Public School in the USA

School in America

You can help your child get a good education in the United States through public school.
You can help your child get a good education in the United States through public school.

Public School is free school available to all children in the United States.

What types of public schools are there?

Early childhood education

Early education is a term used to talk about young children being exposed to education. Even when your child is a baby, it is important to help read to them, sing with them and help them learn both your first language and English. There is research that shows children who are bilingual, speaking two or more languages, have more advantages than children who speak only one language. Early childhood education centers and daycare centers are available for infants through children age four or five.

Preschool

Preschool helps children (ages three and four) develop. It helps them be ready for school at age five or six. One option for preschool is called Head Start. Preschool-aged children from low-income families can attend Head Start programs. Head Start is a low-cost preschool run by the government. You can search for a Head Start program near you.

Elementary school

Children usually begin elementary school with kindergarten (K) at age five and continue through grade five or six. They leave elementary school around age ten or eleven.  Children learn many subjects from one teacher in a single classroom.

Middle school (also called junior high school)

Middle school teaches students grades six through eight. They are around ages ten to 14. Middle school students usually switch from classroom to classroom. They may have many different teachers in one school day.

High school

Students attend high school between the ages of 14 and usually 17 or 18. The classes are arranged by subjects. A student may have many teachers in one day.  Some students can take advanced classes. Some students can take classes that prepare them for work or for college.  High schools have clubs, activities, sports, work-study arrangements, and other activities.

Who works at schools?

People you might meet at the school:

Teachers

Teachers are the people directly responsible for educating students. They lead learning activities in classrooms. In the US, families show respect for teachers by working with the teachers to educate and support their children.

Aides

In many schools, aides help teachers in their classrooms. Some classrooms have multiple aides and some have none, depending on the needs of students within the classroom. Aides might help a student who is learning English. Aides might help small groups of students complete their work.

Principal

The principal is the head administrator at a school. The principal is responsible for overseeing all the teachers in the school building. The principal is the leader of the teachers. The principal does not teach students. Instead, the principal helps the teachers, helps with discipline, and leads the school.  In big schools, there are also vice principals. Vice principals help the principal. In the US, if a parent has trouble with a teacher, the parent usually talks to the principal.

Counselors

School counselors help students’ academic, personal, social, and career development needs. School counselors lead programs that help students succeed in school. Counselors can be very helpful for refugee families. Counselors can help your student adjust to their new school. Counselors might know about special programs for refugee students. Counselors sometimes also help with mental and physical healthcare. A counselor is a good person to talk to at the school if you think your student might need extra help.

Nurses

Nurses work in schools to keep students safe and healthy.  If a student is feeling sick, the teacher might send them to the nurse. If the student is sick, the nurse decides to send them home until they feel better. In the US, taking care of students’ mental health is an important part of going to school. Sometimes, students have a hard time in class because they are having a hard time adjusting to life in the US. They might need extra help because coming to the US from a different country is very hard. Nurses can help support students who are having difficulty adjusting.

Secretaries

The school secretary helps the principal and often works in the front office of the school building. When you come to your child’s school, you may need to sign a paper to check in. This helps keep students safe. The secretary will help you sign in. The secretary can show you where to go. If you need help signing up for school, the secretary helps. Some schools require you to sign a paper to take your child home from school early. The secretary will help you sign your child out. This is to keep your child safe. They can only go home with a trusted adult.

Superintendent

The superintendent leads many principals and schools. Superintendents lead decisions on policy, curriculum (what the students learn in classrooms), and district rules. Because superintendents work with many schools, they might not be in the same school building as your child.

What activities can my child do at school?

Schools in the US do more than provide classes. Schools offer other opportunities, like field trips, extra-curricular activities, events, after-school programs, and summer camps. These can help your student make friends. The opportunities can help your student feel welcome at the school. This means they can help your student succeed at school!

Tutoring support

Tutoring helps students. An adult, teacher, or another student may be able to tutor a student. Your student may be able to tutor other students, too. Some schools have programs after school or during certain classes for students to receive tutoring.

Individuals and private companies also tutor. Tutors are typically available for any subject matter. Private tutoring usually happens after school and will cost money. You may also be able to find free tutoring help for your student from a local program at a nearby organization, religious community, or after-school program. There may be organizations just for helping refugees and other newcomer students. Your school office may have a list of private tutors and free tutoring nearby.

Does my child have to go to public school? What is private school?

Children must go to school in the United States. If you do not send your children to school, you can get in trouble.

You can choose what type of school to send your children to. Most children go to public school because it is free. There are other types of schools in the United States besides public schools. There are private schools that students must pay to attend. Many private schools are managed by churches or religious organizations. Each private school has different costs. Some are very expensive. But some have scholarships to help children go to the schools if they family does not have enough money to pay for the private school. Private schools may have different rules than public schools.

Another type of school is a charter school. Charter schools meet the same academic and legal requirements as traditional public schools, but they have different operators than public schools, which are operated by the government. Charter schools do not have to follow some of the constraints that public schools must follow. Charter schools are free. Usually you apply to enroll, and sometimes they have a waiting list.

Home schooling is another method of education. Home-schooled students are taught at home by their parents. There are rules in every state about home schooling. The parent is responsible for knowing the state’s rules for home schooling and for making sure the rules are followed.

More resources

Help your child in school

Read about the rights you and your student have in schools in America in these languages:

Welcoming and Orienting Newcomer Students to U.S. Schools
A newsletter about the challenges of adapting to US schools.

Back to School: Challenges and Strengths of Refugee Students
A newsletter about differences between US students and refugee students.

Parent Notes
A list of notes to help parents communicate with teachers.

Refugees shaking hands

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