Advocate Media’s podcast, The Uninformed Parent, now makes the transcripts of its audio available so that subscribers can either listen or read (or both), depending on their preference.
Below is the transcription of Episode 7: What Questions Should Parents Ask on a School Tour? Listen to this episode on our website or using the podcast app of your choice, and please subscribe to The Uninformed Parent to support this podcast production and be the first to be notified of new episodes.
Editor’s note: This podcast episode was recorded during the 2017-18 school year, so event dates and references are not applicable to the present.
Keri Mitchell: Brian and Emily Smith are newbies to the school choice scene. Their children, 4-year-old Weston and 2-year-old Windsor, have stayed home with Emily rather than go to preschool, so unfortunately — or perhaps, fortunately — they haven’t found themselves constantly surrounded by school choice conversations.
They live mere blocks from Rosemont Elementary, a Dallas ISD public school that is well-regarded in their Oak Cliff neighborhood. They also live blocks from The Kessler School, a private parochial school that also is well-regarded in their Oak Cliff neighborhood.
They are leaning toward public, partly because of their own good experiences in public schools. But they don’t know much about Rosemont, and their online searches to find answers to their questions haven’t been very successful.
I encouraged them to take a tour of the school, and Rosemont Principal Rachel Moon welcomed the opportunity to show us around. We visited Rosemont’s primary campus the end of a normal school day, just in time for Weston to see the kindergarten art class in which he will participate next fall, if the Smiths choose Rosemont.
Brian Smith: Do you want to go see some of them?
Rachel Moon: You wanna go see? Come on!
Emily Smith: There’s going to be a lot of activity!
Rachel Moon: Let’s go see what they’re doing in art class right now. So, welcome to Rosemont. We’re getting ready for PTA tomorrow night. So that’s at 6:30 if you want to get a sneak peek. Hey, also are you familiar with RECPTA? Our Rosemont Early Childhood PTA?
Brian Smith: We don’t have any involvement in it at this point. So we’d love to hear more.
Rachel Moon: Well, you know what, come on October 19, I think it starts at 10 o’clock, 10 to 11:30, we’re hosting the RECPTA meeting.
Brian Smith: OK, great, thank you.
Rachel Moon: Here’s kinder. (Whispers: Come on!) Hi, Mrs. Ciancuili, this is one of our friends!
Kindergartner: It’s a new friend!
Rachel Moon: This is Weston, everybody, and he wanted to see some of the work that you’re doing. Does anyone want to show Weston your project?
Rachel Moon: OK, go back to your seats! Let’s see it! Oh my goodness.
Stacy Ciancuili: What’s the artist? Raise your hand. (Thank you for raising your hand.) What’s the artist’s name?
Stacy Ciancuili: What kind of colors does Modrian use?
Kindergartners: Red, white, yellow and blue.
Stacy Ciancuili: And we just learned that he only uses two types of lines, two orientations. What’s one of them?
Stacy Ciancuili: Well, they’re all straight, but what did we just talk about — it’s like an elevator.
Kindergartners: Vertical and diagonal.
Stacy Ciancuili: And no, wait a second — does he use diagonal, Caroline?
Stacy Ciancuili: What’s the other one he uses?
Stacy Ciancuili: I want to hear everybody say it.
Stacy Ciancuili: Thank you. And Hector, what shapes does he use? He only uses two kinds of shapes. What’s one, Hector?
Stacy Ciancuili: Puedes decirlo en español, si. … Rectangulo, muy bien. Y otro? Cuadrados, muy bien!
Rachel Moon: Thank you, Mrs. Ciancuili. I know they’re going to pick up in a few minutes. Well, this is our kinder art class.
Brian Smith: It’s great, thank you.
Rachel Moon: Oh, you’re welcome. It’s good to see it in action. Great job, everyone! And you know the artist, too. Wow! You wanna go see some dancers? Let’s hurry! You guys gotta come back during the day. Right before dismissal — I’m like, man, you’re missing all the cool stuff! But yes, we’re, I think the only elementary school that offers dance, and actually we have two dance teachers. We have one here at Lower and one at Upper. That’s part of our focus on the fine arts. As you can see, this is all of our student work! (gesturing to hallway artwork) And this school is preK-2, so this is probably second-grade artwork here.
