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Eighth graders can’t tour Sacramento high schools due to COVID. How will they decide?

·4 min read

Many families of eighth-grade students are beginning to narrow their options for high school.

With the Sacramento City Unified School District allowing students to choose which high school to attend through an open enrollment program, the process to do that often includes taking tours of campuses.

But with the COVID-19 pandemic still forcing school officials to implement restrictions on access to school grounds, high school campuses are largely closed to the public.

Sacramento area students cannot tour most of Sacramento City Unified’s five comprehensive high schools, seven smaller high schools and 30 specialty programs. Rosemont High School is offering four days of in-person tours along with virtual tours.

However, students are able to visit private school campuses, many of which have welcomed them for tours on campus, making parents wonder whether the pandemic and all of its restrictions will cause a dip in enrollment in the public school district.

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Rebecca Frazee, a Sacramento parent of an eighth-grader, is still considering several high schools for her son: two in Sacramento City Unified, one in San Juan Unified and one private school. Not being able to attend high school tours in Sacramento City Unified isn’t helping, she said. Frazee said one informational flyer she viewed had been printed in 2019 and had very little information on it.

“If in-person tours are out of the question, a video tour or something would go a long way,” she said.

School district officials said Sacramento City Unified high schools have prepared several promotional materials online and schools are scheduling Zoom information sessions for families.

“We sincerely hope that this year‘s effort, focused on equitable access for all of our families regardless of translation need, access to transportation, scheduling issues, or Covid quarantining makes it possible for more of our students and families to learn about more of our schools,” said a statement from the district.

Private school tours

Schools such as Christian Brothers High School, St. Francis High School and Sacramento Waldorf are offering tours.

About 800 students visit Christian Brothers each year, according to school officials. In 2020, the school hosted virtual events for prospective students in lieu of campus visits. But the school is open for on-campus visitors as students consider becoming one of the 300 freshmen admitted next year.

About 400 students visited St. Francis for its open house, and another 500 students attend “student shadow days” on campus.

“Being in an all-girls classroom and experiencing our community and teachers helps prospective students envision themselves as part of our student body,” said school communications director Tina Tedesco. “We know some families are looking for a Catholic education with an all-girls experience for their daughter/s. St. Francis is the only school in the area that provides this.”

Desiree Throckmorton, parent of a Sacramento eighth-grader, called the lack of public school tours frustrating.

“I think it’s a significant disadvantage for families considering public school and private school,” she said. “My daughter is definitely wavering between a private school and McClatchy, and this makes it almost impossible for her to really consider McClatchy.”

School officials at Christian Brothers also say experiencing their campus firsthand is an important part of the decision making process.

“We encourage students to explore their options and find the school that best meets their needs as a learner and as a person,” said Christian Brothers spokesperson Kristen McCarthy. “Visiting a campus provides an opportunity to experience the school community first hand while learning more about academic and co-curricular programs.”

Sacramento Waldorf also offers virtual tours, as those still remain the most popular option for families. Roughly 200 people attend the high school tours each year, looking to fill one of about 45 spots in the freshman class.

“Our education is a commitment for families, and seeing the campus does solidify people’s choices,” said school administrator Kat McFee. “We have an incredible campus, and people often remark on the beauty of the space. Seeing students actively involved on campus is part of the tour experience for many families as well.”

While the high school admits more than 85% of its student body from Waldorf programs, school officials said the pandemic increased interest from other students due to the school’s social-emotional components and curricular approach. The school operated entirely outside during the 2020-2021 school year, and the connection to nature was a “compelling point,” said McFee.

It’s unclear when parents and prospective students will be able to return to public school campuses for tours, but students are expected to begin making decisions on high school registration by Nov. 30.

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