The End of a Journey, Almost, by Anna Li


I wanted to share with you a wonderful essay written by one of our TestingMom parents, Anna Li. In this essay, Anna shares her experience navigating the NYC school admissions process. If you aren’t from NYC, you’ll be glad you aren’t after reading this! If you are, I hope this will help prepare you for what is to come!

The End of a Journey, Almost, by Anna Li

If you applied for a Kindergarten spot to the New York City’s Gifted and Talented Program for your child, then welcome to the finish line. The G & T placement offers are being released this week, marking the end of the brutal trifecta that some New York parents went through this year with the goal of securing the best educational option for their children.

If you don’t know what I’m referring to, first of all, you are lucky. If you have heard rumors or unreasonable tales, I tell you now: it’s all true. Every word. I was born and raised in the Washington Square area of New York City, and being a cool native, I swore I wouldn’t sweat it out. But, a cucumber I was not. We did it all, and though we started on the right foot and with all good, controlled intentions, curves came up on our road that were so sharp, our wheels lifted.

The options NYC parents have, aside from their local public schools are, in a nutshell: private school, Hunter College Elementary School (which is free but blessedly not under the Department of Educations’s rule), and finally public Gifted & Talented programs both on a district wide and citywide level.

Since last September, here is a summary of what some parents have had to do to apply to private school: preliminary school tours, ERB testing (how we all refer to the ISAAGNY test, though the test itself is the WPPSI), testing fees and scheduling, application fees, application essay writing, second round of school tours, parent interviews, and child “play dates” where school faculty interact with your child in order to decide if she or he will be the right fit for the classroom they desire to create. This process is multiplied ten or fifteen times by many NYC parents who must apply to that many schools in order to get a few acceptances.

The Hunter College Elementary School application process encompasses an entirely different test, the Stanford-Binet, strict scheduling, hefty testing fees, and a complicated application procedure, all simply to qualify high enough to make it to the second round of testing. Your child’s play and interaction with others during the second test will possibly earn him or her an invitation to one of 50 spots citywide.

The NYC Department of Education Gifted & Talented application involves yet another pair of new tests, the OLSAT and the BSRA, stricter application procedures, and one to two rounds of touring.

Has anyone noticed I didn’t bother to mention preparing your child for any of this mentally, emotionally and intellectually? Nor did I mention the fact that, as parents, our jobs are to judge every single thing we see, smell, touch, hear, read and feel about these schools and their representatives?

Some families have settled on their Kindergarten decision at this point. Other than the 50 Hunter College Elementary “acceptees,” some have opted to stay with their public school, while others have made a decision on a private school. You might think this is the easy part, the coasting to the finish. The testing and applications process were demanding enough, especially when trying to protect a small child from feeling the weight of performance. However, unreasonable obstacles abound right to the end.

Private school placement offers went out in February, giving parents five days to return $7,000-$10,000 for a deposit, along with the legally binding signed contract. With an average annual tuition of $37,000 for K-5th grade, along with increases, miscellaneous costs, and donations as a matter of course, this adds up to a quarter of a million dollar decision.

For parents who had applied to the NYC public school Gifted & Talented program, which can be as good as, and in some cases exceed private school curricula, they opted to put that private school deposit down in February knowing that, depending on their G & T placement in May, they might have to forgo that deposit money in the end. However, that February decision was not the most difficult one. The next contractual payment for private school tuitions of $15,000-$25,000 are due in the spring. For some very unlucky gamblers, it was due a few days ago. More dramatically, some payments are due sometime this week. If the G & T placement announcements are as little as one day off a private school contract, that could be a $15,000 detail.

To make matters worse, many parents are right now waiting to hear about placements in schools that they did not have the opportunity to tour. To their credit, the DOE released our children’s scores much earlier than anticipated. But as luck would have it, scores were announced during Spring Break. Emails went out Monday April 9th, letters arrived closer to Thursday April12th. By Tuesday school tours started filling up, Wednesday most were gone. Many parents simply missed their opportunity to sign up.