Brian Smith: Was that art class dual language?
Rachel Moon: Mmm hmm, pretty much our specials are dual language. That’s something we’re trying to focus on this year.
Brian Smith: Is this the cafeteria?
Rachel Moon: Oh this is it, yeah! We have a beautiful backyard.
Brian Smith: Looks like it. I think you can see our house, actually.
Rachel Moon: Really?
Brian Smith: We’re right there at Kings Highway.
Rachel Moon: So, can you see it?
Brian Smith: No, we have trees in the way. But we’re right there.
Rachel Moon: Well, you know, and then we have Twelve Hills.
Emily Smith: That’s — and I take the kids walking there.
Rachel Moon: And so we have a gate — I don’t know if you can see it — yeah, we have our access point because in years past, we would walk all around. This is part of Rosemont property, too, the soccer field. So beyond the trees we have a soccer field that, our parents help coach our soccer teams. It’s really neat! But when it’s time to walk to Twelve Hills, we just cut across through the gate and meet ’em there.
Brian Smith: What is your opinion on the dual language program? Is it for everyone or just special kids? What’s your recommendation?
Rachel Moon: You know what, I think, you know to be honest, I mean, I want to say it’s for everyone. Honestly. I think it all depends on your child, whether you want your child exposed to dual language, but also, do you think he’ll be able to pick up two languages? Because it is a commitment to learn English and Spanish, and we also communicate that commitment to our parents, that even though you may not be Spanish speakers, will you go to the library or use our library to come in and check out books and try to promote it at home so that there’s opportunities that he’s listening to it outside of school. And it’s exciting that your son sees that you’re also trying to learn the language, and it’s more of a family commitment.
Brian Smith: In the reading, we’re found that it does slow them down on other subjects? Is that true? Do you see that? Where they’re behind?
Rachel Moon: Well, research shows that when you’re trying to learn another language, it does pick up after three to five years. It shouldn’t slow him down too much because, you know, English is spoken at home predominantly. It’s that second language that has a delay. But, you know, if you’re like, ‘Hey, he really picks up things quickly,’ then it might be something that’s for him.
Keri Mitchell: We didn’t make it to the dance studio in time to see the class in action, but as the pre-kindergarten through second-grade students were leaving for the day, Ms. Moon offered to show us the library and gym on the lower floor underneath us.
Rachel Moon: We do have like a pre-bison, I think on Fridays, where families can come and we read to kids, and our librarian and our counselor do workshops for our families, and just kind-of bring them in here. It’s pretty much with the RECPTA. And so we open our library to kids on Fridays once a month so we can read to kids and do storytime.
Also I wanted to show you our reading deck. I’m really proud of our reading deck. On beautiful days, like this one, we go to the reading deck.
Brian Smith: Weston, look! Oh fun.
Rachel Moon: And then we are working on our outdoor classroom.
Brian Smith: What will that be?
Emily Smith: Oh fun!
Rachel Moon: That’s something new that we’re going to redo the fence and put more stations. And then we’re working with the district to add some pavers from that door — that’s the hallway — to the library, to this area. And then that way the kids can — that way they don’t walk on grass, mess up their shoes. But yeah, this is a great outdoor space that, we do our egg hunts out here, our pumpkin patch — kinder has a pumpkin patch every year that we do. If you just, make it fun. We try to make learning fun for the kids.
Brian Smith: Is there a garden?
Rachel Moon: You know, across the street they have a full-functioning outdoor garden for the kids and it’s beautiful.
Brian Smith: Oh, that’s right. I’ve heard that.
Rachel Moon: And so just last year, one of our teachers applied for a grant with the City of Dallas, and they were able to start the beginnings, and then we added the fence. So we’ve brought Home Depot out here; we’ve brought the [home]builders across the street. They’re like, ‘Hey, we want to partner with Rosemont!’ I’m like, ‘Great, I got an idea, come on!’ Now it’s bringing everybody together.
Brian Smith: We love that there’s two campuses here because, I don’t know — Weston and Windsor have never gone to preschool or daycare. They’re home with mom, so kindergarten will be their first time in the classroom. So it’s kind of nice they don’t have big kids —
Emily Smith: — running down the halls and things like that. It’s the little ones and the big ones.
