Dear Judy: I am about to file a 2nd round application for pre-K, but I can’t make up my mind between a program that is in a public school and one that is located in an off-site location. What is the difference between school-based pre-K’s and others?
Dear Pre-K Dad,
Not every public school has a pre-K program, mainly because of space limitations, so the state allocated funds for comparable programs in other locations. These sites, called CBOs -- short for Community Based Organizations -- include day care centers, community centers, independent schools, churches or church schools, Head Start programs that go through kindergarten, and others. That’s the origin of the title Universal Pre-K, or UPK. Public school or CBO, they all have to meet the standards set by the state and city.
Of course each is an individual program and should be judged on its own merits. That's why it is essential, whenever possible, to visit the school or CBO site. What to consider? Do you like the way kids are treated? Are they doing creative work with plenty of play or is the class mostly stressing academics? Is the classroom bright and cheerful? Are there toys, blocks, a dress-up corner, books? Are there outdoor and indoor play areas? Are there enough adults supervising? Can you reach the program without too much hassle? Take a look at our tips for applying to pre-K for more suggestions.
Your own expectations for the pre-school experience will help you make up your mind once you have looked closely at your choices.
There are some differences, however. Is the program full or half day? If half day, is there provision for after school care? In day care centers, where many CBO programs are situated, kids merge into full day care seamlessly and the sites are often open until 6 pm to give working parents time to collect their children Some of these – indeed many – only take families with limited income so you have to check your eligibility.
Many pre-K programs in public schools still offer half days. Even if it is a full day program, you have to make separate arrangements for after school. But, some CBO's offer only half day programs as well, so there is no blanket rule there either.
The Round 2 application process closes July 30 but placement offers won’t be sent out until late August. School starts September 8 and parents can register until September 17. One of the UPK directors I spoke with at a CBO said that they can take applicants up to October 31. Indeed, in the last two years at least, the DOE has been advertising lots of pre-K openings well into the fall, both at CBO's and at schools.
As for public school pre-K’s, since there are not enough to accommodate all kids in the most sought-after programs, they tend to fill up more quickly. But the Round 2 directory lists many popular schools that still have open seats – available first to students who do not yet have a placement. Students who have already been given assigned to a school, may re-apply but aren’t given first priority.
Keep in mind that even if your child gets a spot in a public school pre-K, that is no guarantee of a kindergarten spot – especially if the school is not zoned for your address.