Kindergarten in NYC: Much More than You Wanted to Know

Kin­der­garten in NYC: Much More than You Wanted to Know

My son is turn­ing five next year, which means one of the most im­por­tant tran­si­tions in his child­hood and po­ten­tially his life: start­ing Kin­der­garten. I always thought New York City moms who ob­sessed over this were clearly crazy.

Now I am one of those moms.

Why do we do this to our­selves? It’s not the one year of kinder­garten. It’s se­cur­ing that spot in the school where you want them to stay un­til mid­dle school and po­ten­tially high school, and prob­a­bly send your other kids to as well. It’s all of the so­cial and class in­se­cu­ri­ties that come with choos­ing a school and its as­so­ci­ated peer group. It’s the fear that if you choose poorly, your child will age 100 years and his face will melt off in front of you.

Not quite that se­vere. Still, you worry you’ll mess up their life and they’ll be­come drug ad­dled so­ciopaths liv­ing on your couch un­til you kick them out when they bring back that pros­ti­tute.

Maybe go­ing over­board again. They’ll go to State Col­lege, move to the sub­urbs, and work in re­tail.

Wo wo wo, lets not be un­re­al­is­tic. Re­tail won’t be around in 10 years. Your kid will be hor­ribly mis­er­able for the next 14 years, go through de­pres­sive epi­sodes, and blame you for all of it. That’s what I’m ac­tu­ally wor­ried about. Both my hus­band and I had hor­rible el­e­men­tary school ex­pe­riences. We still carry scars. We don’t want that for our sons.

So why not home school? All the cool kids are do­ing it. We have per­sonal rea­sons why this would not work for our fam­ily. Our son has some so­cial defic­its, but is ex­tremely bright. Liter­ally ev­ery­one we’ve spo­ken to who knows our son agrees that he would do bet­ter in a struc­tured en­vi­ron­ment with peers. We have ob­served his profound so­cial-emo­tional growth upon start­ing the school year. We saw back-slid­ing over the sum­mer when he lacked struc­ture or reg­u­lar peer in­ter­ac­tions. He will not listen to us when we teach him. He is a differ­ent child in the school set­ting, soak­ing up knowl­edge.

Peo­ple can rant all they like about how hor­rible school is philo­soph­i­cally, but that does not negate what we’ve per­son­ally wit­nessed in our own child. Philos­o­phy aside, home-school­ing is a lot of work and co­or­di­na­tion. We both work full-time. While we would pick home-school over the hor­rid el­e­men­tary school ex­pe­riences we had, we hope we can do bet­ter and find a school where he will be happy.

That is much eas­ier said than done. Espe­cially for unique chil­dren. Our son has done well in a pri­vate preschool with 15 chil­dren and 3 teach­ers. A pub­lic kinder­garten in NYC has a class of 26 chil­dren and one teacher. This goes up to as high as 32 in first grade. That is a lot of kids in a small space. It pre­sents two op­tions. Either you get a very noisy and un­ruly class, or a strictly con­trol­led group which con­forms pre­cisely with ev­ery­one sit­ting quietly and do­ing the same thing at the same time. We have seen both. Nei­ther is pretty. Our son has sen­sory is­sues, and will not tol­er­ate a very noisy class­room. We ex­pect he also would not tol­er­ate a con­formist one. Him tol­er­at­ing it would scare us even more.

If he went to pub­lic school, we might well be pres­sured to put him into a re­source room, with chil­dren much worse off than him­self. Chil­dren with emo­tional dis­tur­bance, se­vere autism, re­tar­da­tion and other se­vere prob­lems. My mother has worked in such class­rooms and what she de­scribes is un­ac­cept­able. Those are her sto­ries to tell, but I would not put him there. Ever.

So what can we do? Sue the city! That’s what ev­ery­one told us to do. Say the pub­lic schools can’t meet your kid’s needs, since they clearly can­not do so. Find a nice, pri­vate spe­cial needs school, and sue for tu­ition.

