04/27/2011 11:01 am ET Updated Jun 27, 2011

Laura Barr: Figuring Out The Right Denver School For Your Kids

From pre-K waiting lists at Denver schools to college applications, scouring education options schools can overwhelm any parent. Enter Denver's Laura Barr. Specializing in all types of schools -- including parochial and independent -- she also offers guidance in special needs education, gifted and relocation. Need a coach to create a positive home environment? She's that, too.

We caught up with her to see what advice she has for Denver parents.

How long have you been a consultant?
I've been guiding families in the arena of school and parenting choices for over 15 years. As an educator, admissions director and teacher coach, I've had the opportunity to share my unique set of skills with many parents over the years. Four years ago, I officially opened my office doors [of e.Merging] and have since served over 400 families.

What was your inspiration for e.Merging?
As a mother of four children, I have spent many hours on playgrounds listening to the grievances of parents overwhelmed by the Denver educational landscape. My inspiration in starting e.Merging is rooted in the desire to empower parents and children to make educational choices that align with values, need and goals. In my experience, when parents are educated about the vast array of options they feel a sense of relief and clarity. The e.Merging mission is rooted in the belief that when parents are intentional in their parenting, school choices and home environment, children are primed to reach their fullest potential.

How has your experience as a parent influenced your work?
The most prestigious credential I have ... is being a mom of four children. I have experienced first-hand the stress and joys around school choice. I have won and been denied precious lottery spots and have advocated for my own child with special needs. I have personally experienced both public and private environments and I practice Intentional Parenting. My personal parenting stories have shaped my practice in every way.

How would you describe your typical client?
The one thing that all of my clients have in common is that they are committed to education and providing the best opportunities for their children. My families trust in me to translate websites, define culture, analyze test scores, compare curriculum and, finally, make school recommendations.

Describe how an initial meeting between you and a client (or prospective client) might go.
With each prospective client I begin with a phone interview to get a clear sense of how I can best be of service. Once the client has chosen a direction, the next steps can range from filling out a questionnaire, informal and formal assessments, classroom visitations and home visits. For children with special needs, the services can include facilitation of IEP [Individualized Education Program] meetings, development of goals, and other kinds of advocacy.

My latest project is called "Atelier: Progressive Learning Groups." This program is designed to integrate parent education with brain-researched early childhood education programing. This early childhood model is inspired by Reggio Emilia philosophy, which promotes a strong connection between the learning environment and the home. We take this model a step further and invite parents to create a learning environment in the home.

What do you think most parents regret in regards to their children's education?
Parents often don't understand how important it is to start early when considering school options. Many school applications are due a full eight to nine months before the September school year. Parents who are ahead of the game have more educational options.

What is one bit of advice you have for parents of young children who are at the beginning stages of education?
1. Start early.
2. Understand educational philosophy. With choices like Montessori, Waldorf, Play-Based, British Primary, Core Knowledge and more, it is imperative that parents understand their options.
3. Parenting matters: Sharpen your parenting skills. How you parent your child will be far more important than any school environment you choose.

And for the parents of older children? Perhaps junior high or high school?
The joy of working with junior high and high school students is they begin developing their own ideas about what they want for their own education. At e.Merging, we work with teens to advocate for themselves and begin choosing and designing their own education plan.

Check out Laura's website for tips on school choice, parenting and access to numerous referral websites as well as free talks held throughout the year.