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We at Insideschools face a mighty task — keeping up with all the city schools.
If we visited one school every school day, it would take us nearly 10 years to get to all 1,700 of them. Increasingly we depend on the Insideschools community — public school parents, students and educators-- to let us know what’s happening. What did we get right, what didn’t we get right? What’s changed since our visit? Our paid staff consists of two full-time editors, plus freelance writers and part-time reporters, and we can't do it alone.
“I hear that some kids in your 1st-grade class have special needs,” my sister (a retired teacher) told my daughter. My daughter stared back in confusion. When you’re in 1st grade, a “special need” isn’t autism or attention-deficit disorder. A “special need” means you have to go to the bathroom really bad.
In fact, as many as 40 percent of the kids in my daughter’s class do have special needs, meaning they have a learning problem that demands extra attention. But my daughter is unaware of such things. Judging from the “How was your day?” feedback I get, her 1st-grade class is rather typical, except now and then a kid throws a crayon at the teacher.
Parents of prospective kindergartners in some New York City neighborhoods tour elementary schools the way families elsewhere visit colleges, (although they may not bring their 4-year-olds along).
Discovering and keeping track of what schools to visit when can be a challenge. Robin Aronow of SchoolSearchNYC has done preliminary research and compiled information about tours at some Manhattan schools. We've posted those dates on our new District 2 and District 3 pages and we'll add information about schools in other districts if we get it.
After his bruising first week of high school, I found my exhausted freshman son lying in a heap of books and papers, soccer cleats and uniform still on, furry cat purring next to him. I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that it would be a little while still before I have to worry about what time he’s coming home at night, where he is, and what his curfew would be.
But it’s coming. Parents of freshmen, who have endured an exhausting admissions season, may be taken aback by a new demand to go out on weekends and stay out ever later.
The new world of high school social life requires careful navigation for parents. Kids want to fit in, and for some, it’s the first time they develop a whole new life outside of the family and familiar friends. Because of high school choice, their friends may live in all five boroughs, making for some daunting transportation obstacles, late night commutes and a lot of sleepovers.
I confess I forgot to do something special on Sept. 20 during New York state’s much-ballyhooed Dads Take Your Child to School Day. Instead, that day I did what I usually do: I took my child to school.
And I can’t honestly say I noticed a significant difference in the adult male-female ratio that morning at my daughter’s Upper West Side elementary. Mothers still make up the majority at the chaotic morning drop-off, but full-time fathers aren’t rare. Consequently, I tend to view Dads Take Your Child to School Day with the same sneer that working mothers might greet a holiday called Moms Go Get a Job Day. If you’re going to create a special day to celebrate innovation, at least make sure you’re not a decade behind the societal curve.
It's time for 5th and 8th-graders and their families to plunge into the middle school and high school admissions season. Jacquie Wayans of Insideschools.org has teamed up with City College to offer seminars on Choosing the Right School for Your Child on Tuesday, Oct. 18th & Oct 25th.
With tours to schedule, fairs to attend, and application deadlines approaching in December, parents need more guidance than what is offered in school directories.
As the new school year begins, we are launching an all-new Insideschools website with dozens of new school reviews, slideshows and videos to help New York City parents navigate a complex school system.
We believe that you can’t judge a school by its standardized test scores alone. We believe education should develop character, citizenship, good work habits and self-control—qualities that the tests don’t measure. A recent New York Times column suggests life skills like motivation, focus and resilience are far better predictors of long-term success than high grades.
To see whether schools are trying to build these skills, we sit in on classes, visit the lunchroom and playground, and interview teachers and parents. We snap photos to capture the culture and atmosphere of a school. We ask parents to share their experiences by posting their comments about schools. We care about test scores, but we also care about the heart and soul of a school.
Shortly after noon one day this week, I called my household of young teenagers to inquire about progress on the summer reading assignments. (Why get them done early when you can wait till the very last moment?)
The phone rang endlessly, the texts went unanswered. A sleepy voice finally answered the call at about 2 p.m. and announced: “We just woke up!”
This morning, the first alarm bell went off some eight hours earlier -- shortly after 6 a.m. The ordeal that will follow from now on is one that defies the natural rhythm of teenagers, I dread it, and I imagine a similar struggle is unfolding in a city of long subway and bus commutes to school.
My son's middle school handed out report cards with errors. When the errors were pointed out they fixed them promptly. However, the incorrect info apparently had already gone into ARIS. The middle school also already sent over the incorrect report card to my son's new high school. I have a report card that shows a performance level for one class of 4, but ARIS shows a performance level of 2 for that class.
