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ON NEW YORK CITY SCHOOLS

Posted on: Friday









When I was pregnant with Biet, and a bit more naive, and without the everlasting wisdom that one undoubtedly gains from rearing a nursling into a two-year-old, a friend of mine asked me where we planned to send our child to school.  I thought she was insane. Why on earth would I would be thinking about schools when I hadn't even had the baby yet!? I told her that once my baby was born, and then a whole five years had passed, she would probably go to public school.  This made perfect sense to me.  I had attended public school on the West Coast, and it was pretty great. So I dismissed the matter and pushed it out of my thoughts. And then I became a mother in NYC.

I should have picked up on it earlier, from the way that Biet interacts on the playground, the subway, and on playdates.  I should have realized that, unlike her Mama, my little girl is a people person.  She loves a challenge, learning new things, working within systems with rules (& breaking those rules when she's feeling ornery), making friends, playing games, and expressing herself. When we met up  with LaTonya & Emily and their sweet girls the other week, I watched as Biet held hands in a little toddler chain gang, and I began to really see that she could flourish in the right preschool program.  Then she began asking for "Rivahhh" and "Baby leeee" (River & Lilly) every day (along with a list of all of her toddler friends- the girl just wants to hang!), and reenacting the games they had played together. I began a proper search for a preschool that night.  What I found shocked me.

Many, many people in NYC begin applying for schools when they find out they are pregnant- the waiting lists for the good ones take years.  There are a couple nice progressive schools that your child can test into if they are bright, but the competition is brutal, and 1-year-olds beginning piano lessons in order to "keep up" and stand a chance is not my style.  There is even one preschool in the Upper West Side that requires genetic testing in order to be accepted- your child must possess all of the markers of success and intelligence to get in (creepy? morally wrong? illegal, perhaps? I think so).  (thanks to the reader who told me about this article from April 1st being an April Fool's Joke, and shame on you, NPR!). Then there's the issue of cost. We simply can't afford preschools that cost as much as college (and even if we could, I'm not sure I even agree it with that), so that rules out all of the "best" ones. Even the 2x2 program at the Y costs as much as a used car.  Its kind of crazy. I had to find something- I had to dig deeper.

Apparently, there are a number of underground co-op school in Brooklyn, where parents get together and hire a teacher and all pitch in to pay him or her, hosting the school from their homes.  Then there are "playschool's", where the parents take turns teaching, also from their homes, with self-developed curriculums or themes each day.  There are independent daycares, but I'm too skeptical of the quality of education offered at most of them.  There are private Montessori schools, but they are certainly not affordable (at least not the ones I've seen).  A few public schools have daycare and pre-k options, but not in the district we're zoned for.  A couple of stand-up magnet schools have the same, but you must enter a lottery against tens of thousands of other children for a spot- the odds are not good, and they don't even accept kids as young as Biet.  So what's a Mama to do?

All I'm looking for is a creative, safe environment where she can interact with other kids, learn some games and songs, and make a little art a couple of times a week.  Some organic food and lessons about the environment would be cool too. It has to exist, doesn't it? I know I'm not the only one who wants this for my child.

I'm throwing this one out to universe and asking you, dear readers, for your help here.  Tell me your experiences with NYC schools- the good and the bad and the ugly and the beautiful.  Do you have any suggestions of where I should look? Are there groups or clubs or forums out there? Do you have a playschool?  Should I start one? Is the Montessori method of teaching the best? Reggio Emilia?  Certain school zones where I'll have better luck?  I am so grateful for your insight and help with this!


43 COMMENTS:

  1. genetic testing?!? what the heck?

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    1. Right???!! I was enraged! I just found out that the whole article on this school was meant to be an April Fool's joke by NPR. But then it was re-published by so many institutions and blogs, and became a huge scandal. But the jury's in- this DOES NOT actually exist!

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  2. I would also LOVE to know the answer to all your questions! My little one is just 5 months but perhaps I should start thinking about these things now...

