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Tuesday, 08 September 2015 17:58

School's open! Still got questions?

School's open! For parents who still have questions—or who don't have a school assignment—here's where you can get help and find answers.

Your school district

Got a question about enrollment? Missing special ed or English language services? Contact your newly appointed family support coordinator. There is one for each of the city's 32 districts. Their job is to work with individual parents who have problems or concerns. It's a new position so we don't know how well it is working yet, but it's worth reaching out.

Family leadership coordinators replace the DFAs (district family advocates). Their job is to support PA/PTAs and SLTs (School Leadership Teams) and to lead district workshops and events. If you're wondering why your school's PTA isn't active, or have a question about how to get involved, talk to your district's leadership coordinator. Many of them are former DFAs and know their schools very well.

For more tips about the start of the school year, see the DOE's "Back to School Basics" here. Make sure to download a copy of the Parents' Bill of Rights. Your school should also be sending one home with your child.

Pre-kindergarten enrollment

With the massive expansion of universal pre-kindergarten this year, there are bound to be snafus. Some 51 programs closed before the start of the school year. If you were assigned to one of those, and need a new placement, call the pre-k outreach team at 212-637-8036 for help. If you never got a placement, or are new to the city, you can go to one of the Department of Education's new registration centers, contact the outreach team or call the DOE's enrollment helpline at 718-935-2009. You can also contact programs directly. (Sometimes you need several options!) Here's a list of schools that had available seats at the end of August. 

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Wednesday, 02 September 2015 23:26

College Counselor: Why does college cost so much?

Q: Over the summer, we took our daughter to visit a number of colleges. We saw a lot of impressive things: beautiful buildings, nice dorms, modern labs, and so forth. But the cost! We have heard our friends telling us how much college is costing them, but we never actually realized it until now. The cost of going to college is more than many people even make in a year! Why is it so expensive?

A: It costs a lot to run a college. What students pay covers some, but not all of the cost. There are the faculty salaries (plus benefits like health insurance), generous administrators’ salaries (the college president, vice presidents, provosts, vice-provosts, deans, associate deans, assistant deans, and so forth), and staff salaries (the department managers, administrative assistants, librarians, admissions staff, student services directors, and so on). What about infrastructure? Buildings have to be maintained by the buildings and grounds crew, heat and electricity must be provided, buildings painted when needed to keep a fresh look. Libraries must stay current by ordering the latest books and renewing subscriptions to journals. Maybe the Classics Department doesn’t have to order many new items from year to year, but the Biology and Chemistry Departments need new equipment all the time.

You get the picture. A school’s budget is enormous.

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Students who are new to New York City public schools, or who are re-entering city schools after a time away, can enroll in school at temporary registration centers set up across the city beginning Sept. 1.

The centers are open Monday–Friday, 8 am–3 pm through Sept. 18, with the exception of Sept. 7, Labor Day, and Sept. 14-15 for Rosh Hashanah. Family Welcome Centers will be closed until Sept. 21.

All high school students as well as elementary and middle school students who do not have a zoned school must go to a registration center to enroll in school.

Elementary and middle schools students who have a zoned school, including special education students who have a current New York City–issued IEP (individualized education plan), should wait until the first day of school, Sept. 9, to register directly at their zoned school. Regardless of whether or not you have a zoned school, new students with IEPs from outside of New York City should go to a registration center.

Students with more restrictive or specialized needs may also visit a Committee on Special Education (CSE) location. For more information, including CSE locations, call 311 or visit

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Q: After I graduated from high school in 2006, I went to community college. But I wasn't prepared mentally or physically; I quit going to classes, gave up, and failed out. Now I am 24 and feel ready to take getting a degree seriously. I live in a town where there aren't any counselors who will give genuine advice because I am low-income. I am interested in psychology. I've always felt like I was made for helping people, and being a therapist is the career meant for me. Am I too old to get this degree, and how do I begin this long journey? Please help me—and be honest.

A: Honestly, it's not too late! Although it does not seem young to you, 24 is delightfully young and full of promise. But even if you were 34, 44, 54—I'd say the same thing: it is never too late to learn. Actually, you are in a good spot—since you have experienced the real world for a few years, you are mature enough to realize that education is a serious thing. On the whole, professors themselves find that older students are more dedicated, insightful, and full of purpose than many 18 or 19 year olds.

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As September looms and school waitlists clear (or don't), many Brooklyn families with rising pre-kindergartners approach a time of reckoning. Maybe you’ve been holding out for a popular neighborhood program but the waitlist hasn’t budged, maybe you just moved to a new area, or maybe something about the program your child was assigned to doesn’t feel quite right.

