Preschool in NYC: Remember to Breathe

Pre-school. Lottery. Wait list. Utter those words out loud within range of any NYC parent and you will no doubt get a response… and most likely not a pleasant one. With a newly two year old at home, we are in the first stages of thinking about where she’ll go to pre-school and pre-k in the coming years, and I already feel behind. As in I probably should have started thinking about this while she was still in my belly.

Against our better judgment, we recently watched the documentary “Nursery University,” which revolves around a group of NYC families of different socio-economic backgrounds and their quest to get into the best pre-schools in the city. It was a sobering look at the process, and it was enough to make me think moving to some place like Iowa might not be such a bad idea.

Instead, we moved to “Upstate Manhattan” (otherwise known as Hudson Heights) over the summer, in search of more space, and also because we knew there was a well-regarded elementary school in the neighborhood. One step in the right direction, I suppose.  In the coming months, I will be sitting down to do my research on neighborhood pre-schools, determining deadlines and figuring out how we’ll arrange childcare around school hours as my husband and I both work full-time. Gulp.

Could someone please pass the wine? And keep it coming…

In the meantime, here are a few helpful resources that I plan on consulting:

1.)  The Department of Education: Might as well start at the top. This website provides an overview of the NYC Public School System, which is the largest in the country. The site covers admissions policies, opportunities for involvement and information on the Gifted and Talented program, etc.

2.)  Inside Schools: the “Independent Guide to NYC Public Schools” is exactly what it claims: an insider’s guide supplying school reviews from journalists, parents and public school advocates. Their reviews go beyond test scores (which is apparently another topic on its own) and provide a realistic approach to choosing your child’s school.

3.)  New York City’s Best Public Elementary Schools: A Parents’ Guide: Called “the most definitive guide” to city schools by the New York Times, Clara Hemphill’s latest installation surveyed almost 500 schools and chose the best 200 for her book. I’d like to know if our neighborhood school is on the list…

Whew. I have to wonder if all the stressing on this topic is REALLY necessary, yet I can’t help myself. Will where I send my child to pre-school really determine if they attend Harvard one day? Quite honestly, that’s the least of my worries.  All I want for my children is to be happy in a nurturing environment where learning is an engaging and exciting process. Where they will feel safe, yet be encouraged to grow and reach their full potential. Oh, and getting them to that place without pulling my hair out would be an added bonus.

Simple enough, right?

Mama to a newborn & toddler, Ellen Schmidt has called NYC home for the last 11 years. While living here as a parent is a much different experience from that of a single gal or newlywed, NYC still captures her heart every day. Currently attempting the balancing act that is family & career, you can find Ellen blogging about all of that & more at Baby Meets City.


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