I sent an email to the person at the school who handled the report card corrections, but I am unsure how relentlessly to pursue this. Will anyone care about what ARIS Parent Link says? Is it possible that it appears elsewhere "in the system" correctly? How can I even find out?
Should I worry?
Dear Should I worry?
If the correct information does not appear in the ARIS record, you should be concerned. For those who don’t know, ARIS is the database that includes your child’s cumulative academic records, attendance, immunization status, and personal details such as date of birth, address and contact information. Parents get an ID number and log-in instructions from school. By accessing ARIS, parents can find out how kids are doing in periodic assessments as well as state standardized tests and Regents exams. ARIS began in the 2005-06 school year, and for most kids, it will eventually include their entire school career.
If you find errors in ARIS you should call the Service Desk at the Department of Academic Support and Performance: 212-374-6646 They will help straighten it out. But on your own, contact the high school as well, especially if it is a large school. High schools use middle school grades to place kids in appropriate classes.
According to an experienced high school parent who chimed in on our forum, errors in ARIS are not uncommon. “Many times the information in ARIS is not correct (data entry errors, problems with high school courses taught in middle school that are not generally offered, problems with specialized courses not generally offered by other middle schools, such as Chess, or Photography, or Studio Art, etc.). I have generally found that emailing a scanned copy of the correct report card, along with a note from the middle school principal verifying that the report card is correct, helps immensely with class scheduling for entering high school students. Make sure that the principal provides an email address and phone where the high school can reach him/her over the summer. And be sure to follow up to make sure that the principal did as above. You can ask to be "cc"ed on the email to your child's high school.”
The DOE now has several “help lines” for parents. If the operators don't know the answer, they can direct you to the appropriate person or department.
Check out: Parent Support Line, 718-935-2009. Answers general questions about your school zone, enrollment, pre-kindergarten registration, and gifted and talented programs.
Department of Academic Support and Performance Service Desk, 212-374-6646. Answers questions about ARIS and ARIS parent link, periodic assessments, New York State Standardized Tests.
General information for the public, 212-374-2363. Includes graduates trying to find their student records for schools that have closed.
While preparing for middle school graduation this week, I was reminded of my older son’s orientation five years ago. Parents and children were separated, somewhat symbolically. We sat on the floor and listened as the principal described the enormous physical, emotional and academic changes that would transform our innocent fifth-graders forever.
He asked if we had any questions.
Stupidly, I raised my hand and asked if it was still okay to bring cupcakes to school to celebrate middle school birthdays. Wiser parents in the audience laughed. The principal shook his head and made it clear that not only were the cupcake days over, we very soon wouldn’t be taking our children to school or picking them up anymore.
“They are going to be riding the subway by themselves – get over it,’’ he said.
It seemed so harsh to me. No more hand-holding! No more chatting with parents at pick-up and drop-off. Time to let go, little by little, as I explained recently to a new middle school parent, whose little girl clung to her side at a welcoming dinner.
Not that letting go was easy. My older son, now a high school sophomore, believes he was last in his class allowed to ride the subway alone. He may never forgive me for calling the Jamba Juice near his school one day and insisting his name be called out aloud so I could find out if he was there. He still resents my insistence that he could not have a Facebook page until eighth-grade, along with the outrageous embarrassment of lugging his mother’s very old and uncool cell phone around.
Such are the slings and arrows of middle school, also known as the Age of Embarrassment. Parents are not to be seen or heard, although they come in handy for cash, keys, Metrocards and the purchase of electronic devices. Academic performance often slumps; educators have long argued over the best way to boost motivation.
Voices crack and change at the most awkward of times. Straight hair turns curly and curly hair turns straight. Growth spurts of eight inches a year or more are not unusual. Dreaded acne appears. The mirror becomes a friend and an enemy. Sweet girls become mean girls. Old friends may become strangers, or even enemies.
Suddenly, there are secrets of all kinds. And sometimes, outright, unexplained misery.
“Nobody gets through middle school unscathed,’’ a wise middle school educator once told me, during a particularly painful moment.
Some of us retain middle school memories that still make us cringe. The lucky leave buoyed by tremendous friendships and new self-confidence. Much depends on the chemistry of a particular class, or the sensitivity of teachers to the astonishing changes that take place during these crucial years.
Watching the eighth-graders at a pre-graduation event recently, I noticed some of the extreme height differences had started to even out. Some of the guys looked ready to shave. I was struck by the amount of time the soon-to-be graduates spent simply hugging one another.
“It’s what we do,’’ one young woman – for she could certainly no longer be called a little girl – said to me.
For a brief moment, it appeared she would get through unscathed.