Monday, January 13, 2014

Choosing a Kindergarten For Your Child: Two Workshops Hosted By The Roosevelt Island Parents’ Network About Options for Roosevelt Island Families

Reported last October:

Are you a Roosevelt Island parent about to choose a kindergarten for your child? If so, two upcoming question and answer sessions hosted by the Roosevelt Island Parents' Network and Main Street Sweets are for you....

Roosevelt Island Parents' Network Coordinator Eva Bosbach provides the following recap of the Choosing A Kindergarten panel discussion. Ms Bosbach reports:
Together with Main Street Sweets, the Roosevelt Island Parents’ Network hosted two free panel discussions about choosing a Kindergarten as part of the “Parents for Parents” workshop series.  About 50 RI parents attended the workshops on Nov. 5 at Main Street Sweets and Nov. 10 in the Rivercross lounge. The seven panelists were RI parents who investigated different options, successfully placed their children in a variety of schools and programs including G&T and IEP, serve on PTA boards, are active in parent advocacy and were happy to share their knowledge with other RI parents. I moderated both events which were co-hosted by Coach Scot from the Main Street Sweets. The handout with online resources and deadlines was kindly provided by Emily Gohn-Barnill, Director of the Bright Horizons/MSKCC Children’s Center/475 Main Street, RI. Jen Reyes designed the event flyer.

Image of Roosevelt Island Parents' Network Choosing A Kindergarten Panel Discussion

Workshop topics included: Public vs. Private schools, Multilingual children, Application process and deadlines, Prepping and testing, Gifted and Talented program, Individualized Education Program, Things to consider (commute, finances) and Further resources (tours, fairs, websites).

The following information consists of selected personal notes from the Nov. 10 workshop taken by one of the participants. The notes have been edited by the panel speakers.

The workshop started at 4pm.

Eva Bosbach asked about the audience’s interest: A few were interested in private schools, most were interested in G/T, perhaps half were interested in PS 217 information.

Introduction of the speakers by EB and their up-front statements:

Michal Melamed: Michal has one child at G/T who used to be at Midtown West before. One child is in 3rd grade in STEM at PS 85 in Queens (one of five citywide g/t schools), another child at Harlem Hebrew, a charter school in Harlem dual language in Hebrew. Lots of choices for kindergarten citywide! Midtown West, Ella Baker, and Tribeca Learning Center are the three non-zoned district-wide schools in district 2. For G/T, take test and if have a great score, there are two crazy weeks to tour schools and rank them. Charter schools: not many in district 2 – a daughter goes to one in district 3 in Harlem. Success Charter schools have two in our district, Union Square and Hell's Kitchen. Parochial schools are usually less expensive than private schools. Hunter and Special Music School, a music-focused school are selective public schools. Son was in Midtown West. At Midtown West, Ella Baker, and Tribeca, students fill out an application and then get in via a lottery. Her older child was not fully challenged at Midtown West and the commute was hard, then got an offer from a G/T school in November, moved to the G/T school, and all went smoothly. Younger child got a district G/T eligible score but not a citywide G/T eligible score and she enrolled in a charter school.

Olga Shchuchinov: VP of PS217 PTA. You should look beyond the data to find good schools. Do not focus only on rankings. Many schools are similar in the sense that they follow statewide curriculum and offer a safe space. Think of your financial resources and your specific commute. Make three groupings of tiers for schools you like rather than focusing just on your top tier. Keep in perspective that kindergarten placement is not the hugest impact on someone's life.

Shirley Payne: One child in ps217, one at charter, one in public school. Youngest child has IEP for physical therapy and probably has a similar experience to parents with kids who have an autism diagnosis. For the child, Shirley focused on the level of support for physical therapy and IEP along with which school had the best nurse for therapeutic purposes. Online reviews are all negative for schools generally but the true views of parents are usually not as bad as the online reviews. Took tours, checked what resources were available, checked how much reading done per day. Chose PS217 for that child. See if the setting is right for your child, if your child would be happy, if the commute is ok, and see if the school looks like it has a family atmosphere that is tight-knit. Elementary school choice has a bigger impact on one's life than kindergarten.

