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Q: I AM SO LOST!! I am a high school sophomore and I am really starting to think about the whole college thing. Generally I'm shy and uncomfortable, but this year I joined Key Club (volunteering) and French Club (which consists of 3 people including myself). I want to find something in school that I can devote a lot of time to, because apparently that's what colleges are looking for, but none of the other clubs interest me. When it comes to French Club, I am even less involved because there are so few people in it. I would try asking friends to come, but they are all in Spanish. One of my friends and I spent the first three meetings or so talking with the advisor about ideas, but none of them ever worked out. I am not much of a leader either, so I don't think I could start my own club. Also I'm not very athletic, so I've just about run out of options. I don't know what to do!!

A: Take it easy! Please do not feel you have run out of options. First of all, the major thing that "colleges are looking for" is a solid transcript. Courses and grades always come first. Yes, extra-curricular activity does play a role in the admissions decision, but there is no hidden agenda. Colleges are not "looking" to see if you are athletic or creative. But they DO want to see if you are looking past yourself.

Child born in 2010? Apply to pre-k by April 23

Written by Anna Schneider Friday, 28 February 2014 12:13

If your child turns four this year, it's time to apply to pre-kindergarten.

If you're interested in a program that's part of a regular public school, you should should submit your application, either online or in person at a borough enrollment office, by April 23 for your best chance of a getting a good seat. (If you are interested in applying to a pre-kindergarten program that's housed at a community based organization, you should apply directly to that organization. The city will be adding more seats later this spring, and we'll post a new list when we have it.) 

Unfortunately, you are not guaranteed a seat in pre-kindergarten--there simply aren't enough spaces for all the city's 4-year-olds. In neighborhoods where the zoned schools are very popular, there are hardly any pre-k seats. However, if you are willing to travel a bit, you may find a seat for your child in a neighborhood where the schools aren't so crowded, especially since the city created 4,200 new full-day seats.

Here are some pre-k basics:

Any child born in 2010 who lives in New York City may apply to a free pre-k program.

Pre-k programs in public schools or local child care centers and community organizations, are either half day (2.5 hours), or full day, (6 hours and 20 minutes). The state mandates that each pre-k class may have a maximum of 18 students with two teachers.

About 40 percent of the city's pre-k seats are in public schools. The application process for public school pre-k is centralized and parents apply online or in person at a borough enrollment office. The deadline is April 23, 2014.

The remaining 60 percent of the city's pre-k seats are provided by Community-based organizations (CBOs) such as Y's, preschools and other childcare centers. These seats are also free and available to all New York City families with four-year-olds. Admissions to these programs continues as long as slots are available. An updated list of CBOs offering programs will be available in June.

How to find a public school pre-K program:

Pick up a pre-k directory and the expanded directory at an elementary school or borough enrollment office. You may also download the guide here. [PDF]

New York City has 32 public schools districts and each district has two pages in the directory, with a map listing the district schools and admissions information.

To find your public school district, enter your address in the DOE's school search tool or call 311.

When you have identified some schools, look at the school profiles on Insideschools.

Once you have narrowed down a list of schools, be sure to arrange a visit.

Before you tour schools, check out our video "What to Look for in an Elementary School." On your visit, you want to see well-arranged rooms with plenty of places to play. A good pre-k shouldn't be too heavy on academics; kids should be engaged, busy and happy. Scan the wall for a daily schedule that should include snacks and naptime. 

Ranking schools and submitting your public school pre-k application:

Families may apply to up to 12 schools for pre-K but are not required to choose that many.  Only list schools on your application that you want your child to attend. 

Public school admissions are not first-come, first-served. Anyone who applies by April 23 has the same chance.

After the application process closes, seats will be randomly assigned according to a list of 10 priorities, with first dibs going to families who live in the zone and have a sibling enrolled in the school. Next up is kids who live in the zone without siblings enrolled, then kids in the district, and so on.

List the programs in order of preference. If your zoned school is not your top choice, there is no disadvantage to placing it lower on your list. If you don't get your top choices, your child still has priority at your zoned school.

While there are more seats available this year, consider the 2013 numbers when choosing schools. If your top pick had a waiting list last year, you may want to consider other options.

If you live in a crowded district where pre-k seats are few and far between, like District 2's Upper East Side or District 15 in Park Slope, you'll probably need to consider CBOs and other districts where there were empty seats in 2013.

