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Thursday, 20 December 2012 11:09

Free stuff to do over the holidays!

What to do with your children once the presents have been opened, the holidays feasts consumed and the kids -- and you -- have had enough of games and computers? How about a visit to one of New York City's "more than 500 galleries, 375 nonprofit theater companies, 330 dance companies, 150 museums, 96 orchestras, 40 Broadway theaters, 24 performing arts centers, five zoos, five botanical gardens, and an aquarium."

That rundown is from the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs which compiled a list of city venues with free or "suggested" admissions, perfect for families looking for something to do over the holidays. (Thanks to DJ Sheppard, District 3 family advocate for forwarding it to us!). Here they are, in alphabetical order.


For more events, see the NYCulture Calendar.

And, as always, it's best to call or check online before you visit to confirm the details.

Published in News and views
Tuesday, 18 December 2012 11:40

Applying to middle school with an IEP

All 5th graders will turn in applications for middle school this Friday, Dec. 21. That includes students with special education needs who will fill out the same application as other children.

There is often some confusion about the process, even after the roll-out of the special education reform this year. Now all schools are expected to accept students with special needs, which wasn't the case in the past. Parents say that outreach was poor at some schools last year, with special needs students unaware that they could apply.

To help families of children with special needs better understand their rights when applying to middle school, Advocates for Children put together a list of recommendations and tips. See their suggestions after the jump.

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Monday, 17 December 2012 14:17

How to talk to children about Dec.14 tragedy

All schools should offer a "safe place" for children who wish to talk about last Friday's tragedy at Sandy Hook elementary school, Chancellor Dennis Walcott wrote in a letter to school communities and families today.

The letter, signed also by UFT President Michael Mulgrew and Ernest Logan, president of the principal's union, encouraged teachers to "give solace and support to your colleagues so we can be strong enough to take care of our students."

Included were suggestions of resources that teachers, school staff and families can refer to when helping children try to comprehend Friday's horrific acts such as Resources for Dealing with Traumatic Events in School, published by the University of Maryland's Center for School Mental Health.  

Ever since news of the school shootings in Newtown on Friday, parents have been sharing resources and suggestions on how to speak to their children about what happened. Here are a few resources to consider:

And, after the jump, here are some tips from a social worker accustomed to treating victims of crime. Thanks to Park Slope Parents listeserv for sharing them.

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Tuesday, 11 December 2012 13:05

Ask Judy: I'm being bullied & want to transfer

Hi Judy,

I go to a high school in Brooklyn. I am a freshman. I have been asked by three older student to do drugs. I hate the environment and feel really unsafe going to school every day. I want to transfer but they are saying I need to wait until my year is over. I can't stand the thought of going one more day. I am really scared. I can't sleep anymore.

Dear Worried,

Drug use in schools is alarming.  Most schools have a program, and specialists known as SAPIS, to combat it, but that is a long term solution and I think that your particular situation should be remedied immediately.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">What you describe is bullying and intimidation. I know it is tough to publicly report the kids involved but here is a way to report confidentially: contact the person who is listed on the Respect for All poster in your school. Respect for All is the city's anti-bullying program. If there is no poster visible at your school, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to get the name of your school's representative.

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Tuesday, 11 December 2012 11:11

Cost is high for convicting teens as adults

A new edition of Child Welfare Watch -- issued by's colleagues at the Center for New York City Affairs --  reports on the city's youth justice system, looking at what has changed following several years of reform. It reports on new initiatives to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18; to build bridges between communities and the Department of Probation and to house incarcerated juveniles closer to home. And it tells the story of the difficult relationships between the NYPD, young people and other tenants in New York public housing.

Findings include:

  • The number of arrested teens aged 15 and under whose cases have been diverted from court and closed by the city's probation department increased 47 percent between 2009 and last year. This number has more than doubled since 2006. (See "Case Closed.")
  • Public housing residents make up about five percent of the city's population, but from 2006 through 2009, roughly half of all NYPD trespassing stops in the entire city took place in public housing. (See "To Protect and Serve?")
  • New York's policy of trying 16- and 17-year-old nonviolent offenders as adults in criminal court reduces each teen's lifetime earnings potential by more than $60,000. The state loses at least $50 million in foregone wages for each annual cohort that passes through the adult courts—and unknown millions in lost tax revenues. (See "The High Cost of Convicting Teens as Adults.")
  • ACS plans to spend $22 million to provide short term, evidence-based therapies to work with about 3,000 families. This is a targeted effort to reduce the number of children 12 years old and older placed in foster care. (See "Social Workers at the Kitchen Table.")

