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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.
A 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.
(This article first appeared on the Urban Matters blog at the Center for NYC Affairs at the New School).
Everyone knows gentrification causes friction. And as recent clashes over proposed changes to attendance zones in Manhattan and Brooklyn demonstrate, the public schools are where gentrification battle lines sometimes get drawn.
But there's another side to the story. Gentrification also occasionally leads to better schools for everyone in the neighborhood, rich and poor. The city should follow the example of these success stories as it crafts solutions for other schools in changing neighborhoods.
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.
With high school admissions season nearing the halfway mark, now’s a great time for 8th and 9th grade families to take stock of what still needs to get done. Hopefully by now you have gotten organized and signed up for school tours and open houses. Make sure to get to the borough high school fairs this Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 17 and 18th from 11 am to 3 pm. It's a great opportunity to ask questions, meet with staff from schools you haven't already seen and to find out about any upcoming school tours that may not be posted on school websites. Keep an open mind as you decide which schools to list on the application.
Here are some tips to help you stay on track for the Dec. 1 application deadline.
Check your application form: High school applications were distributed to 8th-graders last week. Each student gets a personalized application listing key information such as 7th grade state ELA and math test scores, final grades in core subjects and their zoned school, if they have one. Read the application carefully and tell your guidance counselor if any information is incorrect.
Specialized high schools: Thursday, Oct. 15 is the deadline for students to register with their middle school guidance counselor to take the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) or audition for LaGuardia High School. Admissions tickets will be distributed on Oct. 21. You need a ticket to take the exam or audition.
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.
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.
Q: I am a high school senior. The only thing I know about college is that I want to double-major and eventually get a degree for secondary education. However, I have many interests so I'm unsure what to major in. I love English, biology, and chemistry, but mostly psychology. I am hoping to travel in summers and help kids across the country. I need a degree that will help me do that! Thank you!
A: You are in luck, although you might not realize it now. It seems as though you may be confronted with difficult decisions, but quite the contrary: your future lies before you like a treasure map, but instead of just one treasure, there are many! You have a lot of options.
On paper, the rezoning plan makes a lot of sense: PS 8 in Brooklyn Heights (which is 60 percent white) is very overcrowded and nearby PS 307 (which is 90 percent black and Latino) has room to spare. So why not shrink the PS 8 zone—one of the largest in the city—and enlarge the PS 307 zone—now a tiny speck that includes the Farragut housing projects—to make room for future growth in the school-age population?
Unfortunately, the Department of Education has done a lousy job presenting the plan to the District 13 Community Education Council (the elected panel that must approve any zoning changes) and parents in both school zones worry about what the changes mean for their children. If the plan is going to be successful, officials must do a much better job at the next CEC meeting on September 30, explaining what the benefits might be for everyone involved. Just as important, the city must commit the staff and resources necessary to address parents’ legitimate fears.
Some PS 307 parents worry that a community institution that has long nurtured black and Latino families will be “taken over” by outsiders. Will the new PTA be dominated by wealthy whites who organize fancy auctions that current parents can’t afford to attend? Will the administration cater to the newcomers, neglecting the concerns of the neediest children?
Middle school admissions season kicks into high gear this month for parents of 5th-graders. You can meet school representatives at evening district fairs beginning Wednesday, Sept. 30. Middle school directories for 2015-2016 are online and hard copies are available at elementary schools.
Now is the time to sign up for school tours and open houses! Check school websites or call the school to find out when they are being held. In some popular schools, especially in Manhattan where there is active school choice, many tours are already fully booked. Don't despair. If you're shut out, try contacting the parent coordinator to see if additional tours will be added. In parts of Brooklyn, tours haven't even been set up yet at schools, but they should be by the end of September.
When you visit the schools, be sure to ask about admissions requirements. The directory listings are not always specific.