Preschool in NYC: Our Experience

When I was pregnant with Bubba, I heard stories about some mothers who put their children on waiting lists for preschools while they were still pregnant. I thought this was a little crazy, and didn’t pay any more attention to it until Bubba turned about 12 months old. I started to research the preschools in our area, which was in Northern California at the time. I found one that I absolutely loved. We toured it with one sweet woman who let Bubba sit in and enjoy the class and outdoor activities. I knew most of the children in the class and a few of the teachers as well. It was perfect for our family, and for Bubba. The tuition for his first year of preschool was going to be around $4,000 for 3 half days a week. Seemed like a whole lot of money at the time. I knew it was what Bubba needed though, so I asked to be put on the wait list for when he turned about 2 1/2. They called me in March of last year and told me that there was a spot for him open and asked if I was going to be registering. Not really knowing what our future had in store for us (we didn’t know where Dr. J would be attending Dental School- still waiting on admissions letters), I had no choice but to withdraw our name from the stack.

Flash forward to May, 2009. We learn that Dr. J’s options for Dental School were limited, and we would be moving to New York City in August. I scramble to find a decent neighborhood and pediatrician on the internet, which was hilarious in a totally stressed out way (I registered the kids into a practice in TriBeCa. TriBeCa is SO FAR from where we are now, I was so clueless). We fly to NYC in July and find our home within 4 hours of landing. Within a month the four of us are here, shell shocked and quickly learning how things are done in this completely and totally new and different environment.

I register Bubba for a pre-preschool program, 2 half days a week in a wonderful community organization. We love it. You’ve heard me go on and on about how great this place is, it was the pivotal point in getting us settled here in the city. This is also where I learned about the complete insanity that is preschool registration in Manhattan and the boroughs of NYC.

I came into this preschool registration business about three years too late with Bubba, so we’re kind of flying on a wing and a prayer for getting him into a good program. Most of the moms that I have talked to have applied to an average of seven schools. Each school requires a $50 application fee, and most of the appointments for interviews needed to have been made by January. This means that you have to actually know which schools are out there, which ones are the “good ones”, and which ones will be the easiest to get to, travel wise. Never mind the cost- I’ll get to that.

We absolutely lucked out- in our building complex, there is a preschool, and it’s a really good one. They even happen to give an ever so slight preference to the tenants of the complex. While I was in California, I scheduled our appointment in early December and sent poor Dr. J, knee deep in his first Dental School finals, to the preschool with a check and the required family photo so that we would be guaranteed an interview spot.

We were told to come to the school for our interview the day after Bubba’s third birthday. I dressed him in a clean polo and jeans, myself in some J Crew separates, and Dr. J wore a nice button down white shirt. I have heard stories of the teachers and administrators asking the children to recite their ABC’s, and putting the kids on the spot to do other three-year-old “tricks” during the interviews, so I was really nervous. This one wasn’t like that so much, but they definitely observed Bubba in a few different situations (free and organized play, snack time and communicating with peers and teachers) and took many notes during the hour that we were there. He was a little angel, sweet as pie with with everyone, and even cleaned up when he was asked. Proud momma moments.

He can almost write his name! That ought to get him in, right?!

Not really knowing what the criteria was for getting a spot in the school, I asked one of the parent-teachers before hand. She simply said “we will base your acceptance on your enthusiasm for the school”. It’s hard to be enthusiastic, though, when you are also the one doing the interviews. I was trying to ask questions and get a feel for the curriculum and the teachers themselves, as well as being excited about the program. I’m also nervous because I believe that this may be one out of only two chances of getting him into preschool in September. We’ve only had one other tour and interview, and that was at the school that we are at now. I don’t LOVE that program, but I will be happy with it.

There are 16 spots at the first school, and so far there have been 40+ applicants. From what I have been told, this ratio is really promising compared to most. There are a lot of preschools in NYC, as you can imagine. We have chosen two to apply to, and they are on the lower end, price wise. We are looking at paying five figures to send Bubba to preschool for four hours a day, five days a week for one school year. This is average. It’s akin to paying $6 dollars for a half gallon of milk (TRUE STORY) here in Manhattan. The demand is so high, there are so many people that they can charge this much and people will pay it. Of course there are programs that cost less and some that are free, but those programs mostly start with a waiting list (similar to the school we applied to in CA), and unless you’re child’s name is on the list since before he/she was born, your chances are very slim.

It also helps if you have connections. In the documentary on preschool in Manhattan, Nursery University, one parent actually wrote a letter on their David Letterman Show letterhead to the school and the administrators accepted the child without batting an eye. “…even in today’s difficult economy, the admissions process is considered more competitive than that of the nation’s top Ivy League universities, and the demand has driven annual preschool admissions upwards of $20,000”. As obscene as it is, that is the truth.

As you know, I don’t work and my husband is in dental school, so the math doesn’t really add up at all. We’ll be taking out more loans for preschool this year, and as painful as it is financially, I am not really going to fight it. It is what it is, and we’re talking about my son’s education and early development, not a small home in the Midwest (although… ahem). I’ve done a lot of research and this is the best decision for our family, and for Bubba. He absolutely thrives in school. The relationships that he has developed with his peers and teachers has made an incredible impact on him and his confidence. He teaches his little sister to sing the “clean up” and “team work” songs while they put their toys away together. I know that he wouldn’t be coming along this much socially and otherwise had I decided to home school him-which absolutely crossed my mind when we saw the price tag for preschool.

The benefits outweigh the risks for us here, now I am just crossing my fingers and toes that he gets into one of these schools. We’ll hear the news along with everyone else in New York City on March 8th.

This entire experience has made me really curious about preschool around the country. Here in NYC, we can expect that the teachers will have their Master’s Degrees and the ratio is generally pretty small; 16 children per 3 teachers. I would love to hear your feedback on your experiences putting your children in preschool, and whether or not you home school. We come from a family of teachers, three of which (my mother, my sister and my mother-in-law) all have their Master’s Degrees in Child Development. I believe that the socialization is key in my own children, and will most likely not home school for that reason, amongst others. I have considered it though, and of course it is right for some families!

This has been an interesting process, thank you for listening and all of your feedback!

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