Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Games We Play to Find a School in NYC

Ahh, September.  Back to school.  Back to the madness.  And back to the season of watching people go mad as they try to find their 4 year old a school in the Gotham city.
As friends get Kindergarten applications for their little ones we were reminded of the crazy day two years ago when we took off the day after labor day just to call elementary schools.  We had two phones and two calendars going all morning, getting applications and scheduling tours, etc.  This was a deja-vu from the day three years prior to that where we found ourselves hitting redial over and over just to get nursery school applications for our then-one-year-old.  Once they were out of applications, you had no hope of getting a spot anywhere.  Needless to say the busy signal was echoing in our heads all night after that.  Even the boss was assigned three numbers to call!

The process of finding a school for your child in Manhattan is effed up to say it mildly.  It goes without saying that there are way too many applications than there are spots in most schools.  This is a given and there's not much can be done about that.

But the madness can be managed much better.  Three quarters of the craziness can be alleviated by taking out all the stressful game-playing.

Problem #1: You have to send in an application to most schools before you can even go on a tour and decide whether or not you even like the place.

First off, if one could actually tour the schools in the spring - BEFORE you have to apply, one would probably have to call a lot less schools for the applications and be able to focus more on getting to know a few.

Now, let's say you decide you like some and are even lucky enough to get into one, or get onto a school's waitlist even.

Problem #2:  You never have the information you need to make the decisions you need to make.

The timing of the whole process is flawed.

Fall before Kindergarten - Call for applications, tours, interviews

January/February - Register for zoned public school and have your child take the city gifted &  talented test

February - Independent school letters arrive; must make decision.  If you get in and you accept, DONE.  If denied/waitlisted or you really want to try for public, then go through the following madness:

March - Zoned schools send out confirmations.  If accepted, DONE.  If denied, begin Real Estate Bingo.  Start calling realtors ASAP and begin touring houses in Westchester, Long Island or New Jersey.  Do not tell friends in same boat so as to competitively keep low inventory of affordable houses for yourself.  OR...

May - Time to play Board of Ed Lottery.  Find out alternate school.  Do not have say in alternate school.  Do not get to tour alternate school.  Simply get offer for some school and make decision by end of month.  If you take it, DONE.  If the option is unacceptable, follow steps in Real Estate Bingo above OR play Board of Ed Roulette with Souped Up House Odds by taking chances that your child will not only pass Gifted & Talented exam but there will be a spot in the program you want.
It's a sad day when a sign like this will make you happy, peeps.

June - Find out results of Gifted & Talented exam.   If fail, call Realtor and shell out the extra cash because you are desperate and they know it.  If it's a pass, wait two more weeks to play Who Gets the Short Straw? and see what spots your child is offered. 

Late June - Get Gifted & Talented placement.  If acceptable, DONE.  If not, you'd better start praying to the suburban gods that they either find you a place and the will to live away from concrete or that they suck away enough children from your zoned school to hit your spot on the waitlist.  We call this game Elementary Hail Mary.

We thought people were smoking crack when they told us this, but eventually, one way or another it does work out.  Likely it never works out the way you expect, which is why therapists do so well in this city.  But for your child, eventually, they will find a school so amazing that you'll wonder why you ever considered any other option.

Which brings us to our biggest problem.

Problem #3: Parents still think they have any semblance of control over this process.  Silly parents. 

You're embarking on a process which will have you spend the next year of your life year playing games where you don't know the rules.  Your sanity is going to be tested umpteen times.  Times ten.   Good luck keeping it.  You'll need it, especially because of:

Problem #4:  No free drinks for parents

Poker Chick would like to suggest to schools that they provide some beverages during tours and interviews.  We promise everyone will be much happier.

The good news?  Everyone wins something, even if you have no idea what that is as of now.  Happy calling, peeps.  Meanwhile those of us who made it to the other side are out interviewing fortune tellers.

We know a good business opportunity when we see one is all we're saying.

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