Monday, April 11, 2011

The Kindergarten Chronicles - Part 3

Each school has its own application process, which is just a little bit different from everyone else’s application process. For the charters, there are the mysterious lotteries. Some are public. Some are not. One emails you the lottery results results. One writes back in the self-addressed stamped envelope you were supposed to enclose with the application, but I saw dozens, if not hundreds of parents hand in applications at the open house without the self-addressed stamped envelope. One, after a public lottery, writes you a letter giving you your number weeks after the event. The new one promises to get on the phone and call if you get selected.

Lotteries take place early to mid April. Results stagger in. You need to pre-register at your zoned school (during school/work hours) in Jan/Feb/March, and then you need to show up in person, with your bored or bewildered child to fill out pages of forms and present folders of documents during the first two weeks of April. Also, during school/work hours.

Liana did not attend any of the open houses or orientations with me. When I first started discussing potential schools with her, she became angry and obstinate. “I WANT TO GO TO THE RENAISSAINCE SCHOOL!” she proclaimed. The kid never forgets a thing, and she remembered that long ago day when I took her with me to vote at Renaissance, and said she might go to school there. That is the school that, last year, accepted 40 out of 1495 applicants.

After listening to me sing the praises of the various potential schools, and after overhearing dozens (or more) adult conversations about kindergarten possibilities, she has become resigned to the reality. We don’t know where you are going to kindergarten. It will be a surprise!

At an early-March birthday party, one father proclaimed that he was going to attend all of the open lotteries, record the names of the lottery winners, and publish them on a community forum. I didn’t really know him well, and I was not sure about the idea of publishing the names. But as the first public lotteries approached, I weighed the pros and cons of leaving Liana with a babysitter to attend, (I never leave her with a babysitter) or trying to get someone who is attending to tell me if her name was called.

I approached the dad and asked him if he really planned on attending the lotteries and reporting on the results. He said he had revised his plan. Although he was going to attend, he would just report on the names of children whose parents requested that he do so. He told me to email his wife (who I really know only to say hello to), but after running into her in the street and accosting her on the lottery topic, she invited me to email her Liana’s details, and I did.

In the meantime, I had gotten notice from our zoned school, PS 212. They wanted me to appear on April 1 (less than a week after receiving the letter), between 9-11 AM, with Liana and gobs of paperwork. I had an important meeting scheduled at 9:30 in Harlem that morning, which I had no intentions of missing. I called to reschedule, hoping that I would have lottery results before hand, and that I would be able to blow off the registration all together. I was scolded, told that it did not sound like I was very interested in getting my child into kindergarten, reminded the NYC public schools do not guarantee a kindergarten seat, and assured that they had a huge waiting list already. I stated that the NYC Department of Education Website said that I had until April 15 to register after having received the letter. The voice on the other end clucked, and grudgingly agreed to allow me to come in on April 11.

Wow. I have a more flexible work schedule than most, and it seemed like an unreasonable burden for me to take off two work mornings in two months to register my kid at a school I did not even want her to attend. How many parents lost pay on those two days? Or just pissed off their bosses? In these tough fiscal times, this does not seem like a great policy. Or perhaps it is. Parents unaware of the complex procedures, or unable or unwilling to take off work, might not burden the public schools with the presence of their kindergarten aged children, in a year in which thousands of teachers are slated to be laid off. Quite a few kids might just be staying with grandma until first grade.

The Kindergarten Chronicles - Part 2

By mid-winter, it was rare to have a conversation with an adult that did not revolve around the kindergarten application process. There was the gifted and talented exam. The “Meet the Principal Nights.” The open houses at the charter schools. My schedule was booked.

The Renaissance open house was a nightmare. The line to get in wrapped around the block. It was freezing rain. So many of the parents I met on the line did not even seem interested in the concept of a progressive education. I stood wedged between two families, each of whom were hoping for financial aid to a Catholic school, but Renaissance was their second choice. Ummm. Their first choice is the most structured, conservative possibility, and their second choice was the school where the kids call the teachers by their first names and pursue a broad, liberal arts education in an environment of loosely controlled chaos? K-12 is a huge plus.

Fell in love with the principal of Growing up Green. Constant student assessment, and classroom activities based on student interests. An onsite garden. Ecology theme. Lots of field trips. I feel like Liana is really drawn to the natural sciences. A great option for her. K-5.

Our World Neighborhood is more structured. Social studies theme. Each month they focus on a part of the world, and a value. Values include kindness and honesty and citizenship. The walls of the school are covered with student projects. Student writing is evaluated, not graded. A hallway was transformed into our solar system, with black walls spotted with stars, and balls transformed into planets hung from the walls. A parent asked if it was a permanent exhibit. The principal said no. The hallway would be transformed into a rainforest the following month. K-8.

Academy of the City hasn’t opened yet. They don’t even have a building. But also a real progressive education.

Neighborhood public schools were in the process of redistricting, and there was great confusion about where the district lines fall now. I don’t like PS 212, my districted school. It is across the street. So easy. Beautiful building. Crowded classrooms. Traditional instruction. They watch videos for recess. It is a “magnet school” for “literacy and technology.” Whatever that means. I know wonderful parents who love the place. I don’t. Kids districted for PS 69 can also apply to some other schools, including a bilingual program for K-2.

One thing was for sure. The wonderful community of friends who play together at Travers Park, who have attended pre-k together, would not stay together. They would be scattered to the wind.

The Kindergarten Chronicles - Part 1

The Fall of 2010 was a more innocent time.

I took Liana with me to my polling station to vote, and as we walked through the Renaissance School, I stated that Liana might go to school there when she was big. Big, as in kindergarten. It seemed a lifetime away.

I had always imagined sending my child to the Renaissance School. A few short blocks from home and work, leaders in progressive education, they have been integrated into the fabric of the community for more than a decade. They have a pretty diverse student population (20% white, 20% black, 42% Hispanic, 18% Asian), and their students can be seen on youtube doing interesting theater projects or having huge meetings in which students and teachers together work to set the school’s agenda in face of budget cuts .
They offer a strong K-12 liberal arts education, with emphasis on project based learning rather than test preparation. They have linkages with National Geographic, a rooftop greenhouse, Spanish and Mandarin instruction, strong parent involvement.

Of course any child of mine would attend the Renaissance School.

Then reality set in.

The top of the admissions page on their website states that 1,495 students applied for last year’s 40 lottery openings. Go ahead and read those numbers again. Do the calculations in your head. Within weeks of the innocent trip with Liana to my polling station at the Renaissance School, reality set in. And the frenzied kindergarten application process had begun.