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    1. It's never too early, I guess.. I'll keep everyone updated on what I find!

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  3. Anonymous4:34:00 PM

    The school you mention that does genetic testing is fictional- it originated in an April Fools Day article on NPR last year

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    1. Thank you! I'm kind of annoyed that NPR would do that but so happy that this doesn't actually exist!

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  4. if you do go montessori make sure you check out the program for yourself... the term montessori is not patented so a lot of schools use it to get kids but do not have teachers that are trained in Montessori... I know because I was an untrained teacher at a so called montessori school and it was not a great place!Also places that are trying to show off accomplishments of students more than showing what experiences are available to students are not great! (but that is just from my experience)

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    1. Thank you so much for your insight! I am not trained in Montessori, I've only read a few books, so I hope I would be able to tell if a school was approaching everything correctly or not!

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  5. Wow! That sounds insane! You should move to Australia! Lol! My little boy goes to a gorgeous community preschool with a vegetable garden, amazing learning and art experiences and beautiful teachers. He has thrived and flourished and so far he's only going one day a week! No help I know as we're the other side of the world. But stick to your goal, you're right, surely there must be somewhere?

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    1. I would LOVE to live in Australia for a couple of years. It looks like such a magical place, and I can't believe the amazing quality of education (from what I've heard), but then there's that whole citizenship thing :)
      I'm happy you found such a beautiful place to teach your son. I hope I can find the same!

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  6. I say try play school method with other parents if you can. Im a big advocate for homeschooling for the essentials and then signing my kids up for fun little classes and join mom's groups for the socialization. I know it's tough... you are a good mom. Hang in there!

    - Sarah

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    1. Thank you Sarah! I think I may be leaning towards that too..

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  7. i'm having similar struggles (outside of philly.) my daughter is three and i have been spending most of my summer thus far planning a preschool-homeschool curriculum for her. it's a lot of work, but worth it.

    it is so hard to try to find somewhere that has the same values and methods to teaching your child as you do. most of the places that i would love to send her are just not affordable to us now...or ever.

    there are tons of people in the same situation-- so you can find a lot on the web and through other blogging mamas too.

    best of luck to you in your search! and whatever you decide is "best" for you, thats all that matters anyway, right? :)

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    1. Thank you so much for your support Sara! It's so refreshing to hear that there are so many others out there in the same boat, and you're right, the web and blogging is turning out to be a great platform for this. Also, it's nice to hear that I'm not the only one who cannot afford most of the schools here. They are out of control, and like you say, are just not affordable to us now, or ever. I refuse to let "class systems" come into play when educating my toddler. You should be able to find quality education regardless of how much money you have! I am determined now! :)

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  8. Hi Belle, I'm a long time reader, first time commenter on your blog. Have you seen the movie 'waiting for superman'? Highly recommended. It's a documentary film which analyzes the failures of the American public education system by following several students as they strive to be accepted into a charter school. I hope you find a great school for Biet & Lucien soon- you're right.. your school has to exist somewhere! :-)

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    1. Yes! I saw that when it came out and it made me cry! For some reason, I thought that it would be different by the time my kids were ready to go to school, but all of those same issues and broken systems persist. It was a fantastic documentary!

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  9. Ugh, I was flabbergasted when I learned of the same while pregnant with my son six years ago. I looked and looked, but most cost more than our rent! And only for part-time. And the places that seemed to be a little more affordable were somewhat dubious. I decided to just socialize him myself, with trips around the city, and do sort of a homeschooling thing.
    He just finished public school pre-k, in a school outside of our zone (which is terrible!), and was able to get into a slightly better (and pretty popular) program for K out of district.

    It has been really stressful and crazy and is one of the reasons I want to get out of the city, but it has thankfully worked out. Well, sort of. We still need to see what K brings, but I'm optimistic. I have my almost two-year-old know and while it can be nerve-wracking sometimes, I'm more relaxed with her.

