Monday, July 6, 2009

Choosing the Right School for Your Child

Laura Barr is the driving force behind e.Merging, formerly Denver School Solutions. She helps parents find the best school fit for their children by identifying the values and goals of the parents, and the learning styles and interests of the child. Anyone who has considered the myriad school options for their family knows that this is a huge challenge. I recently shared coffee and questions with Laura.

How do you help families find the best school fit for their children?

I start by understanding the family values. I give a five-page questionnaire before I even meet the family. It helps them to concretely identify what is important to them and provides a point of navigation for the rest of our meetings. The questions ask the parents about their dreams for their children and about their educational experiences, among other things. Then I look at the child, asking what kind of learner is he? What are his sensitivities, his strengths, and his challenges? The best time to start this is when the child is three years old or any time after. It is easier to start early rather than late.

How did you get started doing this?

I have a Master's in Early Childhood and Elementary Education and my focus was educational philosophies. For the past 10 years I owned a Music Together Center and was always asked by parents for advice on school matters. After I sold that business I integrated all of my knowledge of being an Admissions Director, teacher and coach began coaching families and empowering them to make confident choices in parenting and education. The first year I helped over 100 families with school choices and coaching on intentional parenting.

Why is it so difficult to find a school on your own?

There is so much information, so many philosophies, and so many choices that it makes the job of a intentional parents difficult to navigate to find the best school for their child. There are charter schools, neighborhood schools, beacon schools, magnet, schools, private schools and so on. They all have a different focus and different things to offer families and students. If you look at their websites they all tend to say similar things, like “we teach to the whole child” and “we offer a rigorous academic program”, but it is really hard to figure out what exactly makes each school different if you only use the glossy marketing materials in your search. I share my knowledge of the schools in the Denver metro area to go well beyond statistics and marketing messages to make informed decisions that are in alignment with the values and goals of the family.

What criteria are used when choosing the schools?

In addition to the process I follow, there are considerations like program offerings (do they have arts or sports and are those important?), student-teacher ratio, school stability, philosophy, leadership, culture, diversity and aesthetics. Do they offer before and after school care? What about summer programs? How about financial aid or scholarships if that is necessary? Do they have gifted programs or special education that will be necessary for your child?

What is the geographic area you work in?

I work in metro Denver, Littleton, Jefferson County, and Cherry Creek, though I can help any family anywhere, visiting schools on my own time. The knowledge you gain from the process is portable in that once you identify what is important to you it is not as hard to match that with a school. I often help parents who are going to be moving in to this area and have no idea what the education choices are when determining where to move. I help them identify the best schools for them to help them not only make informed decisions about school choice, but about where to move once that is in place.

Do you help procure scholarships or reduced admissions?

I inform families about processes and timing. I walk them through the time-consuming process and make sure deadlines and requirements are met.

Do you help with college as well?

No, there are already plenty of services that exist for that kind of thing, and the choices are nation-wide, of course, involving a lot of travel and certification through colleges and universities. I discovered this niche because there wasn’t anything out there to help with elementary through high school.

Do most families come to you after a bad experience, from out of town, or before school age has come?

Most are intentional families that start early in the pre-school ages looking to make the right choices up front. About 5-10% come to me after experiencing a disastrous school experience and want to make better decisions for a better school experience. About 2% are families that are moving here and need someone experienced in this area to help them make appropriate choices about school and location.

What are other services you offer?

I offer coaching and consulting - in general I inform parents to advocate for the education of their children. I make referrals to reputable psychologists if that is necessary. I coach parents on fostering literacy for their children. I guide parents to get their thoughts, actions, words and philosophy in alignment so that their decisions come more easily with the end goal in mind.

To learn more about how an educational consultant can help you with intentional parenting or school choice, go to e.Merging’s website at

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