Child Welfare Watch offers a set of policy recommendations and solutions informed by the research and drafted by a panel of practitioners, experts, parents, young people and others, aimed at helping policymakers continue toward cohesive criminal justice reform.

Read the new edition of Child Welfare Watch here.

Published in News and views
Tuesday, 04 December 2012 10:55

Don't believe schools that say: "Rank us 1st"

Applying to high school in New York City is complicated, but some schools are making it even harder by giving out misleading or downright wrong information, Insideschools has learned.

Schools are telling 8th graders and their families that they must rank a school first on their application or they won't be considered for a spot, according to many parents we have heard from.

The problem is, that's not true.

"There are no schools that require students to rank the school first on their application in order to be considered," Rob Sanft, director of student enrollment at the Education Department wrote in an email. "Students should rank schools based on their order of preference. Schools do not see where an applicant ranks them on their application."

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"By the time we get to college applications, it's going to be so easy,'' friends and colleagues joked over the years, watching -- or participating – in the scramble to find pre-schools, then elementary, middle and high schools for our kids.

Too bad they were wrong.

Starting at age 4, the interviews, tours, tests, essays, letters and lists – it seemed just endless. Yet after years of searching for public schools in a city with more than 1,700 of them, I find myself in the middle of a college search for my oldest child.

And it is anything but easy.

Published in News and views
Wednesday, 28 November 2012 11:29

Applying to high school? Here are some tips

High school applications are due on Dec. 10! Here are some final tips for 8th graders and their families who are still mulling over their options.

Filling out the application:

  • Be careful when drawing up your list of (up to) 12 high school choices. You don't have to fill in all the slots. Don't list a school you are not willing to attend. If you get assigned to a school you hate, but listed it on your application, it will be very hard to get placed elsewhere.
  • Rank your favorite school first. There's no need to play guessing games or set up an elaborate strategy. Schools will not see which students rank them first, so you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by ranking your top choice number one.
  • Don't apply to a school for which you do not qualify. If a school looks for students with a minimum 85 average or above and your GPA is 70, your chances of getting accepted are slim to none.
  • If you have a zoned school, it will be printed on your application but you are not guaranteed acceptance unless you list it as one of your choices.
  • If you are a "top two-percenter," which counts when applying to educational option schools, this is noted on your application.
  • Many large schools offer several programs. If you really want to attend a certain school, apply to more than one program.
  • Make sure your parent signs off on your final application. Nobody, including your 8th-grade guidance counselor, should persuade you to add choices without consulting your parent or guardian.
  • Keep a copy of your completed application and get a receipt from your guidance counselor when you hand it in.

What to consider when choosing a school

  • Admissions criteria: Some schools require an interview, an essay, or the submission of school work. Make sure you've done what you need to do. 
  • Small school or large? Small schools offer more personal attention and a sense of community. Large schools tend to have more sports teams, clubs and courses. Need help deciding? Watch our video: Weighing your options: Large school vs small school.
  • Fast-track or laid-back? Some schools pile on the homework. Other schools have a slower pace and encourage kids to relax a bit. Think about what's best for you. Will you thrive in a rigorous and competitive environment? Or, are you more likely to learn and excel when the pressure's off?
  • New school or well-established? It's nice to go to a school with a proven track record. Most new small schools take a few years to develop relationships with college admissions officers, so it can be a gamble to be in the first few graduating classes. However if you're faced with the choice between an overcrowded, failing neighborhood school or a new untested small school, in general, you might be better off going with the small one, if you feel comfortable with the theme and the leadership.
  • Theme school or well-rounded curriculum? Be aware that some of the school "themes" exist in name only. The academics should be solid, whatever the theme.
  • How long is the commute? Take a subway or bus ride to see if the commute is doable. Think about what it will be like in the rain and snow, or coming home late in the evening after a sports event or a school play. Far too many students discover after a few days of school that they can't handle a long commute. Watch our video: Weighing your options: Long trip vs short trip
  • Does your child have special needs? Check out our list of noteworthy special education programs, and watch our video on what to look for when you tour a program. Take a look at the DOE's online guide for high school students receiving special education services; unfortunately the high school directory offers very little help.

