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February break is the right time to plan what your children will be doing during the warmer, balmy days of summer. Where to start? Check out our guide to free and low cost programs offered throughout the city. Launched last year, our listings highlight more than 100 free and low-cost programs for children and teens, and include summer and school-year programs in math, science, art, humanities, and academic prep.
To help you get started, here's a sampling of free programs you'll find in our guide:
Zoning, space-sharing, charters—think you have no say? Since 2004, Community Education Councils (CECs) have offered New York City parents a voice in shaping school policies in their districts and addressing community concerns. Today, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña urged parents across the city to run for an Education Council seat and take a direct role in the education of their children.
“Education Councils make important contributions to their communities and I want to encourage parents across the city to apply for a seat,” the chancellor said in a Department of Education press release. “We need strong CECs in every district and citywide.”
While few dispute CECs' influence on zoning these days, many of the councils' other roles are advisory and have historically been dependent on how much the mayor and schools chancellor were willing to listen. Laurie Windsor, president of CEC District 20, says things are changing. "It was more difficult with the prior administration," she said. "Parents now are more hopeful than in the past about our place at the table with the DOE."
Like many NYC parents, I was mad at the Common Core math my 1st-grader was bringing home. He is still learning to read Pete the Cat, so damn you, Common Core, why are you giving him word problems?
But after some digging—talking with reading specialists, math specialists, and frankly, doing more math with my son—I realized that word problems help kids think, if they're done right.
“I think all math should be taught in word problems,” Jodi Friedman, assistant principal and math coach at STAR Academy-PS 63, told me when I visited last week. “You have 12 snacks and three kids. How do you share them? Kids can understand that concept even if they're not doing ‘division.’”
At this small school with a large number of low-income families, teachers use drawings, objects, and role play to help kids learn math—even before they can read well.
Q: My son is interested in a school that is very popular but has the reputation of not giving students access to "real professors" until the 2nd or 3rd year. Instead, they use a lot of "adjunct" faculty. When I asked the representative of this school about this at a college fair (much to my son's embarrassment), he said, "all our teachers are professors." How do I find out the truth?
A: Remember the TV show that said "the truth is out there"? Well, the truth about adjunct faculty is out there, too, and it's not pretty. Don't expect complete truth from admissions representatives—their job is to bring in as many applications as possible.
Adjunct faculty—also called contingent faculty—teach part-time, maybe one or two courses a semester. They are usually not given the same benefits as full-time staff; they have no health insurance or retirement plan. Therefore, they are much cheaper for the school to hire.
There are two kinds of adjunct faculty: those who teach in addition to their other, regular full-time career, and those who depend upon their adjunct teaching for a living. An example of the first is a lighting specialist who works full-time at a theater but may teach a class on theatrical lighting at a nearby college. This is not exploitation; she is an active professional sharing her knowledge with students, and the college gets someone with expertise that none of their other teachers has. In the second example, teachers—most of whom have masters' degrees or doctorates—are paid anywhere from $1,300 to $1,900 per course, per semester. Obviously, one cannot live on that income, and so the adjuncts need to work at two or three schools to make ends meet.
Tomorrow, Feb. 18, is the last day for parents of children born in 2010 to apply to kindergarten for September 2015.
You may apply online, on the telephone or in person at a Department of Education Family Welcome Center (formerly known as an enrollment office). You'll find out in April where your child has been assigned.
Unlike pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds, full-day kindergarten is guaranteed—and required—for all children who turn 5 during the calendar year. Children have the right to attend their zoned school (space permitting) and most do, but you may apply to other schools as well. The application allows parents to apply to up to 12 schools and submit the form online. Welcome news for parents who don't speak English: This year applications are available in nine languages and translators are on-hand for those who apply in person, or by calling 718-935-2009 between 8 am and 6 pm.
This year's elementary school directories are also better organized than previous years', neatly broken down by districts, zoned schools and unzoned schools. (Charter schools are listed in the back. Charters require a separate application and have a different due date: April 1, 2015).
Here are answers to some common questions.
What should I do before I apply?
If you haven't already done so, visit the school! You want to see the school to see if it's a good fit. Watch our short video: "What to look for on a school tour." Check a school's website or call the parent coordinator to see when tours and open houses are scheduled. The DOE lists some tour dates here. Read the school's profile on Insideschools and check out InsideStats. Do teachers recommend the school to parents? What's the average class size? Is bullying a problem?
How many schools should I apply to?
Apply to as many schools as you are interested in. There's no strategic advantage in listing just one school. The key is to rank the schools in the order that you like them. Do not list any schools you are wary about. If you want your child to attend your zoned school, list that first—or just list the zoned school. If you are concerned about overcrowding and being sent to another school, list your next favorite school to ensure that you are not assigned to a school you did not select. Keep in mind that all schools first accommodate their own zoned kids before accepting others. (The eight admissions priorities for zoned schools are spelled out in the directories and in the Chancellor's Regulation 101.