Have hope, Brooklynites: Established programs have expanded in the borough, while many religious schools, child care centers and free-standing pre-k centers are offering pre-k for the first time and still have open seats. Information on some of these programs is scarce, but we’ve done our best to recommend available pre-k's for your 4-year-old based on insights from our school reviews, Department of Education data and interviews.

Below you’ll find our best bets of available programs organized by district to help you get started, but don’t be shy: It’s always a good idea to call a program and visit yourself. When it comes to your child, you’re the expert. Need more information about districts? Click on our district maps on the homepage.

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Tuesday, 11 August 2015 12:09

Still looking for pre-k? Here are our picks

There are still pre-kindergarten seats available for the fall—not just in public schools but also in religious schools, child care centers and community organizations.

Some of the most popular programs are seriously oversubscribed, and there is a shortage of seats in some neighborhoods (such as the Upper West Side and Bayside, Queens.) Still, it doesn't hurt to put your name on a waitlist at a popular program while you check out others. Families who applied in the second round of pre-k admissions must decide by Aug. 21 whether to accept their offer.

The good news: Some well-established programs have expanded—and still have room. Many religious schools and child care agencies are offering public pre-k for the first time and haven't filled their seats.

Information is scarce on a lot of these programs, but we've done our best to identify a few we can recommend based on the data available. Be sure to visit: It's a bad sign if a program is unwilling to let you see the classrooms. Watch our video on "What to look for in a pre-kindergarten" and read our tips.

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Applying to high school in New York City can be a full-time job for 8th-graders and their families. Students who don't have an adult to help them have an even harder time navigating the system—and making the most of their options. Now, in two city neighborhoods, an innovative Department of Education program trains students to help each other through the process.

Modeled after a successful high school college access program, the Middle School Success Centers began as a pilot program on the Lower East Side and in Cypress Hills in late 2013, targeting neighborhoods where students could really use the help.

At IS 171 in Cypress Hills, counselors from the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation offer intensive high school choice counseling and training for youth leaders in one of the poorest communities in the city. The middle school youth leaders are trained in a summer program and commit to working with their fellow students during lunch hour and after school to help them understand the admissions process and make good choices on their high school applications. They apply for the job and are paid $50 per month.

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The New York City Department of Education (DOE) just wrapped up their summer-time series of high school admissions workshops, including several that focused on the city's nine specialized high schools. Bronx Science, Brooklyn Latin, Brooklyn Tech, High School for American Studies, High School for Math, Science and Engineering, LaGuardia, Queens High School for the Sciences, Staten Island Tech, and Stuyvesant. Didn’t make it to a workshop? Don’t worry. You can find a recap of the July high school information sessions here, and there will be plenty of opportunities to learn about the specialized high schools in the fall at open houses and at the city- and borough-wide high school fairs

Meanwhile here's a heads-up on what you can be doing this summer to prepare.

If you’re interested in attending one of the eight, test-in specialized high schools, you'll need to take the SHSAT (Specialized High School Admissions Test). You’ll also need to study for the SHSAT and if you haven’t done so already, summer is a great time to prep for the exam.

LaGuardia is the only specialized high school that does not require students to take the SHSAT. Instead, students are admitted based on an audition (and portfolio if applying to the art studio) as well as their middle school grades, state test scores and attendance records. Just like taking the SHSAT, students need to prepare for auditions. You can learn more about LaGuardia's audition process on the school's website. This year for the first time a dozen arts schools, including LaGuardia, have common audition components, so you don't have to prepare different auditions for each school. Check page 15 of the high school directory for the participating schools.

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Still looking for a pre-k spot as the July 10 Round 2 deadline looms? Try our new mobile pre-kindergarten search on your phone or mobile device! Many public schools, pre-k centers and early education centers still have room for this year's crop of 4-year-olds. 

Visit on your phone and you'll be prompted to visit the mobile site for pre-kindergarten. Type in your address and up pops your zoned school and whether it offers pre-k. You'll also see every pre-k option near your home or work, if you type in that address. Click through to read our reviews of public schools that offer pre-k. 

Even if you already received a pre-k offer, you can take advantage of Round 2 which is comprised mainly of new programs that were not listed in Round 1. Like the first round, you can apply online, over the phone by calling 311 or in person at a Family Welcome Center.

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If you've just finished 7th grade, it's time to be thinking about high school!

In addition to a summer reading list for 8th grade, you've got another hefty tome to read over the summer: the 2016 high school directory. At 650 pages, this year's directory, is bigger than ever. It's also online.

Take the time to look through the opening pages which detail the timeline, different admissions methods, types of high schools and factors to consider as you select a high school. If you want more explanation, and an opportunity to ask questions from the folks who make the rules, the Department of Education is offering high school admissions workshops in every borough beginning next week. Enrollment officials will provide an introduction to the high school admissions process including the different the types of programs offered, and give tips on how to fill out your application.

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