Monday, October 8, 2012

The Trials and Tribulations of Finding the Right School. Part One

As organized as I am, I totally missed the boat on a very important aspect of my son's life. I didn't look into "good" schools in time for kindergarten. Now I am working to get him into a "good" school for 1st grade which is not a "typical" entry point. Schools are big business in NYC in spite of that "non-profit" label that most of them hold.

I have never been to public school. I spent the 1st through 12th grade in uniform in Catholic school. Growing up in the 80s was not the time to attend public schools in the Bronx and my parents knew that - metal detectors, low performance, overcrowding. If it was negative, it existed in the public schools. So public school has never been one of the options for my son. Sure a lot of work seems to be going into the system. Charter schools are the new thing and many are finding success. And as cynical as it may sound, you get what you pay for. If I lived in Westchester, paying upwards of $10K in taxes, maybe I'd consider public school. Larchmont spends $25,000 per kid per year in its public schools. Brooklyn? Not so much!

Moving on to Catholic schools - there are some great ones. There are some average to mediocre ones. There are some that are ready to close any day now. Since Catholic schools were all I knew, it has become the default for my kid. Ethan started Catholic school at pre-K 3. The price was right. The location was perfect. It was a blue ribbon school. I left my job in that area and had to find a new Catholic school near my new job. Found one. The price was even better. It was walking distance to my job. Great. The system is admirable because they work very hard to service the community with their before and after school programs, super affordable breakfast and lunch programs and caring teachers. They stay financially viable and provide some services. But I am not convinced that it's the right fit. So now what?

I find myself with a bright kid who is probably smarter than he lets on. He is at an early crossroads where he can become totally engaged and reach high. Or he can slip into the abyss of TV, video games and lack of engagement. So here I am spending the fall of 2012 visiting NY's finest private, independent schools. Trying to find the best fit with some financial aid. 9 out of the 10 independent schools I am looking at are upwards of $30,000 per year. Yes! That's someone's entry level salary in some jobs. Unaffordable, yes! But I am going to work that financial aid application. You've heard the expression you get what you pay for? From what I have witnessed thus far the saying holds up.

So with that I am starting my next series of blog articles. In 2011-12, I explored what it meant to turn 40. In 2012-13, I am going to explore what it means to find the right educational fit for my family. I am going to share this process and my experiences along the way. Hopefully it will provide readers with some feedback and resources and prevent you from missing the boat like I did. The biggest piece of advice I have at this stage is that you should start the application process, visits and inquiries one year before your child starts kindergarten, ie when they turn 4. So come June or July 2012, I was starting this process for September 2013, just like college aps, but I am year late. If you have a 4 year old now, get on the bandwagon if this is something you want to explore. Applications are due between November 1 and January 15 depending on the school and all financial aid apps are due between December 1 and January 15, again depending on the school. If your child is 3, enjoy this year and get ready for the kindergarten rat race next September.

So stay tuned for more. By the time I post Part Two, I will have visited about a dozen schools and made my decision about which ones to apply to. I'll share that process along with a more in depth look at the various school systems and educational approaches we have in our fine city. Till then!

Disclaimer: While I will share resources and definitions as I learn them, these blog posts are based on my personal experiences and observations with this process. If I choose not to apply for a school it will be because it is not a right fit for us. This series is not an exposé on which schools are good or bad. It's merely one family's experiences that I wish to share in hopes of helping others out there who may be going through this or thinking of going through this process.

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