I thought I was courting disaster when I took my four-year-old to Brooklyn's two-hour long pre-k information session Monday night after a full day at pre-school. But with the assistance of an extra large slice of pizza and a cupcake-making app, we made it through without meltdown.
There are upcoming sessions in each borough -- the next one is Thursday in Manhattan -- and you will learn more at them than you can from simply downloading the directory. Officials used a Power Point presentation in a darkened auditorium at Sunset Park High School to explain what a typical day in pre-k looks like, how to apply, and they stuck around for questions afterwards.
There was, however, some jargon about "aligning to common core standards" and other policy efforts that weren't explained in a way that was easy to understand. The Power Point presentation didn't exactly explain how pre-k was "the first step to college and career readiness," but officials were friendly, knowledgeable and more down to earth when answering specific questions. And it was a relief to hear a DOE representative tell us that "when you give children lots of time to run around and play, it helps them intellectually too."
It is worth applying before the April 5 deadline, even if you're not sure exactly what your plans are for next fall. This year there will be no "Round 2" as there was in the past. That means if you don't get a spot, you must apply directly to the schools or programs of your choice. You will not be automatically placed on a wait list. The DOE will put out a list of places where there are still seats at some point in the summer, but it will not be consistently kept up to date. The wait lists move rapidly at some schools as famlies change plans, get into other programs, or move, so it is best to stay in touch with the local schools and programs that are your top choices.
Not enough room
While there are often empty seats in some neighborhoods -- especially for half-day programs -- there are not enough spots to meet the huge demand in others. For example, at PS 33 in the Fordham section of the Bronx, where 95 percent of the children qualify for free lunch and one third of students are not fluent in English, there were 172 applications for 36 slots in the school's pre-k program, giving kids a 20 percent chance of getting a seat last year, the Center for Children's Initiative found. At PS 87 on Manhattan's Upper West Side, families had a four percent chance of getting one of the 18 seats last year.
Some advocacy groups are trying to convince Albany to put more money into pre-k to expand the program. You can join their efforts by signing a letter to the Governor or, even better, contacting Asembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's office.