Most schools are able to accept all zoned students and if you are not accepted in the first round, you are automatically placed on a waitlist. In fact, if you list other schools, and do not get an offer from any of them, you will remain on a waitlist of schools you ranked higher than the school where you were placed. Last year some waitlisted families got offers from out-of-zone and out-of-district schools starting in June and continuing into October. If you do your research, remain persistent and are willing to wait, you may end up with several choices.
What if I don't like my zoned school?
Consider unzoned and charter schools as well as other zoned schools in your district. (Three districts have no zoned schools: District 1 on the Lower East Side, District 7 in the South Bronx and District 23 in Brownsville.)
You don't have to apply to your zoned school but keep in mind that if you are not accepted by any other school, you will most likely be assigned to your zoned school. However you will be waitlisted at the other schools and there is usually lots of movement in the spring as families accept offers to gifted programs, private schools or move. Keep in touch with schools you are interested in to make sure they know you still want a spot.
You can see in the school listings which schools had space for students outside of the zone last year and which had a waitlist after the first round of admissions; it's not likely to be much different this year.
A handful of new schools, both zoned and unzoned, are opening in the Bronx, Queens. Don't overlook those. If you like the leadership, you may want to become part of the school's first class. A new school frequently has openings beyond the school zone.
How do I apply to a dual language program?
More than 100 schools offer dual language programs, where students receive instruction in both English and another language. This year the city changed its kindergarten application process and you no longer apply directly to a dual language program using a separate code on the application. Instead, you apply only to the general ed program of that school, indicating your child's native language and your preference for dual language when prompted on the application. When accepted by the school, your child will be called in for an interview to determine her language proficiency. In April schools will conduct language assessments before making final placement decisions. The goal for dual language is for half of the students to be native speakers of another language, so while zoned students receive preference in admission, out of zone students who are native speakers of another language may have a chance of admittance, space permitting. The catch is, you won't find out until late in the process whether you've got a dual language seat. Make sure you stay in contact with the school to let them know of your continuing interest. See our post "What's new with dual language" for more information.
What about gifted and talented programs?
The admissions timeline, and the application, for gifted and talented programs is different than general kindergarten admissions. Families signed up in November for G&T testing in January and February. The results of the tests will not be sent to families until early April. Qualifying students then apply to programs and will find out in late May if they have got a spot.
Regardless of whether you are applying to a G&T program for your child, you must still apply to kindergarten between Jan. 7 and Feb. 18. If your child is later accepted to a G&T program you'll have a choice of the school you were matched with on the application and the G&T program.
What if my child has special education needs?
Children with special needs also go through the general application process; every school is supposed to offer needed special education services, although in practice this doesn't always happen. Watch our video: "Touring schools for your special needs child." If your child needs a wheelchair accessible site, you can note that on the application.
What if I move after the application due date or I miss the deadline?
If you move after you submit your application but before kindergarten offers are made, you may call the Department of Education, or visit a welcome center, to give them your new address. You will not be able to submit a new application at that time but the DOE will most likely assign you to your new zoned school. If you don't like that placement, you can reach out to other schools in the late spring to ask to be placed on a waiting list.
If you miss the deadline for applying, late applications will be accepted online, over the phone, and in person for several weeks after Feb. 18, but families who apply late will receive an offer later in the spring. Those who wait until later in the spring or summer to apply, will go directly to their zoned school, or school of interest, to register.
The information in the directory is pretty comprehensive and straightforward but if you still have questions, or want to talk to a DOE official in person, call the DOE's enrollment office at 718-935-2009 and see the DOE's kindergarten page for more information.
Choosing a pre-kindergarten requires lots of research. We’ve produced a video as well as these tips to help you.
First, consider whether you prefer a pre-kindergarten in a public school—typically open from 8:30 am to 2:30 pm—or one housed in a community organization or childcare center. Some of these are open from 8 am to 6 pm.
We found that public schools that are solid overall tend to have good pre-k classes. But we also found that some schools have terrific pre-k classes, even if the rest of the school isn't great. Many have bathrooms right in the classroom, playgrounds just for the little kids and experienced teachers.
Some parents prefer pre-k in a community organization because the hours and focus are friendly for working parents. Whatever you decide, we suggest you visit.
When you visit, consider the following:
Now is the time for parents of children born in 2011 to start looking for pre-kindergarten programs for next fall. Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña promises there will be seats for every four-year-old--although the city won't announce where the new seats will be until the end of the month.
Families may apply between March 16 and April 24. They'll find out in June where their child is matched. Parents may rank up to 12 choices on the application and submit it online at www.nyc.gov/prek, on the telephone by calling 311, or in person at a Department of Education's Family Welcome Centers.
About 60 percent of the pre-kindergarten programs are housed in community organizations and child care centers; the rest are housed in public schools. In a departure from previous years, families will use one form to apply to both public school programs and those offered at community organizations, called "community-based early education centers" (CBEECs) They will be matched to one program. Acceptance letters will go out on May 29 and registration is from June 1-19.