So we saw some spe­cial needs schools. Like pub­lic schools, they varied a fair bit and we liked some more than oth­ers. What they all had in com­mon was a severely im­paired peer group. He would be one of the most func­tional stu­dents in the class. We don’t want that for him. We want him to be challenged and learn from peers who can be mod­els for him.

So what next? Pri­vate school! Pri­vate schools also vary a lot, but have one thing in com­mon. They are ex­pen­sive.

I’m not sure you un­der­stand how bad this situ­a­tion is. I spent time look­ing around. The av­er­age pri­vate el­e­men­tary school charges about $45,000 per year.

Yup. You saw that right, $45,000. That’s more than most stu­dents’ col­lege tu­ition. Be­fore aid or loans. And it’s post-tax in­come. And we have more than one child.

With two (and per­haps more) chil­dren, that would be most if not all of my post-tax in­come as a psy­chi­a­trist.

Peo­ple have the au­dac­ity to say “But you can af­ford it.” Don’t get Zvi started on that phrase.

Even if you want to send your kid to pri­vate school, you have to ap­ply and be ac­cepted. Most good pri­vate schools are se­lec­tive. Most do not want to deal with a child with spe­cial needs.

We have been lucky to find one nearby pri­vate school that charges con­sid­er­ably less (though still far from cheap) and hap­pens to have an ed­u­ca­tional philos­o­phy we think would suit our son. It’s a Wal­dorf school. It em­pha­sizes prac­ti­cal skills such as cook­ing, gar­den­ing, car­pen­try, for­eign lan­guage, and trade. Since we be­lieve our son is gifted aca­dem­i­cally, be­ing less aca­demic does not con­cern us. He will learn that stuff at home whether we want him to or not. Thus, we wait with baited breath for his trial pe­riod there to see if they’ll ac­cept him. We don’t have a back-up op­tion that comes close at pre­sent.

What’s been re­ally in­ter­est­ing to me through this pro­cess is how vastly schools differ from each other. Often peo­ple speak about ‘school’ as if it is one thing. Either you agree with send­ing kids to ‘school’ or you don’t. This is not the case. One rea­son New York City moms go berserk over this is that there are *vast* differ­ences be­tween schools even a few blocks away from each other. Within the pub­lic schools, class is ev­ery­thing. Most chil­dren go to their ‘zoned’ school, and so peo­ple will pay higher rents near the ‘good’ schools to get their kids in. One of the pub­lic schools we saw looked and felt like a prison, had no mu­sic or art pro­gram, and only let the kids out­side for 20 min­utes a day. Another 10 blocks north in the neigh­bor­ing dis­trict col­lected $500K/​yr from the PTA and had full mu­sic and art pro­grams, book fairs, a large library, and ex­tra in-class­room as­sis­tants.

We live in a dis­trict which has weird rules about ad­mis­sions. In­stead of hav­ing a zoned school, you make a rank-list of schools in the dis­trict and ap­ply to all of them. In an at­tempt to in­grate the schools more, the city has im­posed rules about who can be ad­mit­ted by class. The schools are re­quired to ac­cept 67% of ‘di­ver­sity’ ap­pli­cants who qual­ify ei­ther for low in­come, English as sec­ond lan­guage, or liv­ing in shelters (i.e. home­less). There is a lot of ev­i­dence sup­port­ing that peer group is a ma­jor fac­tor in child de­vel­op­ment and life out­come. Poli­ti­cal in­cor­rect­ness aside, this is not a won­der­ful peer group. It also far re­duces the chances that your child will get into the par­tic­u­lar school you want them to go to. Since pri­or­ity is first given to siblings, the ‘nice’ school in this dis­trict (that we would have pre­vi­ously been zoned for) now only has four ‘non-di­ver­sity’ spots open for ad­mis­sion this year. Even if we were will­ing to send him there, he prob­a­bly wouldn’t get in. Be­cause of this, many bet­ter-off fam­i­lies are mov­ing out of the dis­trict en­tirely. This is re­flected in the rents within our com­mu­nity – rent jumps con­sid­er­ably right at the dis­trict line. Peo­ple re­spond to in­cen­tives. If we sent our kids to pub­lic school we would be forced to do the same. If you have any money at all, you go to the dis­trict where the PTA funds the nice art pro­gram, not the one with the metal de­tec­tor in the lobby.

