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Aimee Sabo

Aimee Sabo

Aimee Sabo blogs and edits reviews for Insideschools. She is a proud mother of two boys in public elementary school and a graduate of Stanford University. A former editor for Time Out New York Magazine, she has also written for ForeWord Magazine, Time Out New York Kids and DailyCandy.com.

The last time you read about PS 191 in the news it probably wasn't a happy story. Over the past year, the school has been at the center of a neighborhood in turmoil over rezoning and all the community angst that comes with it. But last Friday, as Principal Lauren Keville and a PS 191 pre-kindergartner cut the ribbon to the school's new pop-up library, there were only smiles as staff and families joined with parents from schools throughout District 3 to celebrate something beautiful they had built together.

"Our parents have done a tremendous job," said Keville, praising not only swiftness of donations that poured in for the project, but also the months of manual labor and planning involved. "We have a place to engage with our kids about books and hold literacy workshops for parents. This really fits in with all the changes we're making in our school."

Several years ago the school's previous library was remade into a state-of-the-art media lab, and while families and staffers embraced this exciting new opportunity, the void left by the missing library was always felt. "Every other school in this neighborhood has a library," said PTA President Kajsa Reaves, "Why not us?"

Fewer students received offers to gifted and talented programs this year than any year in recent memory—and that's a good thing according to the Department of Education. Fifty-three percent of students who qualified for G&T in grades k–3 and applied received offer letters last week, down from 66 percent in 2015. 

The downward trend in offers is part of a broad effort to streamline a G&T process that has long been marred by long waitlists and unfilled seats. Until this year, the Enrollment Office has traditionally "over-offered" G&T seats to account for families who may decide to decline or move, a DOE press release explained, and enrollment was controlled by the central office. Still, inefficiences were glaring in this system with many students remaining on waitlists well into the fall despite open seats—while families and schools were powerless to do anything about it.

"I hope that with schools managing their own wait lists, that they can move through them quickly enough to offer more seats than ultimately they did in the past," schools consultant Robin Aronow told us via email. "It has been disappointing to schools and to qualified applicants who did not get off wait lists by October, only to learn that the programs were under-enrolled because they [DOE enrollment office] did not move through wait lists quickly enough."

Last month we wrote about some new options for rising middle schoolers unhappy with their current choices. Now there's a few more to consider: Five new charter programs—four middle schools and one high school—are opening in the 2016-17 school year.

Applying to a charter now won't hurt your chances of being accepted at a middle or high school you already applied to. It will only give you more choices, so look through the offerings, do your research and if you see something you like take the leap this week.  All charter schools applications are due April 1

Brooklyn Prospect Charter School, District 13

We wrote about this one last month, but it's worth repeating. The highly successful Brooklyn Prospect Charter School in District 15 has spawned a new middle school program, Brooklyn Prospect Charter—Clinton Hill Middle. Jackie DeLuca, the head of literacy instruction at Brooklyn Prospect's flagship school, will leave her position to become Clinton Hill Middle's founding principal. Construction on the school’s permanent facility is underway, but will not be completed for two years. Pending approval by the Panel for Educational Policy, Clinton Hill Middle will be temporarily housed in a public school building that is also home to Brooklyn High School for Leadership and Community ServiceBrooklyn Community High School of Communication, Arts and Media and P369, a program for students with disabilities. 

Kindergarten application season will soon be in full swing—just around the time you’ve digested the last of your leftover stuffing. All families with a child born in 2011 should apply between Dec. 7-Jan. 15, 2016. For most families, this means scheduling tours, pouring through Insideschools reviews and playing with elementary rankings like a fantasy football fanatic.

For families of kids with special needs, there are often more subtle, challenging considerations: What supports can my zoned school offer my child? Does the school welcome children with learning differences? Is the school accessible? Does my child need an aide, an integrated classroom or something more?

Children already receiving special services will be making the transition from pre-school special education services to the Committee on Special Education, and it’s not always as simple as it sounds. Many of the supports a child might have received in preschool shift as she enters kindergarten, and academic demands are often higher. Others may be entering the world of special education in New York City schools for the very first time.

To help make sense of the transition and answer any questions parents may have, the Department of Education has begun hosting information sessions specifically targeted to families of children with special needs who will be applying to kindergarten this year. Workshops in the Bronx were held earlier this month, but more workshops are coming up in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island. The same information will be covered at every one.

Brooklyn

Date Time Location Contact
Wednesday, Nov. 18 6–8 pm

PS 264 Bay Ridge Elem. School for the Arts 371 89th Street Brooklyn, NY 11209

CSE #7, Brooklyn (718) 759-4900

Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015

9:30–11:30 am

P.S. 190 Sheffield 590 Sheffield Avenue Brooklyn, NY 11207

CSE #5, (718) 240-3557

Manhattan

Date Time Location Contact

Friday, Nov. 20

9:30– 11:30 am

CUNY Graduate Center 365 Fifth Avenue New York, NY 10016

(212) 374-6085

Queens

Date Time Location Contact

Monday, Dec. 7

9:30–11:30 am

P.S. 69 Jackson Heights 77-02 37th Avenue Queens, NY 11372

CSE #4 (718) 391-8405

Monday, Dec. 7

6 – 8 pm

Committee on Special Education (CSE) #3, 90-27 Sutphin Blvd. Jamaica, NY 11435

CSE #3 Sutphin Office (718) 557-2553

Staten Island

Date Time Location Contact

Thursday, Dec. 10

9:30–11:30 am

The Michael J. Petrides School 715 Ocean Terrace, Building B Staten Island, NY 10301

CSE #7, Staten Island (718) 420-5790

Thursday, Dec. 10

6–8 pm

The Michael J. Petrides School 715 Ocean Terrace, Building B Staten Island, NY 10301

CSE #7, Staten Island (718) 420-5790

*All sites listed here are wheelchair accessible. Please call using the numbers listed if you are hearing impaired or need language interpretation services.