Rachel Moon: No, this is a — and both campuses, too. I mean, we don’t — we’ve got great kids. We really do. Great kids. We have very few discipline issues. And I say discipline, you know, ‘You have to stay seated,’ and the kid’s running around, and it’s like, ‘Wait, wait, we’re going to go to the different stations.’ Or they’re crawling under the table and it’s just, starting off the school year, ‘No, that’s not what we do.’
Emily Smith: That’s good.
Rachel Moon: It’s also a credit to our parents, and really, that makes a difference. I think if every school had committed parents to say, ‘What do you need?’ or ‘We’re here for PTA’ or ‘We’re volunteering’ … We have a dads club.
Brian Smith: I think I heard about that.
Rachel Moon: Actually, yeah, they meet at Stevens Park Golf Course, I think at 6:30, our dads club so I can put you in touch.
Brian Smith: Is it a monthly meeting?
Rachel Moon: It’s a monthly meeting.
Brian Smith: Yeah, I would love contact information.
Rachel Moon: In fact, you gotta come out for our movie night.
Brian Smith: Is it here?
Rachel Moon: Mmm hmm. No, not here — it’s at upper campus. Usually it’s our dads club that rents this giant screen and all our families come and they just bring picnic baskets and we sit out there. And the dads club, they bring in barbecue, and it’s a fundraiser.
All the fundraisers, they honestly goes toward — remember I talked a little bit about our soccer teams? We have, like, five soccer teams that our parents coach in kinder through second. They buy all the jerseys for the kids. All of the goalposts that you saw? That was our dads club. We have students in grades 3-8 that if they want to take golf at Stevens Park Golf Course, we have a golf program that our dads club pays for. And so now it’s field trips — how can we ensure all of our field trips get paid for. You know a lot of field trips are free in the city —
Brian Smith: But getting there.
Rachel Moon: But it’s getting there. So it’s paying for buses. So we’re putting our heads together — we do donations, if parents want to give a donation, but for the most part, it’s a lot of fundraising so that kids can go to the zoo with their peers. And also, they’re learning about animals, so it’s just part of an extension and enrichment opportunity. Most kids, probably, here at Rosemont go to the zoo already, or they go to the Nasher, or they go to the Arboretum, but a lot of our kids don’t.
Brian Smith: We have a membership to the Arboretum and it’s our kids’ favorite thing.
Rachel Moon: Oh, the kids love it! And the environmental center. There’s a lot of really great partners with Dallas ISD, and they make these opportunities free, but transportation’s very costly. But it’s one of the things we’re committed to doing. And our parents have been great, like, ‘Hey, I’ll donate. I know buses are expensive, so I’ll donate for this kid and two more kids.’ And we’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, thanks!’
Brian and Emily Smith: That’s great.
Brian Smith: Do they come to the library every day?
Rachel Moon: If it’s during their week, so they come on a weekly basis. And then the teacher can always send a student if they finish their books, or they finish their classwork. And we also offer library times for parents if they want to come before school or after school to check out books, so the parents are part of checking out books with their child.
Brian Smith: Great. Thanks for showing us this.
Rachel Moon: Oh no, absolutely! I’ll give you my card, and then if you want to send me an email and I’ll send you RECPTA dates, you can come to movie night. Everything’s free, and then you can kind of get a sense of —
Emily Smith: What the community is like.
Keri Mitchell: We head from the library to the gym, one of Rosemont’s four “specials,” or elective classes. Ms. Moon explains that all students attend gym, art, dance, music and computer classes in a weekly rotation. The Smiths ask about lunchtime, and Ms. Moon tells them it’s 30 minutes each day followed by recess, so the kids can run off their energy. This kind of information isn’t easy to find on most school websites, so questions often come up during school tours. Theoretically, all Dallas ISD schools offer tours, but in reality, not all schools are as open to prospective parents as Rosemont.
Do you guys do tours often or regularly, or just by request?
Rachel Moon: We do! We do them often. In fact, I need to find out with my community liaison. I think on Monday we had a tour — two ladies that were already looking into the school.
