Boston School Finder, a parental-led digital platform, offers way for parents to navigate enrollment with BPS

With the priority school registration season for Boston children now under way, developers of a non-profit search and information tool are working to make sure that families who use it have the resources they need to choose the best schools for their children.

Boston School Finder, a parent-led digital platform started in 2017, provides parents with a one-stop location for pertinent information and guidelines about registering their children at the right schools for them. 

Latoya Gayle, the organization’s executive director, said in an interview that she saw the need for such a tool when, years ago, she attempted to navigate Boston’s complex registration process by herself.

“I have three children, the youngest is 4 and the oldest is 16,” she said. “I remember with my oldest child, when we first moved, there were a lot more schools here than I was used to. I would spend hours obsessing over where the schools are, what they’re like, which ones my kids can go to. The idea of [Boston School Finder] is figuring out, you know, how can this not take hours for families?”

Not all parents have the same amount of free time to dedicate to the registration process, which can involve multiple steps and require several different types of documentation depending on the school. As Boston School Finder notes, it’s easier for families with means to navigate the system, and nearly half of the black and Latino families in the city don’t file their preferences with the city during the early registration period.

But with a new website that was “totally revamped” last year, Gayle and the team at BSF are hoping to address that gap. As such, the priority school registration period for kids entering grades KO, K1, 6, 7, and 9 — which officially began Monday and ends on Jan. 31 —is a good chance for Boston families to get ahead of the game, said Gayle.

“Black and Latino kids make up about 70 percent of BPS students,” she pointed out. “One of our big goals is to increase the number of parents who are registering in those first rounds. That ultimately gives them a better shot of getting a school that’s higher on their list.”

Getting children into a school that is the right fit for them is the end goal of the nonprofit. Being able to choose the proper environment for your child’s learning is therefore crucial, said Gayle, who noted that “if a parent doesn’t know how to respond to a bad fit, that child is struggling, socio-emotionally or academically, and it sets them up on a path where they don’t enjoy learning.”

Tips on how to find that best fit are among the services available on the BSF website, which also includes a school registration calendar, English language learner resources, and both a “toolkit” and a “checklist” of steps and resources designed to assist families through the process. Information is available in eight languages, including Vietnamese, Portuguese, and Haitian Kreyol.

Notably, Boston School Finder is a resource developed by and based on suggestions and surveys from parents and is led by people who themselves have children in Boston schools, whether they be BPS, charter, or parochial. Gayle, a resident of Dorchester whose children attend schools in the neighborhood, said that commonality puts everyone involved in the mission on the same page.

“The cool thing about it is everything we put on the site is based on parent feedback,” she said. “We talked to families and asked, what would you want in a tool to help you? We also work with a team of parents – “parent ambassadors” – who advocate for their own kids and schools. We thought the best way to reach other parents is through parents just thinking about, you know, how can they share what they know?”

In the coming weeks, the nonprofit will hold several “Registration 101” events in schools in neighborhoods across the city to introduce and guide parents through the registration process.

Boston School Finder has also launched a texting campaign through which families can sign up for school enrollment text alerts. Parents can sign up by texting the word “SCHOOL” to 33-777.

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