My granddaughter is three years old and my son and daughter-in-law are beginning to hunt for a pre-kindergarten for September, 2013 when he will be four years old. Can you offer any suggestions?
Your family is lucky to have an involved grandparent – I can see you are ready to research the field. There are a few steps that will lead you to the program that is right for your granddaughter and there is plenty of time to carry them out. However, be forewarned: Not all four-year-olds actually get a slot in a public school pre-kindergarten. Last spring 30 percent of the applicants were without a seat after pre-kindergarten acceptance letters went out. Although some seats opened up and parents could continue to apply over the summer, there are no guarantees.
Pre-k applications are last on the admissions line. In 2012 applications were due April 10 for programs located in public schools. The 2013 admissions calendar is not yet set but you can sign up on the Education Department's website for updates. As long as you meet the deadline, acceptance does not depend on when the application was submitted. For pre-kindergarten in community organizations such as Y's or Head Start programs, admission is on a rolling basis. You apply directly to the CBO and there may be additional requirements and in some cases, fees.
Programs exist in both public schools and community organizations because not every school has a pre-k program and there are far too few slots to go around. Everybody must re-apply for kindergarten – no matter where your granddaughter attends pre-k, there is no guarantee she will stay there. Her zoned school should accommodate her for elementary school, but in some cases, overcrowding could send her elsewhere.
Your first step is to get a copy of the directory of pre-k programs that the Department of Education publishes each year. There is also a directory of CBO programs. These are both straightforward listings, with location and contact information.
Step Two: If you don’t know what school your granddaughter is zoned for (based on her address), call 311 to find out, and then call the school to verify.
Step Three: Explore the zoned school. If it has a program, that is your starting point, Even if you are crazy about the zoned school, you’d be wise to select other schools that appeal as well. Competition can leave you in the cold if there are no alternative choices on your application...and sometimes even if there are. Use Insideschools to narrow the search to pre-kindergartens that are reasonably located for the daily trek. I am a big fan of schools that are easy to get to – you know how four-year-olds can dawdle on the way. If you have your heart set on a school at some distance, be sure you have a game plan to get there.
Step Four: Visit the schools and programs when open houses are announced. There is no substitute for an in-person look at the school its teachers, its classrooms and its general atmosphere. Insideschools.org does not profile pre-k’s separately, but in our experience, if the school appeals to you, then the pre-k will as well.
Here’s where you can be a great help to your family because covering all the possibilities is time consuming. Check out an Ask Judy from July, 2010, which suggests some features to consider and has a link to the standards that programs are supposed to follow.
Step Five: Ask adults who are dropping off or picking up children at school how satisfied they are.
Step Six: Turn over your results to the parents of the lucky granddaughter. You had the fun, let them make the choices.