Matthew Matasar: Two kids in G/T at Lower Lab. For G/T there are five "citywide" schools and many "district" programs in district two. For citywide G/T schools, you can apply if score at 97th percentile but most schools end up only accepting kids with a 99th percentile score. Different citywide schools go up to different grade levels (many have middle or both middle and high schools). District-wide schools require a qualifying score of 90, but most fill with kids with a 99th percentile score. Take tours because many schools give different impressions such as how NEST-M seems great to some parents but seems too strict/cold to other parents. Trust your instincts on the tours. G/T scoring takes into account how old the child was on the day of the test (down to how many years plus quarter-years the child is old). Some buy a $30 KTSS packet on G/T sample questions. More intensive test prep programs can be hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

Lauren Blankstein: Son in kindergarten, daughter in 4th grade at the Ella Baker School, a pre-k to 8th grade progressive public school on the Upper East Side. Lauren spoke about the progressive approach to education. Information about this and Ella Baker's admissions process can be found at"  Lauren also recommended watching the video 180 Days Well Spent.

Kristi Towey: Kids at The Garden School and Poly Prep Country Day School. Two kids in private school – one of which initially went to PS217 for pre-K through 1st grade. Private schools love Roosevelt Island children because they bring uniqueness to the school geographically. Look at how your child interacts with other children and adults. Think about whether a small or large environment would be better. Consider what is important to you as the parent. We chose private school for our children because one needed more attention in his schoolwork from the teacher and the other needs more nurturing and emotional support.  Both are provided better in a small than in a larger classroom.  Private schools also commonly offer extra curriculum enriching courses and a wide variety of after school activities.

Nancy Ibrahim: Works in UNIS admissions. Some private schools have a great parent-student ratio. Many have application deadlines around mid-November. For busing, for $2,000 per year students can pay to ride on a private UNIS school bus but there also is the no-cost public school busing option (but it requires leaving earlier in the morning and has less flexbility).

Q/A, started at 4:55pm:

1. Q: Is it true that ERB is no longer being required in future years for Independent School Admissions Association of Greater New York schools and most schools are dropping it?
A: Yes, the ISAAGNY is looking for an alternative to the ERB. Please check with each school on their requirements.

2. Q: What happens at private school play date tryouts?
A: You should call and ask a specific school what to expect and then you can tell the child what will happen. At UNIS, they assess in groups of 5 playing together and also through a one-on-one meeting with a teacher. They are assessing numerous factors, probably including how well the kid separates from the parent, the kid’s social skills, and if the kid already took schooling then how much the kid has learned/how well behaved the kid is.

3. Q: How/when did one parent on the panel find out ADD diagnosis?
A: Different parents answered that one family found out at 11 years old and another family found out at 4 years old.

4. Q: How is the typical teacher to student ratio?
A: K at ps217 is 24 per teacher for general K and 17 or 18 per teacher for G/T. At one point there was around 31 for one teacher but then the school hired a second teacher and now there are around 16 per teacher. NYC maximum for Kindergarten is 25 per class. Allowance in Sept. and Oct. tends to go over the limit in order to see how many kids join or transfer out of the school. Only exception to the class limit is Midtown west, where it seems nobody complaints about having 28 children per class. In older years, some G/Ts have more students per teacher but it works fine because they might do work in groups of four with the teacher stopping by each group.

5. Q: For those parents with one child in G/T and one not in G/T, do you see any difference?
A: In G/T you notice a difference in the other students because they had to be able to sit and focus on that G/T test to qualify (although it is still possible for a kid in G/T to be misbehaved despite, if the kid frequently chooses not to exercise the ability to focus quietly). Another impact is that many G/T schools have committed parents willing to donate more money so that there are more resources.
A: Another parent says she sees a difference trending more as the children get older and thinks it might be due to the commitment level of the parents, not necessarily that there is better instruction.

