It’s that time of year when parents of future kindergarteners start thinking about possible school options for their children. We are lucky in Queens to have so many choices – public schools, private schools, parochial schools, charter schools, gifted and talented programs, and dual language programs. It really is possible to look for a school that is geared toward your child’s needs, rather than be resigned to just one school.
Last year, I went to the Astoria School Symposium and sat in on the kindergarten admission forum where local mother Melida Barbosa talked about finding the right fit for each child and how the two charter schools each had different qualities that were suited to her different children. The Astoria School Symposium will again be coming up on February 1st 2014. At this free resource event, parents can meet representatives from different schools and attend forums on the admissions process for nursery school, preschool, and kindergarten.
The Basics of the Charter School Lottery System
People say getting into a charter school is like winning the lottery. That is because the charter schools have hundreds of applicants for very few spots. Last year Our World Neighborhood Charter School (OWN) had 640 applicants for 75 spots. Growing up Green Charter School (GUGCS) had 823 applicants for 84 seats. Preference is first given to those with siblings already in the school, followed by applicants who live in the same district, followed by everyone else in New York City who has applied. Therefore, they end up having three lotteries. For instance, last year Academy of the City had 9 siblings apply to kindergarten. Their lottery was first, and they received the first 9 spots. Then the school did the lottery for the 322 applicants in District 30. Since there were only 116 seats, roughly 60% of those applicants were put on a waiting list. Then they did the lottery for the rest of the applicants from New York City, who were given even higher waiting list numbers. It’s clear to see why parents breathe a sigh of relief when their first child receives a spot at a charter school; the rest of their children are essentially set.
When One Charter School is Not Right for All of Your Children
I know many families in Queens with kids in different schools – whether it is because one child got into G&T, or one has special needs, or they moved and their zoned school changed, or the youngest child won the charter school lottery. Melida Barbosa was the first person I had met who chose not to take advantage of charter school sibling priority, finding that another school was a better fit for her youngest child.
Like many moms in Queens, Melida wanted to make the best choice for her daughter, Gabriela, when it came to enrolling her in kindergarten. Her zoned school performed well, getting A’s on its annual progress report, but with close to 1300 students, Melida felt it was too large for her daughter. “I wanted to have everyone know her,” she explained. With this thought it mind, she applied to other schools with smaller student populations.
Gabriela was lucky enough to receive one of the coveted seats at GUGCS during its admission lottery. Melida felt that the exploration-based approach to learning and progressive mission of GUGCS was the perfect fit for her daughter, who loves knitting, sewing, and getting dirty. At the time, Melida was a stay-at-home mom, so she was able to devote herself to the parent-teacher organization and volunteer for the school book fair. “That is the year I fell in love with the school,” she admitted.
However, when it came time to apply to kindergartens for their son, Melida and her husband chose not to enroll Cristian at the same school as his sister. “They are only 14 months apart. She’s the alpha female, so her friends were his only friends.” Cristian needed his own space to become his own person, so when he was offered a spot at OWN, Melida enrolled her son there. Cristian needs more structure, so the more traditional way that OWN is run was a better fit.
Different Schools for Different Kids and the Logistical Dilemma
At first, two different school schedules worked well for this stay-at-home mom, and she was able to be there for her kids when they needed a ride or didn’t have school. However, Melida has returned to work full time and the situation has become more difficult. “We have five family members going off to five different places every day.” With two parents working full-time, it is not as easy to arrange for half-days and multiple parent-teacher conferences,
Now Melida is torn and has begun the process of bringing her children’s schooling into one place. Because their family has sibling priority at two charter schools, they are seeking to move their daughter into their sons school. Now in third grade, their daughter has made strong friendships and blossomed under the progressive approach in her current school. “She loves the school so much, she pretends not to be sick so she can go,” explains Melida.
Melida’s husband is pushing to continue with the plan to switch schools in September, but she isn’t sure. The reasons GUGCS was such a good fit for Gabriela are still there. The mom who prides herself on the child-centered way she is raising her kids struggles with balancing the wishes of her daughter with the needs of the whole family. “I almost hope we don’t get the spot, so the decision will be taken out of our hands. It’s one of those situations where you have to be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.”
The Third Annual Astoria School Symposium – will take place on Saturday, February 1st from 9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. at the Astoria Lutheran Church. There will be a fair where parents can meet representatives from different schools and forums on the admissions process for nursery school, preschool, and kindergarten, as well as special topics including G&T and private elementary schools.
Written by: Rebecca Raymond – Rebecca is Public Relations Chair for the Astoria School Symposium and an Astoria mother of two.