More tips for students

  • Auditioning? Practice first! Many performing arts and visual arts high school hold competitive auditions and expect applicants to be well-prepared. If you haven't had your audition yet, watch this video: How to apply to an audition school.
  • Don't let your friends choose for you. No school can accept every qualified student, so it's likely that friends will attend different high schools. Trust that you will make new friends in high school.

For 8th graders and their families who are logging hours pouring over the high school directory, reading Insideschools profiles and comments, watching our videos on how to apply to high school, and trekking all over the city for open houses and tours, decision time is here. High school applications are due on Dec. 2.

Here’s our advice about how to fill out the application.

Published in News and views
Wednesday, 28 November 2012 12:32

Our high school picks: not the usual suspects

Every year, tens of thousands of 8th graders apply to a tiny handful of super-popular high schools. Naturally not everyone gets in. This year, we decided to highlight some good schools that haven’t suffered from over-exposure. Some require applicants to have good grades, but others accept kids of all abilities.

This list is not comprehensive. If you’d like to see all of the schools that we recommend (including the super-popular ones) click on our high school pages and search for “noteworthy.” Feel free to nominate more schools by adding a comment at the bottom of this post. (If you would like us to visit your school, email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)


Bronx Center for Science and Mathematics has quickly become one of the top high schools in the Bronx. It accepts students with a range of abilities—including some with special education needs—and pushes to take demanding courses that prepare them well for college. It has a ton of applicants, but no admissions requirements besides attending an open house.

Bronx Latin is an orderly, happy place with small classes, teachers who have high expectations and students who seem to love their teachers. Alas, it no longer offers Latin. But it offers a safe haven in a poor, sometimes violent, neighborhood. No admissions requirements besides attending an open house.

High School of Computers and Technology, on the Evander Childs Campus, offers a hands-on introduction to computer programming and repair. Students have internships and receive a certificate that enables them to get jobs in computer repair and maintenance. It has lots of applicants, but no admissions requirements besides attending an open house.

Hostos-Lincoln Academy of Science has long been a refuge for high-achievers from the South Bronx who are aiming for college. Just about everyone graduates with some college credit and some even graduate with an associate (two-year) degree from Hostos Community College. Applicants should score at least Level 2 on standardized tests and have grades of at least 75.

KAPPA International, in the Theodore Roosevelt Campus, is hidden treasure. It offers a demanding curriculum, including several foreign languages and music instruction, lots of class discussion and assignments that include long research papers. Kids go on to great colleges. No admission requirements besides attending an open house.

Urban Assembly School for Applied Math and Science teachers have high expectations but they also offer an unusual level of support—such as sending an early-morning text message to a child who struggles with attendance. Almost all students graduate on time, and a few have been admitted to highly selective colleges like Cornell and Brown. No admissions requirements besides attending an open house.

University Heights Secondary School, housed in the old South Bronx High School, has the best of both worlds: it offers the comfort of a small school and the variety of academic options usually found at a large school. Applicants must have grades of at least 75 in core academic subjects.

Worth watching:

Two new schools we like a lot but are too new to have a track record: Bronx Design and Construction and the Cinema School.


A lot of the good schools in Manhattan are already very well-known and lots of the good ones have many, many more applicants than seats available. Here are a few that you may not know about.

Central Park East High School offers small classes, an emphasis on writing, and a full-time college counselor who has helped students get into some top colleges. The school has more sports teams than are typically offered at a small school, including a football team made up to students from a number of high schools in northern Manhattan. Applicants must have grades of 75 or above in core academic classes.

Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science and Engineering is an academically challenging, racially mixed school founded with the backing of Columbia University, which promises to let qualified high school juniors and seniors take courses at Columbia for free. It serves children in grades 6-12. The arrival of new principal, Miriam Nightengale, in 2011 has reinvigorated the school.  There are only a few seats for incoming 9th graders. Applicants must have grades of 90 or above in core academic subjects.

East Side Community High School is a vibrant and nurturing school with strong leadership, small classes and supportive programs including a well-funded college office. Applicants should have standardized test scores of at least Level 3 and grades of at least 80.

At the High School for Dual Language and Asian Studies on the Seward Park Campus, English speakers learn Chinese and Chinese speakers learn English. All students are expected to be able to speak and write both languages by the time they graduate. Applicants should have grades of 80 or above and standardized test scores of at least Level 2.

Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics offers an impressive selection of college-level courses that’s on a par with the specialized schools. The school does a good job with kids who are strong in math and science but who may need help in English. Applicants should have grades of 80 or above and scores of Level 3 or 4 on standardized tests.