    Have you talked with Natalie, of Nat The Fat Rat? She has a playgroup with a few of her friends (all this based on what she posts, since I don't know her personally), and that seems to be a really nice idea. Have you spoken with your friends and see if they're interested? It seems like it would be a good option. You can also look in Yahoo Groups too, and see what is listed in your area. Frequently my listserves pop-up with people looking for other parents to form a co-op with. I've seen playgroups formed out of meetup.com.

    Hope you work something out, it's not easy!

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    1. Thank you Lis! I am looking into pre-k schools in the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn for when Biet is ready in a couple of years. I have heard some good things about a couple of public schools there. I will ask Natalie about the logistics of her playgroup, thanks for the heads up! I have a feeling that playschool might be the best way to go.. we'll see!

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  10. Unfortunately am no help at all as I am in Australia, but we face similar things here. My son was on a waiting list for a daycare that wasn't even built yet for forever, and I reckon the planets aligned when the director was picking babies for us to get a place! I'm not even pregnant yet and have already spoken to the director to make sure #2 baby gets in (not even sure we'll need daycare then). He is also down to attend the kindy up the road, it was the first stop I made as soon as I could walk that far following his birth. Crazy crazy world.

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  11. I know nothing of the schools in NYC, BUT I am an early childhood educator. As far as philosophy (Reggio, Montessori) there is no one best philosophy, but I do think there are philosophy's that are better for an individual child. I think what you'll find in common with all of them is thoughtful early education, but there are also amazing untrained teachers out there as well. Personally, the most well rounded and confident preschoolers I have met are the ones who have spent the most time with their parents, and spend time meeting up for play dates, going to the park, etc. I think the coop or play date model is amazing, and personally, worth just as much as those expensive programs.

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    1. SO happy for you that you found something that works for your family! I am curious as to how it works with siblings here.. I wonder if they are automatically accepted into the same programs. I still have so much to learn about this crazy world of schooling, but I know the right thing will come along if I keep trying!

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  12. Gosh what beautiful children! Looks like you had the most amazing day as usual.
    Such great pictures.

    -Jade
    gracious-silhouettes.blogspot.co.uk

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    1. Thank you Jade! Not all of our days are this amazing, haha! I just don't take photos of the meltdowns and long subway rides and potty training! xx

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  13. We chose to homeschool and loosely will use the Earthschooling curriculum, which is Waldorf inspired. The schools where we live aren't great to begin with and even the expensive private ones aren't alternative or progressive.

    If you can find something Steiner related that is my personal fav!

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    1. Thank you thank you thank you!!!
      I totally trust your insight on this matter, so Earthschooling and Steiner, got it! Off to research these!

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  14. My cousins, who are young adults now, both attended all girl schools in the south of Brooklyn. A single sex education was an interestingly beneficial choice, but it seems like you have even more expectations for your daughter (which is great)... I'd love to know the answer to your questions for my own future.

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    1. Thank you Lauren! There are some formal schools, as well as more suburban neighborhoods, in South Brooklyn. I'm pretty sure that we are looking for something a bit more progressive, but I'm happy it worked so well for your family! Thank you so much for your insight!

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  15. I have raised 2 children in brooklyn, all through public schools. they're great young women (21 and 18) in good colleges. It can be done! the scene has changed since my kids were young, but I know the young families around me are bullish on the Ft. Greene/Clinton Hill Co-Op School (http://www.thecoopschool.com/). As for the public schools, www.insideschool.org is invaluable. Good luck! (PS: my kids went to a parent-run playgroup in Fort Green from 1.5 to 3 years; preschool at Dillon, which is affiliated with St. Joseph's College in Fort Greene; PS 261 in Boerum Hill, MS 104 in Manhattan near Stuy Town, and The Beacon School for high school on the Upper West Side. We live in Clinton Hill, Bklyn.)

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    1. Thank you SO MUCH for sharing your insight and experience! I have actually been browsing insideschool.org like crazy! I love to hear stories like yours about how you found schools all over the city that worked best for your family. I know it can be done!