The DOE is also offering kindergarten info sessions for families in December. See the dates here.

And watch our video "Touring Schools for your Special Needs Child" below.

Thursday, 22 October 2015 13:11

Parents push for citywide G&T in the Bronx

On a typical weekday morning, Cynthia Caban wakes up at 5:15 am to begin her daily commute. Her family lives in the Parkchester section of the Bronx, but her 5th-grader goes to school at TAG (Talented and Gifted) Young Scholars in Manhattan, one of five citywide gifted and talented programs. Yesterday, the drive was particularly bad. “It took me an hour and 45 minutes to get her to school,” Caban said. It then took two more hours to get out of Manhattan and back to the Bronx, where Caban works. Since the DOE does not offer cross-borough transportation, a bus is not even an option.

For Caban, seeing her daughter “blossom” at the right school is worth it, although the price is high. “Some days I have to remind myself why I’m doing this,” she said.

Change.org petition to create a citywide gifted and talented program in the Bronx shows just how hard the reality is for families who commute to a citywide program. Parents note daily commute times of up to four hours to get their kids to and from school. In a borough with a high poverty rate and some of the worst performing schools in the city, families of high-achievers are willing to make many sacrifices to find better options. Advocates say they shouldn’t have to.

The Department of Education is certainly keeping parents—and schools—on their toes this year: Families of children born in 2011 will apply to kindergarten between Dec. 7 and Jan. 15, with notifications set to come out in mid-March, a month earlier than last year.

The takeaway for parents is simple: Start your research now, and if you happen to be in the midst of middle school or high school applications season too … well, we don’t envy you. Earlier kindergarten applications means parents will have less time to read up on schools and visit them before ranking and submitting their options. (Note that this year’s week-and-a-half-long public school winter break comes in the midst of this.)

Otherwise, the Kindergarten Connect process will remain the same as the past few years. Families may apply online, over the phone, or in person at a Family Welcome Center with a single application. Parents can apply to up to 12 schools, ranking them in order of preference.

A few days before the start of school in September, Ilise Alba was surprised to learn via email that her rising 4th-grader had not qualified for gifted and talented admission (G&T). “His teacher’s feeling was that he should be eligible and going to one of these programs,” Alba said. Still, she moved on. After all, it was September: afterschool classes were paid for and her son was set to re-join his friends at the popular PS 101 in Forest Hills, Queens.

Just this past Monday, however, everything changed. A new Department of Education (DOE) email arrived, saying that her son was in fact eligible and apologizing for the confusion. The email included an application, a list of all the G&T programs in the city (rising 5th-graders may only apply to k-8 programs) and a deadline to apply less than 72 hours later. Alba researched schools “on the fly” and applied to several, though she remains frustrated and confused.

“It feels like it’s too late,” she said. “Now that he’s in place and happy a month into school, we’d be taking a huge risk with his grades and with all the emotional issues involved in switching schools." 

If you’re thinking of applying to a gifted and talented program in New York City for your child currently in pre-k to 2nd grade, the time is now: The G&T application season is open and the sooner you sign up, the better your chances are of getting your preferred test date. 

The first step is submitting your RFT (request for testing) form either online or in person at your child’s current NYC public school or at a Family Welcome Center (if your child is a non-public school or charter student). All RFTs must be submitted by November 12. (The original deadline of November 9 was extended, the Department of Education announced on Nov. 5)

Here's an overview of gifted and talented programming, testing procedures and—as always—advice to help your family navigate the process.

Sunday, 04 October 2015 17:05

Inside ICT: Separating fact from fiction

At Insideschools, we’re used to hearing from worried parents. This fall, we’ve been flooded with emails from parents concerned that their high-achieving children have been placed in ICT, or integrated co-teaching, a classroom that mixes general education and special needs students with two teachers. One mother writes:

Today I found out [my son] was put into an ICT class. I have a big problem with this. My son already has reached the benchmark reading level needed at the end of 4th grade… Being in an ICT class, I believe, will only slow him down. What can I do?

Our advice: Take a deep breath. Years of research have shown that educating kids of different abilities together gives special needs students a huge boost and helps their gen ed peers develop important social-emotional skills without sacrificing academics.

Of course, just as school quality varies across New York City, some ICT classrooms will be excellent and some may struggle to find their stride. How well two teachers work together, the level of training and support from the principal, and a school’s available resources are some of the factors that can make or break ICT, says Maggie Moroff of Advocates for Children.

When I describe my personality as a parent, I like to say I'm half hippie, half Type-A. The way I approach summer is a prime example. I want my kids at one with nature, bare feet in the dirt and a Hudson River breeze in their hair, while organic popsicles melt on their faces. But, school is never far from my mind. I want my boys to have fun, but I don't want two months of unabashed play to undo all the hard work they accomplished this past year. During the course of 1st grade, Noodle jumped nine reading levels. Studies show that many kids regress over the summer if they don't read. My Type-A side cannot bear the thought. 

In June, when Noodle's teacher mentioned the New York Public Library's superhero-themed Summer Reading Challenge, I thought it sounded too good to be true, better suited for a docile child who likes to sit and color all day. "He'll never do it," I thought of my strong-willed, soccer-obsessed kid. Still, I decided to give it a shot. Turns out it was the best decision I ever made (in June, at least).

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