6. Q: If not G/T qualified at first, what are the odds of getting back on the advanced track after doing non-G/T studies?
A: At UNIS, they look at many factors so they are not completely shutting out a child who had a specific pathway for K and first grade when applying for sixth grade, for example.
A: One parent says that for some schools, there are almost no slots open for the higher grades because so many students in the lower grades continue studying at the school and take up the slots.

7. Q: It seems funny to have lots of transfers around Sept. and October with students getting into G/T or switching public schools.
A: It does not happen much at private schools but it does happen in public schools. Probably not such a big deal if a school has only 3 or 4 new kids. But with 8 new kids (as once pretty much happened at ps217), it can be disruptive -- but various parents point out that having that many new kids is very rare so people should not worry about that too much.

8. Q: Other zoned schools seem to have better fundraising from PTA than ps217.
A: But at ps217, recently parents really came together to rescue an arts program, the school already has a music teacher and enough support that musical instruments are provided at no cost to students and the music program has been there for 20 years. The offer of no-cost musical instruments has some common sense limits, though – the PTA is not giving out pianos of course. PS217 has yoga and movement in class. It has gardening. It has some after school programs, too, that require families to pay to participate. Odds are that art and music classes will stay for a while.

9. Q: How is applying for public school pre-K?
A: Fill out a questionnaire and then it is pure lottery.

10. Q: Do you have any tips on figuring out whether a school is good at supporting specific special needs of kids?
A: The process actually begins in pre-school if your child has attended. If your child requires speech physical , and or occupational therapy they may need evaluations to determine the correct placement for them. Also children who have been diagnosed with Autism or ADHD or ADD may need certain classroom accommodations that your local school may not be able to offer. Your child may be eligible for services granted through a individual education plan. This plan helps address the needs of the student and gives then supports while in the classroom . If your child carries any of these diagnosis but you are unsure the school based team once in a school can evaluate your child if you address concerns. To answer your question more specifically: Look at the number of students serviced with special needs. For example, if they offer group therapy for ADHD, check how many are in their group. A school might say it can only take 8 minimum per group but at the kindergarten level a kid might really need a group of six or less people. Look for more details about what kind of equipment they have such as whether physical therapy is done by having a kid walk up a staircase. Schools with great therapeutic staff usually have staff that stays (so you can ask about the years of service of the staff).

11. Q: If born in fall and start public school but not old enough to meet the cutoff to apply for private school and the following year the child applies and gets accepted to private school, will every private school force every child in that situation to redo the kindergarten level?
A: One child repeated fifth grade when the child switched over. When older, school will check testing results to assess whether to move forward or repeat the level. For UNIS, at the kindergarten level the child in that situation will also be forced to take a year in kindergarten at UNIS but it is not really repetitive for the child because UNIS has a very different teaching method and will give more attention than the child probably had before.
A: At the kindergarten level, private schools are usually not flexible with admission age.  There are some private schools that follow the same age guidelines as public school.  At the higher grades, if you are coming from public to private, they will be more flexible.  They will assess your child's test scores, etc. and make a decision with the parents. My niece missed the cutoff for kindergarten by one day at Sacred Heart and they were not flexible at all with the date.  My son at Poly Prep was not even considered for the higher grade level even though he already completed fifth grade. As far as repeating kindergarten or any other grade level in private school, every school has a unique curriculum and your child will not be bored.  The adjustment to the new school curriculum and environment will keep them engaged.  Also, the smaller classroom will allow a teacher to give more one on one attention and challenge one student where needed while teaching others at another level.

12. Q: What happens if a child starts at private school and then shifts to public school and the child is born in the fall?
A: The public school often exercises flexibility by checking the kid’s skill level rather than purely applying a formula that would force the kid into a grade level based purely on the kid’s age.
A: If you are in private school first and then go to public school, the public schools will put your child in the next grade level after what they just completed in private school even if they are aged for the next grade.  Your child will not be forced ahead a grade level.

The workshop ended at 5:40pm.
You can find a handout with different kindergarten deadlines and resources here.


YetAnotherRIer said...