District 1 on the Lower East Side, District 7 in the South Bronx and District 23 in East New York are unzoned. Families in these districts have top priority at all district schools.

Families who submit their public school pre-k applications by April 23 will find out in June whether they got a spot and will register at the school that month. 

Most CBOs admit children on a rolling, first-come, first-served basis, so it's best to apply early. Some CBOs also have income-eligibility requirements. Contact each program for specifics.

The DOE does not provide pre-K transportation, so parents should consider travel time to all the schools they rank.

Also, the DOE does not guarantee that all special needs will be met in every pre-kindergarten program. Parents of children with special needs may apply to pre-K through the centralized public school process and to CBO programs but should also contact their local Committee on Special Education or the Committee on Pre-School Special Education to identify the school that best meets your child's needs. See this page on the DOE's website or call 311 for more information.

For the most up-to-date information and news about new seats, Nicholas Farrell from the DOE's Office of Enrollment suggested parents should sign up for pre-k admissions email updates. Farrell also said that district offices will keep lists of open seats.

(Post updated with new information on March 4 and on April 16.)

How to handle high school letter day March 10

Wednesday, 26 February 2014 12:14

by Joyce Szuflita

Sometime during the week of March 10 8th-graders will get a letter telling them where they have been accepted to high school.

Here's what normally happens: The kids at public schools are given sealed envelopes in school that hold the results of their SHSAT tests, whether they have been offered a seat at one of the specialized high schools and their match - if any - from their main 1-12 application. The kids are instructed to wait to open the letters when they get home. Yeah, right.

They are dismissed, and the second that they get outside the school building, they rip open the letters and there on the sidewalk in front of school, the full range of human emotion is played out in public; tragedy, euphoria, jealousy, hatred and deception all bathed in a river of tears.

High School Hustle columnist Liz Willen wrote about this several years ago -- in Choice and Crying Teens --  and the problem still persists. It is ugly and it is up to you to stop it. You must either convince your child NOT to open the letter in public (good luck) or you must be there to whisk them away to a safe place to celebrate or commiserate in private.

Looking for a job this summer?

Written by Pauline Zaldonis Wednesday, 26 February 2014 12:00

If you’re a teen looking for a job this summer, consider applying to the Department of Youth and Community Development’s Summer Youth Employment Program. Young people between the ages of 14 and 24 are eligible to apply for this six-week summer employment program that runs between July and August. Participants are selected through a lottery.

Participants work up to 25 hours a week for six weeks, earning $7.25 per hour. Job sites are spread out across all five boroughs and include government agencies, hospitals, summer camps, museums, nonprofits, small businesses and retailers. Participants may also attend workshops on job readiness, career exploration, and financial literacy. For more information, visit the Department of Youth and Community Development website. The application deadline is April 25, 2014.

For more ideas about what to do during summer vacation, check out Insideschools’ new listing of free summer and after-school programs here.

68,000 families apply to kindergarten

Written by Pamela Wheaton Friday, 21 February 2014 16:17

Some 68,000 parents of children born in 2009 used the new Kindergarten Connect system between Jan. 13 and Feb. 20 to apply to kindergarten for fall 2014, the Department of Education announced on Friday afternoon. This year approximately 74,000 five-year-olds are enrolled in kindergarten.

Of those applicants, 70 percent submitted online applications, 17 percent applied over the phone and 13 percent went in person to an enrollment office.

Nearly one-fourth of the phone applicants used a translation service for 10 different languages. That was the only way for non-English-speakers to apply because online applications were only in English. Earlier this month, DNAInfo reported that some non-English-speaking parents -- and those without emails or computers -- were finding it difficult to access the system. The DOE pushed back the application deadline by nearly a week to allow more time for families to apply.

Families who missed applying online may still apply in person at an enrollment center or by calling 718-935-2009. They will get their offers in May, a month later than earlier applicants.

Charter schools have a different application and timeline. You can apply online using a common application or each's charter school's application. Those are not due until April 1.

Read the DOE's press release here.

 

New listing highlights 100+ free programs

Written by Pauline Zaldonis Friday, 21 February 2014 11:10

We’ve just launched our new listing of free and low-cost summer and after-school programs to help you take advantage of the many extracurricular opportunities offered in the city. 