Go­ing pri­vate for ed­u­ca­tion hope­fully means you avoid true dis­aster, and the peer group is rel­a­tively wealthy and ed­u­cated. But even pri­vate schools differ vastly in their philos­o­phy to­wards ed­u­ca­tion. Some are su­per aca­demic, drilling kids to get high SAT scores and be­come doc­tors and lawyers. Some are more laid back. Some hardly seem to teach any­thing at all. There are small schools with one class per grade, oth­ers that are much larger. Reli­gious and sec­u­lar schools. Science schools and arts schools. If you’re will­ing to pay for it odds are there is some school that you would like. That’s a big if though.

My prac­ti­cal ad­vice: If your only op­tion is pub­lic school, move to an area that has a nice school at least one full school year be­fore you in­tend to ap­ply. You can tour schools just by say­ing you have a kid in the dis­trict, and they don’t force you to prove it. Once you find a school you like, you can move to that school’s zone, and you will have a high chance of ad­mis­sion. To be safe, you should make sure there are 1-2 back up schools you find ac­cept­able in the dis­trict. If you can­not af­ford to live any places with rea­son­able pub­lic schools, you should se­ri­ously con­sider leav­ing the city. I am told of rea­son­able schools in NJ…

If you can’t stand pub­lic school, be­cause at the end of the day they all fol­low com­mon core, take those tests, and have 32 kids in a class, then you have to con­sider what you can af­ford. Home school has no tu­ition, but will re­quire all-day child care, any ed­u­ca­tional ma­te­ri­als/​classes you want to use, and a large co­or­di­na­tion effort on your part. If you’re a stay at home par­ent this might ap­peal to you any­way. For the most part the peo­ple who choose to do it are happy with it.

Pri­vate school is ex­pen­sive, but re­quires less ad­vance plan­ning, since they don’t care what dis­trict you’re in as long as you can pay. You might still need to con­sider mov­ing for pri­vate school if you don’t want your child to have an in­finitely long com­mute. The city will pay for bus­ing to pri­vate schools for bus routes which are 0.25 – 2.0 miles. Keep in mind that they are mea­sur­ing dis­tance along bus routes and not ge­o­graph­i­cally. Even if you are phys­i­cally within 2 miles of the school, the bus route might be over 2 miles and you will be out of luck. To be fair, if you’re will­ing to spend $50,000/​year on a school, then what’s an­other $40/​day to hire some­one to take them to school?

I am now go­ing to write some school re­views. I will leave out spe­cific names, but if you are in­ter­ested you can mes­sage me pri­vately, and I will let you know which is which. Zvi saw some schools I did not, which I haven’t writ­ten about, and we still have some tours planned at lo­cal pub­lic schools.

Public Schools:

District 1 (our dis­trict – the one with the in­te­gra­tion)

Public School A:

I was pleas­antly sur­prised by this school’s philos­o­phy of ed­u­ca­tion. They were laid back and pro­gres­sive. Kids sit at ta­bles in­stead of desks. Group con­ver­sa­tions and cre­ative ex­pres­sion was en­couraged. No manda­tory home­work. Start­ing in 1st grade, kids learn chess and have the op­por­tu­nity in 3rd and 4th grade to com­pete in tour­na­ments. In 3rd grade the kids learn ba­sic com­puter pro­gram­ming. There is a year of free mu­sic les­sons. They have a the­ater and a roof-top gar­den. Gym is non-com­pet­i­tive un­til 4th grade. 45 min­utes of daily out­door time. I re­ally liked ev­ery­thing they *said* and the prin­ci­pal was su­per cool. How­ever, the ac­tual class­rooms were tiny and crammed full of stu­dents. It was loud. I felt claus­tro­pho­bic there, and I don’t have sen­sory is­sues in gen­eral. Plus, the dis­trict just im­ple­mented the di­ver­sity crite­ria this year, so the stu­dents I was see­ing are not the peer group my son is go­ing to have if he went. And, of course, they only have four non-sibling, non-di­ver­sity spots available.