After going through kindergarten admission more often than I really wanted to I think the most important decision factor on choosing a school is logistics. How does the kid get to school? How do you get there for events during regular work hours? The second factor would be homework. Some schools give homework from kindergarten on, some in later grades. You have to figure out how your child deals with that kind of work and how it fits into his or her daily schedule with school, after school activities, play dates, and bedtime. Thirdly, how much do you want to be involved in the school? Pick a school with a P(T)A that you, as a parent, feel comfortable with. They can be extremely aggressive when it comes to fund raising.

Do not get hung up too much about curriculum or specials or work you see displayed in the hallways during tours. Take school tours with a grain of salt and rather try to talk to existing families at the schools.

All that said, admission to elementary school is very straight forward and easy. Wait for middle school - that's a real mess.

Bill Blass said...

Just as i always all think you are too good to sent your kids to 217 right here on the island. Yes the new Roosevelt island is running right along

Bill Blass said...

One of the best things about this island is having a school right here.but these new hipsters think they are too good to sent their kids to 217

Bill Blass said...

This is so upper east side. Never thought people on this island doing this.but this is the new Roosevelt island.

KTG said...

First off there
is not enough space or teachers at 217 to meet the demand of island families, especially in G&T programs. Secondly the school has historically under-performed other schools available in district (again especially G&T), although I heard they did a good job with test scores this year.

Parents should always do their best to provide their children opportunities especially for education, so what gives you right to pass a comment. Based on your grammar and spelling on this blog you are last person to give any advice of educational matters.

YetAnotherRIer said...

Since G&T data is never separated from overall performance data of a school how do you know 217 G&T in specific has been underperforming?

KTG said...

Came from a few different sets of parents who were there and chose to move to private schools or change to a charter. Also on the tour when we asked about G&T the answer was little underwhelming. I said it before we really wanted to go to 217 early, but after the tour and talking to parent we where sure,when we heard about merging of classes we felt like we made the right choice for us.

Lastly administration seemed to be unable to under fund a lot of the enrichment programs that we get at our school, which is also tied to parental involvement, community support.

Bill Blass said...

So i guess all you hipsters are going to pay 6k to a adviser to get your kid into a desired school.what a joke.

Andrew Jones said...

Yep! The yuppies are ruining the island. Again, maybe you should move to get away from us.

Mary Anne Feeney said...

As a parent going through the process of choosing a kindergarten in NYC for the first time, I found the workshop very informative. It’s great that the RI community can come
together to share stories and help support each other. I really appreciated the work of those who organized the workshop and participated in it.
Thank you!

KTG said...

No, I am spending that money on getting you to provide a life coaching service, you can't keep give your wisdom out for free.

Bill Blass said...

I consider myself a pillar of society.and a real new yorker unlike the many trans plants from other parts of the living on this island.

KTG said...

As some who grew up in nyc I can tell you that you need take your opinion of your self down a notch.

And really "transplants" you moved here from Brooklyn or Queens in what the 80's for a rent controlled apartment. Its not like you crossed the great plains in a covered wagon and built a town from scratch.

Frank Farance said...

YetAnotherRIer: I agree that logistics are important. For PS217, once the parents have figured out how to manage the daily routine with an off-Island school, they don't seem to come back -- that applies to any grade.

So if you have developed your daily routine for dropping the child off-Island on the way to work (i.e., you've bought into accepting more logistics effort), then the mindset becomes: choosing a school within the City and PS217 doesn't compete well.

When the children turn 6, there are more after-school and activity options. The RIYP Beacon Program seems to be good value for many families.

Years ago, Assemblymember Kellner had the insight that extra funding could be given to PS217 via RIOC because RIOC is a government entity (private entities are not allowed to pay for more public services, such as schools, police, etc.). I still think that is a good idea and a way to fund improvements at PS217. Not that money solves all problems, but PS217 does seem short of money.

Mariko Motegi said...

Yes, I agree. It was very helpful and informative to me, that is from outside US and had little knowledge about NYC education system, which had looked really complicated. The panelists' own stories of how they approached and why they chose gave me an idea that the best choice is different depending on each child, of course. Anyway, it was very good. Thank you!!!!