The NYC iSchool offers creative projects, called modules, in which students learn both academic and real-world skills. Students may perform “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” make a documentary about being 16, or work with architects to design and seek funding for a green roof. Applicants should score Level 3 or 4 on standardized tests and have grades of at least 85 in core academic subjects.

The Urban Assembly New York Harbor School gives students the chance to build boats, sail boats, and even scuba dive as part of an imaginative curriculum designed to prepare them for careers on the water. It has a cool home on Governor's Island and kids and staff even take a ferry to school.  No admissions requirements but priority is given to those who attend an info session or fair.

Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School, better known as WHEELS, offers lots of hands on learning like rock climbing and overnight camping trips. Most kids start this school in 6th grade but there are some seats for entering 9th graders. No admissions requirements except to attend an open house.

Worth watching:

Some new and promising schools include Quest to Learn, Frank McCourt, and Urban Assembly Gateway School for Technology. A. Philip Randolph High School has competitive programs in science and engineering and a new principal who is working to restore the school’s reputation after the previous administration was found to have inflated the graduation rate.


A lot of the good schools in Brooklyn are already very well-known and have far more applicants than seats available. Here are a few that may fly under your radar.

High School for Public Service: Heroes of Tomorrow is a Brooklyn gem, posting top graduation rates while also preparing a higher than average percentage of graduates for college-level work. Students must score at least a Level 2 on state math and ELA exams and have a 75 average in core middle school subjects.

The STAR, Science, Technology and Research Early College High School at Erasmus has strong leadership, high academic standards and a good record of getting kids into college. It draws from the Afro-Caribbean community of East Flatbush and most of the teachers and staff reflect the values of that community--"no nonsense" but "in your corner" at the same time. Most successful applicants score Level 3 or 4 on standardized tests

Victory Collegiate, off the beaten path in the South Shore Educational Campus, has a family-like atmosphere and challenging academics. Even though many students enter 9th grade with poor academic skills, most graduate on time. No admissions requirement, although preference goes to student who attend an open house.

Williamsburg High School for Architecture and Design on the Van Arsdale Campus has a rigorous curriculum in preservation arts, engineering and architecture, from drafting, mixing mortar and concrete to learning sophisticated computer programs used by professional architects. The school accepts students of all abilities and gets them to succeed.

Williamsburg Preparatory School, also on the Van Arsdale Campus, is a cohesive school with high standards. In their senior seminar, student may write 5- and 10-page research papers on topics like the Vietnam War. It has lots of applicants but no admissions requirements except for attending an open house.

 Worth watching:

Two new and promising schools: Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-Tech) in the Robeson building, prepares students for jobs at IBM. Brooklyn Millennium in the John Jay Educational Campus, is modeled after the very popular Millennium High School in Manhattan.


Many neighborhoods of Queens have good zoned schools and there's less shopping around than in other boroughs. But here are some interestiong options.

At the Academy for Careers in Television & Film, students get professional-level training in film production in addition to regular academics. It has lots of applicants, but no admissions requirements.

At the Academy of American Studies students take history-oriented trips: to Plymouth, Massachusetts when they study the colonial period, to Boston to walk the freedom trail, to Washington D.C. to see the Constitution, and to Gettysburg, for a unit on the Civil War. The school admits students with a range of abilities

Queens Collegiate in the Jamaica Educational Campus has a challenging college-prep curriculum. It has begun to attract students who might once have chosen private schools or better-known public schools. There are no admission requirements but preference is given to students who attend an information session.

Three schools we like on the Rockaway Peninsula are: Academy of Medical Technology, Channel View, and Scholars Academy.

 (updated 11/29/2012)

Published in News and views
Tuesday, 27 November 2012 11:29

Ask Judy: Don't judge a school by its grade

Dear Judy  

We are researching schools for our child who will be entering kindergarten next year. All the reviews I’ve read have been wonderful; the teachers, the principal, kids, parents, new math program. So I was a bit surprised that it had a low grade on the 2011-12 NYC DOE progress report. Cou you could offer any more insight?

Prospective parent.

Dear Prospective parent,

Your experience confirms ours: don’t judge the school by its letter grade alone. The letter on a school’s report is shorthand for a number of different measures and it helps to have some technical knowledge and persistence to understand it. Your question is a timely one not only for families applying to kindergarten but for 8th graders looking for a high school too. High School Progress Reports for 2011-2012 were released yesterday!

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