For parents seeking alternatives to public school for their children, private and charter schools offer a wide variety of options. But the process of selecting a new school can feel overwhelming. What are the differences between private and charter schools? What are the charter school options in my area? What are the private school options in my area? Are all charter schools alike? What educational philosophies and approaches are employed by private and charter schools? How do I know which school will best suit my family’s needs?“Every school is unique. Not every charter or private school is the perfect fit for everyone. There are so many different schools with different philosophies, and although parents want more choices, it can be hard for them to decide what’s best for their families,” says Stacey Haskell, director and founder of the Corvian Community School of Huntersville, a private school that recently opened. The seemingly monumental task of learning about the private and charter schools available, their offerings, educational philosophies and specialties is most easily begun with exploration of the differences between public and charter schools. Families interested in getting into a charter school are required to go through the school’s lottery process through which potential new students are either offered a spot in the school or are placed on a waiting list. Many families apply year after year before finally securing spots. For families that don’t get into charter schools and can afford private schools, for which tuition and fees are required, there are quite a few options in the University City area.The benefits of sending a child to a private or charter school continue well into adulthood, says Bill Diskin, director of admission and financial aid at Cannon School. “We believe that students are going to face challenges after high school, after college and in their first jobs that we are simply not able to predict at this point in time. We know that there is one thing for sure – the world is an uncertain place. So, we prepare our students to adapt to the inevitable changes their world is sure to face.”Opening in Huntersville for the 2011-2012 school year will be the new Christ The King Catholic High School. According to David Haines, director of communication for the Diocese of Charlotte, the school is in the process of enrolling ninth-graders. “Of course,” notes Haines, “you don’t have to be Catholic to attend Catholic school, but you have to be aware that you will definitely receive religious education.” That said, there are plenty of students whose parents opt for a Catholic school education for their children for that very reason. Jane Frazier, Lower School principal at Back Creek Christian Academy, believes education rooted in religious tradition provides a stable foundation on which children can build throughout their educational careers. “Including religious studies in our curriculum helps children make better choices. We remind our students that this is God’s world. We focus on the basics such as critical thinking, rhetoric, grammar, logic, presentation, writing and speaking, as well as math and science. And we want a religious focus to be included in all of those aspects of our teaching.”Approaching education in a less traditional way is Phoenix Montessori Academy, where teachers follow the lead of the Maria Montessori who believed that “education cannot be effective unless it helps a child to open up himself to life.” Helping children take a unique approach to learning, and allowing them to help shape their own academic development is a critical component of the way in which Phoenix Montessori Academy’s faculty work with students. India Adams, founder and head of school at Phoenix Montessori Academy, was thrilled to see a delegation of her school’s students attend the Model United Nations gathering in New York recently. Whether by gardening, taking trips to the United Nations, participating in plays, playing on sports teams or simply engaging in classroom activities, opportunities for unique learning experiences abound at area private and charter schools. Taking stock of all of the options might not be simple, but for parents willing to do their homework, a world of interesting and challenging educational options just might open up. “Classrooms,” says Stacey Haskell of the Corvian School, “should be magical places.” And each school in the University City area offers a unique take on the creation of that very thing: the magic of learning.