Brian Smith: I didn’t even know it was an option. We went to an event a few weeks back and [Dallas ISD Trustee] Audrey Pinkerton just said, ‘Oh, anytime you guys want to do tours …’ I’m like, ‘Let’s try it.’
Rachel Moon: Oh, I’m glad you did! I think anytime I can showcase the school and our teachers and the great things that are happening here, it’s worth stopping to share a little bit about what we do here. I know you also are shopping, and rightfully so.
Brian Smith: It’s hard to know, too, what’s here, unless you’re a parent of an actual student, because we’re 100 yards away but we’ve never been inside. Today’s the first time we’ve been able to see what’s here.
Rachel Moon: Yeah, come back! Come back during the school day when you have a little more time and can sit in on a class —
Emily Smith: I didn’t know that we could do that, so that’s great.
Rachel Moon: And then as you go to other schools, you can kind of weigh your options. We’re always competing. We love great families here, and you’re in the neighborhood, too, so why would you even want to travel and go on the highways?
Emily Smith: I know, exactly!
Rachel Moon: Or pay private tuition! Save your money! Come here! Give it as a donation for our field trips!
Keri Mitchell: Do parents typically come the year before kindergarten or the year before pre-K? Or are you getting parents carrying babies on their bodies coming in?
Rachel Moon: Yeah. Or they’re wanting to transfer the following year or they want their child in third-grade, and of course then it’s all based on — I mean, if you’re in the neighborhood, it’s an automatic go. This is your neighborhood school. But if you’re what we call a transfer, if you’re a transfer student, then it’s all about the numbers.
Emily Smith: Do you get a lot of transfers?
Rachel Moon: We do, yeah, we do.
Brian Smith: That’s a good sign.
Emily Smith: Yeah, that’s a good sign.
Brian Smith: How many kinder teachers are there?
Rachel Moon: We have seven.
Brian Smith: And then when would we find out who Weston’s assigned to for next August?
Rachel Moon: Oh, the following year. Right before school starts. We have what’s called ‘Meet the Teacher,’ and then usually a few days before meet the teacher, we’ll post it on the door. I don’t take requests, unless it’s very special circumstances. When kinder go to first-grade, it’s the kinder teachers, with administration overseeing, you know, the kinder teachers place the kids in the class with the teacher that they think they’ll be most successful in. And then it’s also looking at the students and trying to make sure that, ‘Oh, these two kids, I’ve had them all year, and it’s not a good idea for them to be together again,’ or, ‘You know what, they really make a good team’ or …
Brian Smith: So is it random then? For students you don’t know?
Rachel Moon: It’s random for new students.
Brian Smith: Do you try to split by gender?
Rachel Moon: We do. We try to have — yeah. That’s really the only —
Keri Mitchell: And then you’ve got dual language to account for in terms of native Spanish, native English —
Rachel Moon: Correct. But because you live in the neighborhood, you’re pretty much automatically in the dual language program, if that’s what you want.
Brian Smith: Oh really? I didn’t know that.
Rachel Moon: Well, it is a lottery, but you have first [priority] because you are in the neighborhood, so you have the choice.
Brian Smith: Wow, OK. How would you recommend we get more information about that? How should we make that decision? Because we literally, we’ve heard from you, we’ve heard from other people, but we’re still torn on — and because he’s never been in school before we’re not sure if there’s any — if he’s behind or ahead, we just don’t know …
Rachel Moon: I think it’s just knowing your child. There’s not a pre-assessment that we give — although that’s not a bad idea as far as what we can do to help prepare —
Brian Smith: I guess if he was in preschool, we would know, ‘Oh, he’s behind other kids in this,’ but because he’s coming from home …
Rachel Moon: Right. I know there will be a workshop in the spring, ‘How to prepare your child for kinder.’
Brian Smith: I see.
Rachel Moon: I can keep your contact information and you can see, hey, this is the kinder curriculum — uppercase letters, lowercase letters, does he know his sounds — and then, OK, this is what it’s like in Spanish. If he’s already maybe struggling a little bit, or even as you work with him at home —
Brian Smith: We haven’t noticed anything. He knows all his shapes and letters and colors. He’s not reading yet, but — The only thing we think he’s behind in is speech.