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  16. I'm starting a co-op school with a bunch of bk parents. Let's hang out...I'll tell you all about it. :)

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    1. Karolina! For sure- let's hang!

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  17. My husband and I are planning on moving to the NYC area early next year and when we decided on that, preschools were one of the first things I looked at. I had heard the rumors about how expensive schooling was there, but we hadn't banked on it being THAT expensive. It really is so frustrating trying to find the right place for the right price. Everything I could find was out of our price range - even preschools I wouldn't even consider sending our daughter to. It's a stressful situation, but we plan on working hard to give her the best education within our means. Right now, it looks like homeschooling/ a coop will be our best option. When I think about it, I really don't want her cooped up in a classroom all day anyway. Working from home without the option of preschool will be challenging, but not impossible. I'll definitely be checking back here and reading the comments as we get closer to moving day though. It seems like you have some pretty good connections. Good luck on your search and try not to stress about it too much! ;)

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  18. I'm in Australia as well and we have a very different early childhood education system from the US as far as I can tell, but I think parents over here also consider many of the same issues when their children are very young. My daughter is only 18months but I already have her enrolled in a kindergarten for 2016!

    Have you read Teacher Tom's blog? He's a preschool teacher over in Seattle at a coop preschool and he has a lot of info about how coops are run. Definitely worth checking out. If you were interested in starting your own, then I'm sure he'd be happy to give you some pointers/advice, as he is a huge advocate for coop preschools.
    In terms of educational philosophies, I would recommend looking into Waldorf/Steiner based schools, as the Waldorf philosophy is all about honouring children's natural development through play (particularly self-directed play). I would strongly recommend avoiding any preschool that has a focus on developing academic skills rather than enabling children to follow their natural course of development. As per some earlier comments, if looking into Montessori schools, you really need to due your due diligence and ensure they are true Montessori in practice and philosophy.
    I would also recommend researching the education strategies and practices adopted in Finland over the past 20 years, as they have the best, highest performing, most effective education system (based on student results, teacher performance and student/teacher satisfaction) in the OECD. If you can find a school that has some of the qualities of the Finnish system, Biet will benefit greatly.

    Good luck!

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  19. Hey Belle-

    I hope that you're closer to figuring this out. I whole heartedly agree that finding Biet a great preschool in line with your values will help her to thrive. I too was rather naive and thought we could wait until Cedar was 5 for him to start school, until we started to notice the signs that he really needed the social interaction that he was lacking as an only child. Luckily, since we were flexible, he only was waitlisted for a brief period of time at an amazing school near where we live in suburban New Jersey. He's been there for 8 months and he loves it and we love it. However, we are hoping to move within the year, so I have started to research schools myself, and am realizing that good school proximity is super important. We are looking into Waldorf schools for Cedar, as some of the commenters have suggested. Waldorf schools are trademarked so each will adhere to the same philosophy. I just finished reading a biography on Rudolf Steiner and this really fantastic book called "Understanding Waldorf Education: Teaching From the Inside Out" by Jack Petrash that I would highly recommend. http://www.amazon.com/Understanding-Waldorf-Education-Teaching-Inside/dp/0876592469

    Good luck, my dear. Biet and Lucien are lucky to have you as their momma.

    :)

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  20. My son will be three in December and is starting pre-school next week. I live in Brooklyn Heights and the competition for admissions here is fierce. The most popular preschools are independent preschools connected to churches and synogogues. They give priority to congregation members and siblings of current students. My son was accepted off the wait list for a pm program (morning slots are coveted). The whole thing can be overwhelming and the process onerous. I navigated it all with the help of Joyce Szuflita a "school search consultant" She has a newsletter that is helpful and and I took one of her (affordable) workshops. She explains all the different education methods (Montessori, Waldorf, Emilio Reggio, etc) and what to expect from the application process. Her website is www.nycschoolhelp.com FYI-I started the application process when my son was 18 months old.

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