I remember when we first moved to Brooklyn. I was volunteering at the library toy sale, and the ladies there couldn’t stop talking about neighborhood schools.

Where are you zoned?

When is the application deadline?

Are you thinking about private school?

What about pre-K?

Have you thought about ANY of this, they asked?

Um. Charlie is only one.

They looked at me like I was crazy.

Well, now I know why.

As the deadline for pre-K neared, (Charlie is almost three, and pre-K starts at four) I began to consider our options. Keep him at Fedkids? Look for a public school pre-K? Move him into a private program so we could secure a spot there for elementary school?

Last week, I went to a meeting held by a very informative school consultant, Joyce Szuflita. I learned that for us, public pre-K was better left undone. (No guaranteed seats, only a half-day program because we’d only be eligible–most likely–for our zoned school, which doesn’t do full-day.) Fedkids has a good pre-K program. Done deal.

But for kindergarten…

The process isn’t too complicated, really. Just apply at any school you like, with the hope that you might get in to the one you want.

Our zoned school is safe, and I’ve heard good things about their program. But I’ve also heard the kids watch Hannah Montana instead of doing PE during cold weather because they don’t have a gym, and the principle is opposed to parent involvement in the classroom.

So, we’ll just find another school, I thought.

But a friend, a public school teacher, said, “Oh, all the public schools have the kids watch TV. Monsters, Inc. The Lion King. During lunch, as crowd control.”

This isn’t just a special movie for holidays or parties or to help the kids visualize the stories they’ve been reading. There is no discussion of commercialization, merchandising, or even what went on in the movie. This is every day, TV babysitting. When did school become screen-zombie time? Can’t they play board games at PE, or just freakin’ socialize at lunch?

That was when I realized I was not as laissez-fair about this education thing as I had once thought. (Quote from me, pre-Charlie: “Public school was good enough for me. I turned out fine. Public school it will be.”)

Math and reading are all well and good, but what about the other aspects of learning that make a well-rounded person? Art? Music? Physical education and games? Creativity and critical thinking? Getting outside and exploring the world, both man-made and natural? (Honestly, my fondest memory of elementary school is me picking honeysuckle from the bushes in the forest just down the drainage ditch from our playground. We’d drink the nectar and smell the flowers. To this day, the smell of honeysuckle does something to me.)

Okay, I thought. Maybe we’ll go the private route. We’re already paying out the wazoo for daycare. We’ll just take that money and funnel it into a private school. And boy do they have cool schools in Brooklyn. Campuses with fields and pools. Curricula that include hands-on science, field trips, art, music, drama. Except…

The cheaper end of private is still almost TEN THOUSAND dollars more per year than we’re already paying. And that doesn’t include the price we’ll have to pay for fall, winter and spring week-long camps, after-school programs that last until we get off work, and a summer program or summer nanny for July and August.

So back to public school searches. There are a few that sound really promising. But they are all in Manhattan, in zones filled with multi-million-dollar townhouses and tiny apartments running thousands per month.

At that point my stomach was starting to hurt, and I was glad I had begun to consider this nearly TWO YEARS in advance.

I’ll need that much time to either: 1) Make an appointment with Joyce, talk to all of my teacher friends, tour every public school I like, find an apartment in our preferred school zone that doesn’t bankrupt us and move there before January 2011, or 2) Research, develop and found a working co-op home school with other like-minded parents who think that NYC has too much to offer to keep a kid chained to a desk all day, watching TV.

Besting New York City Education = my new hobby


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8 Responses to “Schooling”

  1. Dorah Says:

    I’m glad I’m not the only one confused and befuddled by my choices!! I will have Izaak at his current Montessori preschool as long as possible (two more years). Then I need to figure out what would be best for him (right now, I am considering cyberschool-with a homeschool coop or public school with a lot of parental involvement). This is crazy hard! Why don’t they give you an instruction manual with a handy-dandy planning timeline at the hospital?? That would be more helpful than a pair of booties or a t-shirt.

    • Cevillia Says:

      You’re right, Dorah. An instruction manual would be a lot more helpful. (Although those newborn diapers did come in handy.)

      I found out some more info about schools because I can’t stop obsessing now that I’ve started obsessing. The Brooklyn Waldorf School looks really nice, and it seems like it might be in our price range. Another option for my list.

      Options aren’t bad; they just mean I need to exert a lot of effort to figure out what is best for Charlie, our family, our budget, and our goals.

      This parenting thing does, indeed, take a lot of managerial work. Too bad you can’t put it on your resume.

  2. Jonathan Says:

    Ahh, good-times! I remember the planning years and research. Since Abbie just turned 12, I have a bit of a head-start on you. But she attended Montessori from 2-5, then private school for kindergarten and after divorcing we couldn’t agree where so she ended up in public school. It ended up being wonderful, Abbie has had all A’s since they began giving letter grades and is in the gifted programs. I am sure New York and Georgia are different, but our problem wasn’t TV babysitting, it was scarce education funding. For the last five years me and other parents have donated and worked hard to fully fund the music and art programs…we actually raised the money for these two teachers salaries. Sadly, other schools in the county weren’t able to raise the money and keep their teachers. Physical education is the other source of concern, because the programs have been pared back so far you wouldn’t recognize it from your childhood. It’s strange, we agonize that we are raising a nation of overweight kids, but we cut funding for PE – what gives?

    • Cevillia Says:

      I think the problem in NYC is also a lack of funding. Our zoned school doesn’t have the funds for a gym or enough teachers, so they make do. (Of course, they are also now cutting teaching jobs because of the financial crisis, which should totally help things.)

      It’s good to hear that you could make such a positive difference by taking an active role. I really like the idea of public schools since they are our schools, as tax payers and democratic citizens. So I’m not counting out public just yet.

      And I agree that the PE thing is insane! Just last night we watched a DVR episode of Frontline about Parkinson’s disease where they showed that plain old treadmill-running exercise can protect your brain from injuries like the ones that cause that disease. Also, they have shown in other studies that exercise can defeat depression, diabetes, and heart disease.

      It’s amazing to me that our society cares only about kids’ test scores in reading and math when there are so many other skills that can help our future leaders have longer, better lives. It’s that kind of holistic thinking that I like about alternative education, like Waldorf.

  3. Joyce Szuflita Says:

    I am so glad that the talk was helpful to you. My advice is if you can identify a program that is the good fit for your family don’t give up, persistence and plenty of it, does occasionally work with the DOE. That being said, it also often works out that your second choice can turn out to be your dream school once you have spent a little time getting to know the program. I have a free school information newsletter that you can subscribe to on my homepage and I blog regularly about school school issues at

    • Cevillia Says:

      Joyce, I love your blog, and I signed up for your newsletter the night I got home from your talk. I think the issue is finding a program that fits our family’s needs, which means I need to set up an appointment with you!

  4. Sofia Says:

    If Charlie ends up at a Waldorf School I will be so happy for you all – and so jealous! The beauty that awaits in a Waldorf education is unparalleled – you just have to ignore all the pseudo-cult like aspects (don’t worry, Charlie will).

  5. NYC Parents and Educational Choices for Children Says:

    […] recently read a post written by a NYC Brooklyn mother who has been going through the trials of deciding on a private school or other educational options […]

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