Rachel Moon: He’ll be fine. And it could be, you know, your colors in Spanish. You start introducing him to ‘azul.’
Brian Smith: That’s a good idea.
Rachel Moon: How do you say it in English? Blue! Great! And red is ‘rojo.’ And just like little things that you can see.
Brian Smith: I like that.
Rachel Moon: Just the basics, you know?
Brian Smith: Great. We should head out. Weston, Windsor, come on, let’s go!
Rachel Moon: Hey, so, what are you looking for in a school?
Brian Smith: That’s a great question. Yeah, we don’t like the idea of commuting around Dallas to find a better school.
Rachel Moon: Check. Go ahead.
Emily Smith: We’re leaning more towards public school. We like the whole —
Brian Smith: We would like to be at Rosemont, but we also know that we don’t know much about Rosemont, so if we had it our way, we would be here because we’re close. We like the idea of neighborhood parental involvement. I know a lot of private schools that think they’re better than public schools that are not, and I’ve known lots of friends and students that have gone the private school way and it has not been a great experience.
Emily Smith: I actually grew up in South Africa, and so —
Rachel Moon: Do you want to walk the kinder hall? This is the kinder hall.
Brian and Emily Smith: Sure.
Rachel Moon: Let me introduce you to somebody who’s not just anybody. This is Mrs. Tawil. She’s a kinder teacher, but before she was a kinder teacher, she was —
Amy Tawil: A first-grade teacher. (laughs)
Rachel Moon: Yeah, she was a first-grade teacher, but she was also PTA president, she was a mom who volunteered, and —
Amy Tawil: SBDM. My kids all went here. It’s my eighth year teaching but my 17th year at Rosemont.
Emily Smith: Really, wow!
Rachel Moon: She lives in the neighborhood, too. This family lives —
Brian Smith: We’re on the corner of Kings Highway and Montclair.
Amy Tawil: Oh, yeah, very close.
Brian Smith: Yeah, very close. He’ll be in kindergarten next year so we’re just looking at options.
Amy Tawil: Awesome! Good, good. Well, I’m sure you’d love it here. Were you here during — I think I saw you during the school day. During the craziness.
Brian Smith: Right, before the switching. So we saw art class.
Amy Tawil: Well, feel free to come again in the morning if you want to and see how the early part of the day is.
Rachel Moon: This is one of our dual language classrooms, if you’d like to see what a dual language classroom looks like.
Brian Smith: Isn’t that fun, Weston?
Rachel Moon: You guys don’t be shy, go on in. Go on in.
Martha Delgado: Come on in! It’s been a long day here at kinder, so … It’s nice to meet you. I’m Mrs. Delgado. I’m one of the kindergarten dual teachers here at Rosemont.
Emily Smith: I’m Emily. This is Weston.
Brian Smith: Weston, can you say hi? She teachers kinder!
Brian Smith: How old are you?
Weston Smith: Four.
Martha Delgado: You’re 4? Oh, so you’re just getting ready for kinder.
Brian Smith: We’re thinking about next August, so we are just trying to decide if we want to do dual language or not. So we wanted to see a dual language classroom.
Martha Delgado: This is the Spanish side of the dual language classroom, so you’ll see some stuff in Spanish, and the program is math in English, science and social studies in Spanish, and then they get their native language [in] language arts.
Rachel Moon: Mrs. Delgado’s the teacher that — I didn’t tell you her name, but she’s the teacher that wrote the grant and worked with the City of Dallas for the outdoor classroom. And she helped start the dual language program here. How many years ago?
Martha Delgado: This is my 13th year teaching here at Rosemont. Well, I t’s great to have you here. We love new faces here at Rosemont. Great to meet you guys.
Brian Smith: Thank you very much. This was very helpful.
Rachel Moon: Absolutely. Well, you know, we believe parents are our customers, and so are our students.
Keri Mitchell: Thanks for listening to The Uninformed Parent. In the next episode, we sit down with Rosemont Principal Rachel Moon for her take on what parents should be asking when trying to choose a school. Then we’ll talk to longtime Rosemont parent and now teacher Amy Tawil about how Rosemont became Rosemont.