Public School B:

This place is a prison. There is an an­gry se­cu­rity guard at the en­trance to the grime-en­crusted or­ange walls. Mul­ti­ple signs above the guard state ‘theft is a crime.’ The slit-like win­dows at the top of the rooms let in thin beams of daylight to an oth­er­wise flick­er­ing-fluores­cent land­scape. This is hell. There is no mu­sic or art pro­gram – no room in the bud­get. So ‘we do that within our les­sons’. 20 min­utes of yard time a day. Every­thing is cen­tered around stan­dard­ized tests. The only white faces were part of a spe­cial pro­gram. No one with any choice would ever let their kid set foot in this place un­less they were in the spe­cial pro­gram. Not worth it. It’s so­cial con­trol of minori­ties. Straight up. If SJWs want a cause, here’s one for you. And no, forc­ing white or wealthy chil­dren to go there is not go­ing to work. They won’t.

District 2 (the nice one)

Public School C:

The pla­tonic ideal of school. When you think school, you think this school. The peo­ple who de­signed it thought ‘what is school?’ and then based the de­sign off of ev­ery trope and meme about school, ever. Charts of ev­ery­thing on the walls. ‘Task lead­ers.’ Bul­letin boards. Win­dow de­cals. Those weird car­toon peo­ple you only see in school ever. Work­sheets, work­sheets, work­sheets. Chalk boards. White boards. This place has it all! The place felt nice. Larger rooms, more light. Nice en­rich­ment ac­tivi­ties. A mu­sic and art pro­gram. A nice library and com­puter lab. Sev­eral out­door spaces and play­ground equip­ment. The place gets $500k/​yr from the PTA to keep the place great. Mostly white faces sit­ting quietly in cir­cles while the teacher spoke to them in ex­ag­ger­ated tones with big faces while point­ing to a white board.

Looked like the chil­dren of the corn. Com­pletely con­formist. But con­formists at least a year ahead aca­dem­i­cally. It is dis­turb­ing to see kinder­garten­ers com­plet­ing read­ing work­sheets and push­ing pa­pers around, but they were able to do it. This is the place for up­per-mid­dle class white peo­ple who move into the ‘good’ part of the neigh­bor­hood.

Pri­vate Schools:

Pri­vate School A: Prepara­tory School

EXPENSIVE. Beau­tiful school and fa­cil­ity. It is a ‘Quaker’ school, but mostly sec­u­lar. Has a beau­tiful chapel where kids have ‘com­mu­nity as­sem­bly and quiet time’ once a week. Other par­ents were very well dressed – a lot of suits and jew­elry. Aca­dem­i­cally rigor­ous with­out be­ing op­pres­sively con­formist. Per­haps be­cause the class size is 20 in­stead of 30, so there is more room to ma­neu­ver. A fine school as schools go, but not that much of an up­grade from PSC given the price. Also difficult to get into and un­will­ing to ac­com­mo­date spe­cial needs.

Pri­vate School B: Jewish School

I loved this school! I re­ally did. It’s a pro­gres­sive, laid-back at­mo­sphere that is still aca­dem­i­cally ori­ented. It is very Jewish. The boys wear keepas and the cur­ricu­lum is fully bil­in­gual with one teacher speak­ing English and the other speak­ing He­brew. They have all the usual stuff such as mu­sic and art. They go out­side for 1 hr/​day. They are will­ing to work with spe­cial needs. They know how to work with gifted and tal­ented kids and make spe­cial as­sign­ments for chil­dren who are ahead. LOVE IT. Prob­lem was, it is about 1 hour away by bus and it’s a 7.5 hr day. Not do­ing that to my kid. Not will­ing to move close enough to make it work. At least not this com­ing year.