Anderson had no sign up until Friday, April 13th: about 2pm the sign up was open; by 5pm it was full. I managed to tour every school I wanted to see, and for your entertainment’s sake, here’s how my experience went: on Monday the 9th I drowned in pride from seeing my daughters score, missing the important first 24 hours I should have been using to sign up for tours. I spent the next two days hovering over the school websites doing due diligence. I was late in signing up for a NEST tour, since the only tour opening left was Friday April 20th, from 1-3pm, which was a comical tour offering since the G & T application were due that same day. Anderson had announced that their tour sign up would be available Friday the 13th. I had my husband on watch while he was at work, and I carried my Ipad in front of me as I shopped in H & M for my daughter’s summer clothes. I looked insane, but we got a spot.

My tour week was even more laughable: Monday morning while on a PS 11 tour, I got a call from a good friend whose son attends NEST, who knows the head of the PTA, who said they had just opened up another 20 seats for NEST’s Tuesday afternoon’s tour. I, and three other sets of parents, secretly signed up for those added spots while trying hard not to insult the gracious PS 11 parent coordinator tour guide. That afternoon I went with my friend to pick up her son at NEST, where I got to experience that process, see the yard, speak with teachers and parents, and cajole a few students in to telling me what their workload was like.

That night, I went to Anderson expecting a pervasive attitude since they only allowed parents of 99% scorers in to the tour. However, the lively parent coordinator told us that there were roughly three times the applicants for the citywide spots available. This means that any child scoring a 97% or 98%, in essence, did not do well enough to get a spot, simply due to the numbers. Kindergarten G & T felt more like Harvard Medical. (NEST issued the same warning, but only DURING their tour. A friend of mine told me she and her husband briefly considered faking an emergency phone call to exit their tour. Not to sound uninterested, but it was her fourth one in three days.)

Lower Lab began with only one scheduled tour. So many parents complained that they sliced that tour’s time in half to split it with another group of parents. We rounded up our week with our second tour of PS 33. To add absurd to this scenario, all these tours were taking place during testing week. The majority of classrooms we were supposed to be looking at were locked or had their walls covered up so the students could come in and test the next day.

I’d love to share my opinions about all of these schools, but each one of us, as parents, has a hundred different reasons why we liked or didn’t like a school. Both Anderson and NEST warned us not to chose their school because of the name, that we must be wary of the right fit in terms of homework schedule, commute, extra-curricular life in the early years – in essence, so many of the things that matter but whose considerations sometimes fall by the wayside. (I know of a set of parents who chose Hunter even though they hated it.)

Hopefully we keep our intuition up for what would be the best fit for our child. But who’s to say what the best for our own children? Is it the school that’s outstandingly rigorous, or the art’s based program, the neighborhood experience? (Another friend of mine chose Chapin over Hunter.)

We wound up listing a district wide as our first choice because my husband could commute with our daughter. He works late every night, and sees her only in the mornings. That relationship took precedence over opting for an “A-List” school. Though, even as I sit here, waiting for the email to pop up with my G & T placement offer, I am still not sure we made the right decision. By choosing a district wide school, we’ll have to go through the application process again in six years. I’m certainly not keen on that. By then, I’ll have just rested up from this one.

If we opt to attend a G & T school, I will have to call the private school whose spot we are holding with a deposit. I did not go through this process lightheartedly. When they accepted my daughter, they sent a personal note which told me they really talked to her, listened carefully, watched her, saw how she cared for the other children in the room, and how naturally courageous she was when conversing with adults as her peers. They didn’t just look at her ERB score, or fulfill a profile. In return, I will say that that school felt like home to me. I know I would disrupt them if I pulled her spot, and for that I would be deeply sorry. I am sure many parents feel the same as I do.

There is no easy road. To choose the right education for our children is a huge responsibility, second only to making them feel loved. Why do we go through this arduous race to secure specific schooling here in New York City? My mother-in-law doesn’t understand why we have put ourselves though this process. She says that where she is from, you get on a bus and go to the nearest school and that’s that. This holds true for most of the country. However, I truly believe New York City parents have access to some of the finest early education available in this country, a fact not easy to ignore.

A good friend of mine, a fellow native New Yorker who’s escaped across the river to New Jersey so she could live in a home with a yard, told me her seven-year-old daughter was currently studying trapezoids in math. I told her that was SO three-years-old for us Application Moms. I was joking, in part. Good luck to each and every one of you; may you find the right school for your child.

Anna Li, born and raised in the Washington Square area or Greenwich Village, went to Montessori in the West Village, Grace Church School, The Trinity School, and Vassar College, but don’t let that fool you.

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