The listing highlights more than 100 free and low-cost programs, including 11 in math, 41 in science, 21 in art, 21 in the humanities, and 23 in academic prep. We paid special attention to the many programs that focus on math and science, since they have the ability to get students excited about subjects that might not have sparked their interest in the classroom. Last summer we visited several programs to see what children can do after school and during the summer to get engaged in mathematical and scientific activities.

DOE extends Kindergarten Connect deadline

Written by Pamela Wheaton Wednesday, 12 February 2014 15:15

With the Friday, Feb. 14 deadline looming for parents of kids born in 2009 to apply online to kindergarten, the Department of Education extended the Kindergarten Connect deadline to the following Thursday, Feb. 20.

The decision to give parents additional time to register was announced Feb. 12 by schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. 

In a press release, the DOE said that the new Kindergarten Connect application process has been "hugely successful: 85 percent of parents responding to our application survey have described the process as easy or very easy." 

But the new application system has its detractors -- particularly for families who don't speak English or don't have computers or email addresses. In a report earlier this week, DNAInfo.com wrote about problems some parents are having accessing and understanding Kindergarten Connect. ""The DOE has tried to make [the process] more equitable, but actually it's isolated the families who can't keep up with all of this," Upper West Side parent Jennifer Friedman, told DNAInfo.

While parents have almost a whole week more to consider their options and fill out an application, what they won't have is more time to tour schools. All schools will be on break next week for President's Week.

How can you find out about schools? Read the profiles on Insideschools and check out our new InsideStats data on every elementary school page. Be sure to read the school comments. Our Q&A about applying is here. The DOE has directories for each borough, listing every school. Check it out online or pick one up at an enrollment office.

Enrollment offices will be open to receive kinderggarten applications from 8 am to 3 pm, Monday through Friday. Or call 718-935-2400. (Make sure you know the list of schools you wish to apply to before you call.) Apply online here.

Kindergarten applicants find it hard to connect

Written by DNAinfo Monday, 10 February 2014 15:42

Friday, Feb. 14 is the last day for parents of incoming kindergartners to apply to schools online via Kindergarten Connect. But parents who don't speak English, or don't have an email address, are finding it hard to connect, DNAInfo found.

(This story first appeared on DNAInfo.com; by Amy Zimmer and Gustavo Solis)

Maribel Vega doesn't own a computer, has no email address and speaks only Spanish — all of which made it extremely difficult to sign up her 5-year-old daughter, Ashley, for kindergarten this year.

That's because in order to use the city's Kindergarten Connect system, which went live in January and has open enrollment through Feb. 14, Vega needed to be digitally savvy, and be able to read and fill out an English-only application. Thankfully for her, she found workers at the Upper West Side's Bloomingdale Family Head Start Program to help walk her through every step of the process.

"They helped with everything," said Vega, 25, who moved to the Bronx from Mexico six years ago. "I don't know where we would have found another computer to use.

InsideStats give lowdown on K-5 schools

Written by Pamela Wheaton Thursday, 06 February 2014 09:30

If you're looking for an elementary school for your child, you want to know: Do most parents and teachers recommend the school? Is it welcoming? How many students are in a kindergarten class? Is the atmosphere calm or rowdy? How do children do on standardized tests?

Now, just in time for the Feb.14 deadline to apply to kindergarten, we've got the answers to those questions for 735 public elementary schools, including charters. Our new feature, called Insidestats, presents easy-to-read data on elementary schools on each school's profile page. For example, you can see that at popular PS 321 in Park Slope, 97 percent of the teachers think the principal is a good manager.
 
Data is drawn from the Department of Education's parent and teacher surveys as well as the results of standardized tests and other DOE statistics. (We'll have stats for schools with grades K-8 posted soon!) The new feature is similar to Insidestats for high schools and middle schools, but for elementary schools, we include information about what parents think of the school. 

Applying to kindergarten? Here's how!

Written by Pamela Wheaton Monday, 03 February 2014 11:50

Two weeks into the city's new online application system for children entering kindergarten in September, there is some confusion about how it works. We don't have all the answers to parents' questions, but here's what we know so far. 

Q: My child is turning five years old in 2014. How do I sign him up for school? 

This year the city began a new kindergarten application system called Kindergarten Connect. Between Jan. 13 and Feb. 14 you may apply online, by telephone at 718-935-2400 from 8 am to 6 pm Monday-Friday or in person at a Department of Education enrollment office. There is one application and you may list up to 20 schools.