school more than once.

“It’s about getting on campus and experiencing the schools, and figuring out if it is a place you can see yourself in, especially with high school students,” she said. “They feel that more – whether it is the right school for them.”

It also doesn’t hurt for parents and students to get to know all levels of a school’s admissions office, especially admissions directors, Townsend-Hartz said.

“Admissions directors are working at those schools for a reason – they believe in it,” she said. “They reflect the community and they’re great people to get to know and to get a feel of the school’s mission and culture.”

Wagh said the importance of open houses shouldn’t fade after a student has been enrolled.

“Parents should continue to attend multiple open house dates because it allows parents to get more familiar with the school,” she noted. “If you wish to get a good idea of how your student is progressing, you really should consider this. Attending these events really helps foster a relationship with your child’s teacher, especially if you are not able to attend other school events.”

Open houses are also the perfect opportunity to ask questions and check progress, Wagh added.

“It allows parents to get to know the curriculum and ask questions,” she said. “An open house gives parents a glimpse of their child’s day. Attending different ones, if offered, really help a parent see that progression firsthand. The parents, in turn, can then utilize what they learn to help support their child at home.”

But the most important part of attending open houses is to be open-minded and be ready to learn, even as a parent.

“Make an effort to meet as many people as you can and talk to as many parents, students and faculty so you can have the most well-rounded picture of what the school is like,” Calo said.

Townsend-Hartz said, “Getting a feel for the community and culture of a school – that’s the biggest part.”

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