The following is a piece written by a parent who struggled through the myriad of hoops prior to her child’s entrance into kindergarten and then struggled with the decision to take a coveted gifted and talented spot or accept the ease and comfort of a private school. I am posting this for all parents who just went through it and for parents who shortly will. It is well written, poignant and illustrates the realities of the New York City school environment. In a recent phone call from a parent I listened as she grappled with a different choice: a gifted and talented spot for both her twins or a spot in a closer school; a charter called Success Academy. I am so glad that both choices were acceptable. No matter what school your child attends, their success and happiness will largely depend on their teachers. Teachers will be happy and motivated at a school that respects its’ faculty and operates in a sensible manner. Make some effort to survey the teachers and you will gain valuable information to help you decide your child’s next big step. Good luck and don’t forget to breath and smile. .
THE DECISION, IN RETROSPECT
By Anna Li
Today I visited my daughter’s classroom for their end-of-the-year celebration. Her music teacher had prepared the students to sing two songs from The Sound of Music, in addition to other original songs about their Kindergarten experiences. While they were performing, their computer teacher dropped by to make sure everything was set for the photo-montage presentation. Diplomas were handed out, bows were taken. It was adorable and there were few dry eyes in the room.
My daughter goes to public school gifted and talented program.
A year and a half ago I had planned and prepared and navigated through the Kindergarten application process in New York City. I went through regulations, applications, guidelines, deadlines, and more deadlines, all the while keeping my child happy throughout the process as I camouflaged my anxiety.
Like some of you in New York City, we saved a spot with a deposit at a private school in the West Village, which we truly adored. When we finally received our gifted and talented seat assignment in the public schools, we compared both schools carefully. We looked reading, writing, math, languages, arts, computer, sciences, physical education, nutrition, humanity, and finally homework load and commute.
In the end, we felt both schools were on par with each other, accounting for their differences: one offered foreign language (private), the other: none. One began computer in Kindergarten (public), the other, 2nd grade. One had a pool and a bicycle-riding program (public!)… The list goes on. I believe that parents will have to supplement at any school, so we opted for the one that saved us $37,000 annually.
By now, you have made your decision. You did all your homework, but hopefully you were also warned by principals and parent coordinators not to ignore the less obvious, like homework load, commute and personality of the school. Your job was not to get your child into the best school; it was to get your child into the right school.
All year long, I’ve asked myself if we succeeded in choosing the school in which our Lili was meant to be.
Lili’s current education is more rigorous that that of our local school, and I can see the results. She is currently reading at almost second grade level, and she does writing and math workshops daily, which allow her to write stories and express herself more effectively. The school also fills out her week with music, art, dance, theater, computer and cooking. And she has made the kind of friends she’d stick up for in a playground.
One of the biggest draws for us is that the school has a Kind and Gentle program, which they practice daily. (My daughter loves school so much, that she makes her friends play “school” when she has them over on play dates. This is torture for her boy-friends, who I have overheard ask, “Am I done yet?”)
Despite my daughter’s successes this year, there are, of course, some regrets I have about our decision.
First, I underestimated the travel factor in my child’s day.
I am one of the lucky mothers; the yellow bus was not a problem for my child. Many kids cried and refused, adding an additional commute to the entire family’s day. However, the 40-minute ride home from school -and hers is by far not the longest- is in lieu of valuable playtime. By the time she returns home, all her neighborhood friends are well into their play dates. On days when she has after-school, between travel time and homework, there’s no time for play. Plus she’s not just losing free time; her friendships are slipping away because she’s absent from the neighborhood.
I also didn’t quite realize what impact homework would have on our schedule. Yes, she reads chapter books, and has correct handwriting. However, in order to do this, her schooldays are more structured, as are her afternoons. Couple travel with homework, and free time becomes a real challenge. Each week we take home reading, writing, and math. I say “we” because Lili and I are in it together. Her angst is my angst, just as her joys are mine too.
I will admit, Lili is on the verge of over-booked, although she has far less afterschool than some of the other children in her class. I manage my daughter’s schedule/workload by mothering overtime to make sure she is happy, not just entertained. I camouflage homework to seem like it’s our game, which works most of the time. I have her friends over so she can spend more time with them after doing homework — I have an entire agenda, which includes everything from candy and sure-fire dinners, to large-screen TV movie showings and marshmallow decorating. I jump through hoops, basically, because she is still just a five year old, albeit going on fifteen.
As far as I’m concerned, Kindergarten is one of the last times a child has to be truly carefree. Free play is invaluable to a young child’s intellect, to her ability to process what is happening to and around her. When we trade free play for structured classes in the name of getting ahead, we are doing just that: getting ahead of ourselves.
It may sound to you like I am not happy with my decision. On the contrary: I am thrilled. Yes, I mourn the sweet simplicity of a neighborhood experience for my daughter. But this first year has been a gift nonetheless. Lili loved her teacher so much, she sometimes called her Mama, and vice versa. She marched around those hallways and up and down the stairs like she owned the place. She now wakes up and reads half a dozen books by herself in bed, before beginning her day.
Ultimately, I wonder how this accelerated early education will affect her, or her future. Will it make it easier for Lili to get into a better middle school? Will we see a domino effect, thus helping her to an excellent high school? Should I even be thinking this far in advance?
I look back on last year, when I wondered why I was jumping through all those hoops. Now, as Kindergarten has come to an end, I am able to understand how my daughter has grown, and learned to deal with her experiences. I realized, this past year, that the onus of choosing the right kindergarten was about setting my child up for a lifetime of not just learning, but loving to learn.
Making the right kindergarten choice is possibly one of the biggest educational decisions of a child’s lifetime. If they are in love with learning in their early years, there’s no holding them back. Lili has found her spot at her Chelsea school. She was just introduced to her First Grade teacher for next year, and now I’m finding pieces of paper from Lili practicing writing her name. My daughter is at home in her school, and that’s all I want for now. Who knows where she will be for middle school, but she has told me there are plans in the pipeline to be a pilot or a doctor. As long as there’s a twirly skirt involved.