Pri­vate School C: Wal­dorf School

This is a very unique nearby school that hap­pens to be less ex­pen­sive than the oth­ers. It has a unique ed­u­ca­tion philos­o­phy (a Wal­dorf school) which em­pha­sizes em­bod­i­ment and prac­ti­cal skills over aca­demic ones. The cur­ricu­lum in­cludes for­eign lan­guages, cook­ing, wash­ing, gar­den­ing, car­pen­try, and trade. The kinder­garten is en­tirely non-aca­demic and in­cludes co­pi­ous time for free play and an hour of out­door ac­tivity. The later grades teach tra­di­tional aca­demics, but do so in some­what un­usual ways, which I don’t have a strong opinion on at pre­sent. Since the main rea­son we are send­ing our son to school is for so­cial­iza­tion, and since he’s already brilli­ant, I’m less wor­ried about aca­demics, es­pe­cially in the younger grades. The school re­quested a dras­tic re­duc­tion in our child’s screen time, which at first freaked me out (who are they to tell me what to do in my own home), but I kind of un­der­stand. It’s a very small school (only 1 class per grade) and they are cur­rently con­sid­er­ing whether or not they can ac­com­mo­date his needs. This is our top choice at pre­sent.

Spe­cial Needs Schools:

SNS A: So­cial Jus­tice Away!

This school is an ‘in­te­grated’ pri­vate school – mean­ing it’s a pri­vate school for reg­u­lar kids which also ac­cepts chil­dren with learn­ing dis­abil­ities and has ser­vices for them. This means you can get the tu­ition paid by the city, un­like reg­u­lar pri­vate schools, with a rel­a­tively nor­mal peer group. It’s a great idea. The school it­self is beau­tiful and has All The Things.

How­ever there is a catch. The school has an agenda. It’s a so­cial jus­tice school. In the sense that other schools are read­ing and math schools. They call them­selves ‘Ad­vo­cates for So­cial Jus­tice’ in their open­ing lines. I wouldn’t have thought this mat­tered for el­e­men­tary age chil­dren. Sure, lov­ing each other is won­der­ful! Ac­cept­ing your neigh­bors is won­der­ful! But this is not where they draw the line. So­cial Jus­tice is taught in ev­ery as­pect of the cur­ricu­lum. There are 7 year olds dis­cussing their ‘iden­tities’, an 8 year old talk­ing about how his hero is Colin Kaeper­nick, that guy who keeled for the na­tional an­them. The teach­ers then praise his ‘ac­tivism’ for writ­ing about it. The other sam­ple les­son is on how Christo­pher Colum­bus was a white colo­nial­ist op­pres­sor. And the chil­dren ab­sorb this. The school is ac­cepts all kinds – un­less you hap­pen to be a *gasp* Repub­li­can. No di­ver­sity of think­ing. If you don’t fully swal­low the SJW philos­o­phy in all its forms, or don’t want them forced down your child’s throat, this is not the place for you.

SNS B: Sooth­ing Gar­dens…

Beau­tiful place. Ther­a­peu­tic en­vi­ron­ment. Has the things. Didn’t want us to see the chil­dren – which was strange. When we peaked in at them, they were, well, very spe­cial. Seems like a great place for very spe­cial kids. If I have one that needed all that, I’d con­sider send­ing him there.

SNS C: Jews with learn­ing problems

While not speci­fi­cally a Jewish school, there were clearly a lot of Jewish chil­dren and teach­ers. I ac­tu­ally liked this place a lot. It was very laid back and gave the kids a lot of lee-way to be who they are. It didn’t feel at all op­pres­sive. They group kids into sep­a­rate read­ing and math groups not by age, but by read­ing and math level, which I liked. The kids seemed less spe­cial than at SNS B, but still clearly spe­cial. The school didn’t have its own out­door space and so kids only go out­side twice week with a bunch of par­ent-vol­un­teers, since they want one adult per kid when cross­ing the streets. What was par­tic­u­larly dis­ap­point­ing was that they were clearly quite aca­dem­i­cally be­hind. The classes were so laid back that there didn’t seem to be a challenge, and the teach­ers were fine with what­ever they pro­duced. I can imag­ine cer­tain chil­dren this would be very good for. I have vastly higher hopes for our son.