School Tours and Open Houses: Reimagined for 2021
If you’re considering a private school for the upcoming school year, connecting with the school’s students and professionals and visiting a campus are wonderful ways to see if the school is the right fit for your child. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, schools have recreated their tours and open houses to make sure safety is a priority and to allow prospective families the chance to learn more. “Every school has their own unique flavor, their own unique culture, and you can’t really know a school through a website,” says Lisa Mirsky, the director of admissions at The Davis Academy. “Interactions are such a critical part of getting to know a school. We all had to get creative to figure out how we can provide those interactions safely.” Many metro Atlanta schools offer virtual tours, live video conferences, phone meetings, personal tours and smaller open houses. Find more information in Atlanta Parent’s Guide to School Tours and Open Houses.
Here’s what you need to know to make these reimagined tours work for your family:
Do your basic research. Narrow down the options until you have a short list of schools that seem the most interesting for your child by looking at websites, FAQs, pre-recorded videos and social media pages.
Create a list of questions you plan to ask each school. What questions do you or your child have that you can’t find answers to on the website? Responses can help you narrow down or rank the school options that you’re interested in.
“The tours that are the most fulfilling to families are ones that are front-loaded with specific questions,” says Andrea Restifo, the director of admission at Springmont School. “I would highly suggest parents comb through websites and social media ahead of a virtual tour so that they know enough about the school to ask questions more pertinent to their family. Parents should not hesitate to ask detailed questions that pertain to their child. For example, if you have a student who is artistic, it’s fine to make mention of this, and ask how lessons and school life might support this strength.”
Know the Difference
Schools may have many different options that you can register for, with each session being important for different reasons. Atlanta Speech School’s Anne & Jim Kenan Preschool and Wardlaw School have open house sessions and tours followed by a Q&A through Zoom. Take a campus tour, participate in a coffee chat, or listen to a panel or webinar to learn more about Woodward Academy. The Davis Academy hosts virtual or on-campus personal tours and will hold a virtual Parent Information Session on Feb. 10.
Springmont School has Q&A Coffees for specific age groups, campus tours and an upcoming open house. “Q&A Coffees are for those who are curious about Montessori and may want some information without committing to a tour or open house,” Restifo says. “Virtual tours are for parents who are looking at a specific academic level and want more details and a personalized experience, and our virtual open house is for families who want information about the school and community overall.”
Take a Virtual Tour
When you’re ready to learn more about a specific school, register for a virtual tour. These sessions give you the chance to tour the school, learn more about the community, talk to school professionals, and ask questions. “We will deliver a high level of detail—even a ‘day in the class’ example—regarding each of the programs offered at Springmont,” Restifo says. “Parents will have the opportunity to meet our Head of School, Division Heads and some teachers as well, while having their questions answered.”
Even before the pandemic, Mirsky enjoyed doing smaller tours. “Large group tours or events don’t allow parents to get specific information. I do personal tours via Zoom during the school day. I have my iPhone in hand, the parents are on the other end, and we’re going into classrooms. They’re still getting that personal experience, and they can see and feel firsthand what’s happening here,” she says.
Before joining a Zoom or virtual session, make sure you know your tech. “Know where your mute and video buttons are located, as well as where the ‘raise hand’ feature is. Beyond that, they should ensure their volume is at an adequate level and that they are in a distraction-free environment,” Restifo suggests.
At The Davis Academy, Mirsky schedules private on-campus tours with families after the school day has ended. “They’ve gone on the virtual tour first, so they’ve gotten a feel for the energy inside the building. It’s a lot easier to have that mental picture in their mind already, and then they can weave in the physical aspects of the facility,” she says. “When you walk onto campus, you can see how well-cared for the campus, how important taking care of one another and our resources is to us as a school.”
You can schedule a private tour at many schools, including Athens Academy, Atlanta Academy and GRACEPOINT School. Some schools are holding tours with safety precautions in place. For example, at Covenant Christian School, besides wearing masks, visitors will have their temperatures taken before entering the building. Other schools have on-campus tours after the school day has ended, such as The Galloway School and High Meadows School.
“At Springmont, families who have had a virtual tour may schedule an on-campus, after-hours visit,” Restifo says. “Connections are important, and families are missing that piece. We offer the ability to make that personal connection to a physical space, much like buying a home.”
Some schools are offering sessions or programs that allow you and your child to connect with students to learn more from their perspective. Atlanta International School’s program allows you to talk to the admission team and student ambassadors. Join Middle or Upper School Golden Bear Guides for an after-school virtual session at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School. At Cumberland Academy and Holy Spirit Preparatory School, after taking a tour, your prospective student can schedule a shadow day with a current student to learn more about the daily atmosphere at the school. “Talk with the teachers and students and ask your own questions. It is so important to hear firsthand how happy the students are, how engaged and how excited they are,” Mirsky says.
Speak with Parents
Talking to parents who have been in the same boat you are currently in when looking at private schools is a great resource to help you decide if the school is the right fit for your child. “We offer perspective parents the chance to speak with and connect with other parents who are in a similar situation,” Mirsky says. “If that’s not offered to you by a school, ask for that connection.”
Call or check school websites for more information and other COVID-19 safety precautions.