The city will publish the new pre-kindergarten directories at the end of February. In the meantime, you can get started with your search by checking out last year's directory. Insideschools also has an interactive map showing the number of seats available in each public school program in 2014-2015 and the number of applicants that school received in 2013.
Some areas of the city—such as the Upper West and Upper East sides of Manhattan, and Park Slope in Brooklyn—have historically had a shortage of seats and it's unclear how that will change now. School officials have said they are looking at "creative solutions" that may include leasing space in parochial schools, libraries, child care centers and housing projects. In past years, parents sometimes had to travel a great distance for an available seat.
Priority in admissions to school-based programs will be the same as last year, according to the Department of Education. For zoned schools, students living in the zone and those with siblings already enrolled in the school get first priority, followed by families living in the district. For unzoned schools, siblings of enrolled students in the district get first dibs. Those priorities are spelled out on pages 5 and 6 of last year's directory. For the early childhood centers, first priority goes to current students, then to siblings of current students, followed by low-income families and to English language learners, the DOE said.
As in past years, if you are not placed in a program, or in your preferred program, you can ask to be placed on a waitlist. Schools and early education centers will handle their own waitlists.
One of the main differences between public school pre-k and what's offered at early education centers is the availability of childcare after school hours. Traditionally, some public school programs are half-day (2.5 hours) and some are full-day (6 hours). All of the early education centers offer full day programs and they provide childcare after the school day ends; fee-based for families who don't meet income guidelines. For many working parents, the option of 10 hours of combined school and childcare is preferable to the shorter day at a public school. Most schools do not offer after school programs for 4-year-olds.
But many parents may find themselves without a viable choice anyway, especially in neighborhoods with over-crowded public schools, says Brooklyn blogger and school advisor Joyce Szuflita.
"The majority of fours [four-year-olds] seats in CBECCs will be taken by students already attending at the school and moving up to fours. This is wonderful for the families currently attending those schools," she writes on her NYCschoolhelp blog "It could also mean that a child zoned for a popular school with few public seats who is not currently attending a private program with UPK funding is still likely to be left out in the cold. And yet, families will be filling out the application with the anticipation that there are seats available in all these programs."
Szuflita also expressed concern "about the school's and the DoE's ability to maintain clear and accurate information about availability and wait-lists within this murky hybrid system."
To explain the new process to parents, the DOE is holding information sessions in all five boroughs. More details as we get them.
As the city's top public schools get overcrowded, parents are looking for under-the-radar options that can still offer a quality education.
Many families in Brownstone Brooklyn and other rapidly growing neighborhoods are taking a fresh look at schools that have long struggled with low test scores and few resources in the hopes of transforming them.
"If we're waiting for someone to create more good schools, that's not going to happen," said Stephen Leone, a parent at Cobble Hill's PS 29 who is leading a grassroots movement to improve the nearby School for International Studies.
"We have to do it."
Leone is working with families from PS. 29 and two other well-regarded elementary schools to send an influx of local sixth-graders to International Studies next fall in the hope of boosting the middle and high school's performance and fundraising.
As families across the city are rolling up their sleeves to help remake schools, in ways big and small, here are some tips for parents on how to do it from DNAinfo.com:
1. Get organized.
2. Figure out what your community needs and how to get it.
3. Find a willing principal.
4. Get Involved: Join committees, advocate and fundraise for your school.
5. 5. As a last resort, start your own school.
Read the full article on DNAinfo.com; Five Ways You Can Help Create the School You Want for Your Child.
Are you interested in your child learning a new language or solidifying his French or Spanish, or maybe Japanese? The city just added 40 new or expanded programs to its roster of more than 100 dual language programs and changed how incoming kindergartners apply. Here's what you need to know.
Because the majority of the city's dual language programs begin in kindergarten, if you've got a child born in 2010, you need to apply now. Applications for September 2015 are due on Feb. 13 and are submitted online, in person at a Department of Education office or over the phone.
It's important to understand that while dual language programs help English speakers become literate in a second language, they were designed as one of several options for children who are English language learners (ELLs). In dual language classrooms, half of the instruction is in English and the other half is in the target language such as Spanish, French, Chinese, Haitian Creole and a handful of other languages.
Don't expect miracles anytime soon, but the new organization of schools announced by schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña on Thursday may spell the beginning of the end to one of parents' most frustrating dilemmas: what to do when you can't get a problem resolved at your school.
Under Mayor Mike Bloomberg's organization of the school system, if your principal couldn't—or wouldn't—fix a problem, you were pretty much out of luck. Principals were "empowered," which means they didn't have supervisors. They only had coaches, called network leaders. If you called the network leader, you'd be told the network works for the principal, not the other way around. If you called your community school district or high school superintendent, you'd be told the superintendent has no authority. If you called your elected official, same story. If you called 311, your complaint would go back to the principal.
So let's say your child wasn't getting special education services, or the playground equipment at your school was dangerous, or the school safety agents were too aggressive with your child. Short of calling the chancellor directly, there wasn't much you could do.