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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.
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.
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.
Q: My two sons applied to the same college Early Action, and they have both been accepted. Since they were EA applicants, they are not obligated to enroll at that college, and they have also applied to other schools. They don't know yet where they want to go, and will probably take a while to decide, before the May 1st deadline.
But I am concerned about the amount of merit aid they have been awarded. For some reason, one of my sons received an award of $40,000 merit aid, while the other one, who had a slightly higher GPA and slightly higher SATs, received $0. Unfortunately, it's this second son who is more interested in the school. At what point do I approach the school, and ask them if they will review their merit aid? Do I wait until he's sure he wants to go there? If it's in April, will that be too late?
A: I don't have enough information to know why one of your sons was made a generous offer, while the other has been offered nothing. It sounds like you have no idea, either. Does one son have stronger courses than the other? Or a special talent – such as in athletics or music -- that has been rewarded? You deserve to know the answer.
Figuring Out Financial Aid? Updated Guide Offers NYC Students Help with the FAFSA and Comparing Financial Aid Packages
The Center for New York City Affairs, home to Insideschools, has published a second edition of its popular guide for high school students who are applying to college and beginning their all-important quest for financial aid: FAFSA: The How-To Guide for High School Students (And the Adults Who Help Them).
We hope this guide will be useful to students, families and the many caring adults in New York City public schools and communities who help families navigate the U.S. Department of Education's Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
This year's guide has been updated with the latest information and a new section on what students need to do after they file the FAFSA. It includes an update on FAFSA verification demands and a new section on how to compare college financial aid offers.
Read more on CenterNYC.org.
Download FAFSA: The How-To Guide here. New this year: a Spanish language version of the guide!
Watch Thursday's policy forum on Financial Aid at The New School
FAFSA: The How-To Guide for High School Students was made possible thanks to the generous support of the Capital One Foundation. This guide is part of the foundation's efforts to empower students and provide them with resources to help plan for their academic futures.
Taking the Fear Out of Financial Aid: Making Higher Education Easier to Achieve for NYC Students
This event, presented by the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School, home of Insideschools.org, is still happening tomorrow (Thursday) morning! Flooding at the university has not affected our event space.
Securing college financial aid can be intimidating for NYC students. Aid is crucial for low-income and first generation college students—but they need help, particularly navigating the government's Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), finding grants and loans and working with college aid offices. Experts say the system is needlessly complicated and should be reformed. Join the Center for New York City Affairs for the release of its latest "FAFSA: How-To Guide for High School Students" and a discussion about what needs to happen nationally and locally to ensure that the next generation of college students can afford to matriculate.
Q: A lot of my friends spent almost all winter break working on college applications that were due January 1. But I am applying to several schools that have "rolling" decisions, and some of them say they will take applications as late as April. So am I right to take it easy and get my applications in later? What's the big hurry?
A: You may not be in a hurry, but colleges are eager to know if they will enroll a full first-year class. On the one hand, "rolling" policies seem flexible – you apply when you want, as long as it's before the deadline, and you get a response as soon as it's ready. But on the other hand, this also means that a college may fill all its available spots earlier than expected. When that happens, the last students who submit their applications may find themselves on a "wait list." That is not a pleasant situation.
A couple of years ago this happened with a CUNY - LaGuardia Community College. Students who thought they'd have no trouble being admitted learned that more people than anticipated had applied, filling the class early. Those students had to wait to see if they could get into a different CUNY school instead.
What to expect from the new schools chancellor, Carmen Farina, just announced this morning at MS 51? More collaboration between schools--and less competition. Less emphasis on test scores. And more consistent efforts to improve the quality of teaching.
The new chancellor is not against school choice—which expanded under the Bloomberg administration. But her focus during nearly half a century of teaching has been to improve neighborhood schools—not to close the bad ones.
I first met her in the mid-1990s when she was was a principal of PS 6 on the Upper East Side. She transformed a school with lackluster teaching into a national model for writing instruction, a lively place with teachers who willingly adopted new methods. She eliminated “tracking,” or grouping children by ability, insisting that all children could benefit from a challenging curriculum. She replaced textbooks with classroom libraries of children’s literature, and allowed each child to choose a different book based on his or her interests and ability.
Judy Baum, who toiled for nearly 40 years to help every New York City child receive a good public education, died Friday, December 20, at the end of another day of doing the work she loved.
In what turned out to be her final blog post for Insideschools, she encouraged students and parents to visit museums, libraries and parks over the holiday break, providing a helpful link to free activities.
Only hours after the post appeared online Friday, she died of a heart attack. She was 77.
"She really was a model New York citizen—always guided by the belief that she had a perpetual stake in the success of public education," said Laura Zingmond, a friend and colleague at Insideschools. "She wanted every kid to have a safe and nurturing place to go to school."
Holidays are upon us! If you are one of the lucky ones to have vacation days along with your kids -- or if you are a high school student used to travelling around the city on your own, here are some ways to enjoy your time.
Catch up on museums! This list of free museum days [PDF] was compiled by The Fund for Public Schools. It includes 28 museums, large and small, in all boroughs.
Here are some special events and exhibits, forwarded to us by District 3 Family Advocate DJ Sheppard:
For the final event of the year at El Museo del Barrio on 1230 Fifth Ave (between 104th and 105th Sts), kids can ring in the holiday season by making a crown for Three Kings Day, listening to stories and taking in a concert by El Sistema. Free for all ages on Saturday 12/21 at 11 am.
The 31st Annual Wreath Exhibition at the Arsenal Gallery in Central Park (at 830 Fifth Ave at 64th Street) is open Monday-Friday, 9 am to 5 pm, except for city holidays.
"The ABC of It: Why Children's Books Matter." The main branch of the New York Public Library displays an exhibit of books from its collection celebrating the rich history of children's literature. Fifth Ave. at 42nd St.
City Harvest Gingerbread Extravaganza at Le Parker Meridien includes gingerbread structures of the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building and Grand Central, on display through Jan. 6, at Le Parker Meridien (119 West 56 Street, between 6th and 7th Avenues). Visit the exhibit for free or submit your vote for the most creative confection for $1. All proceeds will go to City Harvest and all voters will be entered to win a five-night stay at the Parker Palm Springs.
New York Transit Museum's Holiday Train Show in Grand Central Station: Grand Central Station's 12th annual Holiday Train Show includes a 34--foot-long display, festooned with miniature versions of city landmarks such as the Brooklyn Bridge and the Empire State Building. Open through Feb. 23 in the shuttle passage off the main concourse at 42nd Street & Park Ave.
Don't forget city parks. Snow makes its own fun, but there are plenty of other attractions: Ice skating, bird watching, zoos, playgrounds special events and indoor recreation centers as well. The Department of Youth and Community Development lists community centers and other local groups that offer activities for kids during school vacations.
And my favorite: check out the fanciful decorations in department store windows, and on shops and buildings up and down the main street in your borough.
We'll be back in the office and online on Jan. 2, 2014!
Happy holidays to all.