Pamela Wheaton is one of the founding members of Insideschools. Since 2002 she has served as deputy director, project director and managing editor. She edits the blog, reviews schools, leads workshops about school choice and oversees editorial content. She collaborated with Clara Hemphill on a series of guides to New York City’s best public schools. Previously Wheaton was a producer of PBS television programs and a reporter and editor at the Buenos Aires Herald. Her two daughters graduated from New York City public schools.
All 5th graders will turn in applications for middle school this Friday, Dec. 21. That includes students with special education needs who will fill out the same application as other children.
There is often some confusion about the process, even after the roll-out of the special education reform this year. Now all schools are expected to accept students with special needs, which wasn't the case in the past. Parents say that outreach was poor at some schools last year, with special needs students unaware that they could apply.
To help families of children with special needs better understand their rights when applying to middle school, Advocates for Children put together a list of recommendations and tips. See their suggestions after the jump.
Children who are five years old will now be required to attend kindergarten in New York City public schools, if an amendment to the city's admissions regulation is approved by the Panel for Educational Policy later this month. However, in keeping with the state law signed by Governor Cuomo in July, there are two exceptions: parents may choose to wait and enroll their child in 1st grade the year they turn six, and children who are home-schooled or in private school won't have to enroll in kindergarten when they are five.
Although this change does not exactly make kindergarten mandatory for all five-year-olds, advocates say it sends a message to schools that they can no longer refuse to admit five-year-olds.
"We have seen families turned away from schools with the explanation that kindergarten is not mandatory," said Randi Levine, project director for early childhood education at Advocates for Children. "Although children currently have the right to attend to attend kindergarten this change would make it very clear that schools are required to serve kindergarten students and are not permitted to turn them away."
Applying to high school in New York City is complicated, but some schools are making it even harder by giving out misleading or downright wrong information, Insideschools has learned.
Schools are telling 8th graders and their families that they must rank a school first on their application or they won't be considered for a spot, according to many parents we have heard from.
The problem is, that's not true.
"There are no schools that require students to rank the school first on their application in order to be considered," Rob Sanft, director of student enrollment at the Education Department wrote in an email. "Students should rank schools based on their order of preference. Schools do not see where an applicant ranks them on their application."
High school applications are due on Dec. 10! Here are some final tips for 8th graders and their families who are still mulling over their options.
Filling out the application:
- Be careful when drawing up your list of (up to) 12 high school choices. You don't have to fill in all the slots. Don't list a school you are not willing to attend. If you get assigned to a school you hate, but listed it on your application, it will be very hard to get placed elsewhere.
- Rank your favorite school first. There's no need to play guessing games or set up an elaborate strategy. Schools will not see which students rank them first, so you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by ranking your top choice number one.
- Don't apply to a school for which you do not qualify. If a school looks for students with a minimum 85 average or above and your GPA is 70, your chances of getting accepted are slim to none.
- If you have a zoned school, it will be printed on your application but you are not guaranteed acceptance unless you list it as one of your choices.
- If you are a "top two-percenter," which counts when applying to educational option schools, this is noted on your application.
- Many large schools offer several programs. If you really want to attend a certain school, apply to more than one program.
- Make sure your parent signs off on your final application. Nobody, including your 8th-grade guidance counselor, should persuade you to add choices without consulting your parent or guardian.
- Keep a copy of your completed application and get a receipt from your guidance counselor when you hand it in.
What to consider when choosing a school
- Admissions criteria: Some schools require an interview, an essay, or the submission of school work. Make sure you've done what you need to do.
- Small school or large? Small schools offer more personal attention and a sense of community. Large schools tend to have more sports teams, clubs and courses. Need help deciding? Watch our video: Weighing your options: Large school vs small school.
- Fast-track or laid-back? Some schools pile on the homework. Other schools have a slower pace and encourage kids to relax a bit. Think about what's best for you. Will you thrive in a rigorous and competitive environment? Or, are you more likely to learn and excel when the pressure's off?
- New school or well-established? It's nice to go to a school with a proven track record. Most new small schools take a few years to develop relationships with college admissions officers, so it can be a gamble to be in the first few graduating classes. However if you're faced with the choice between an overcrowded, failing neighborhood school or a new untested small school, in general, you might be better off going with the small one, if you feel comfortable with the theme and the leadership.
- Theme school or well-rounded curriculum? Be aware that some of the school "themes" exist in name only. The academics should be solid, whatever the theme.
- How long is the commute? Take a subway or bus ride to see if the commute is doable. Think about what it will be like in the rain and snow, or coming home late in the evening after a sports event or a school play. Far too many students discover after a few days of school that they can't handle a long commute. Watch our video: Weighing your options: Long trip vs short trip
- Does your child have special needs? Check out our list of noteworthy special education programs, and watch our video on what to look for when you tour a program. Take a look at the DOE's online guide for high school students receiving special education services; unfortunately the high school directory offers very little help.
More tips for students
- Auditioning? Practice first! Many performing arts and visual arts high school hold competitive auditions and expect applicants to be well-prepared. If you haven't had your audition yet, watch this video: How to apply to an audition school.
- Don't let your friends choose for you. No school can accept every qualified student, so it's likely that friends will attend different high schools. Trust that you will make new friends in high school.
The Department of Education will make up for the five school days and instructional time lost due to Hurricane Sandy, by taking away several vacation days and offering online classes to middle and high school students who have been severely impacted by the storm.
The February President's Day holiday week will be shortened by three days and elementary and middle schools will be in session all day on June 4, previously slated to be a half-day clerical day, the chancellor announced yesterday in a letter to families.
Today, the chancellor said that middle and high school students who missed even more days of school because they were displaced from their schools or homes, will be offered online courses to help make up for time away from class and to help prevent "learning loss." Online classes will be offered in English, math, economics, calculus, world history and Spanish, according to a DOE press release. The city's libraries will provide internet access to students who need it. The courses will be taught by teachers in iZone, the DOE's program which provides online tools to many schools, and others experienced in online instruction.
Eighth graders will have a little more time to explore their high school options after the Department of Education announced Friday it would extend the application deadline until Dec. 10, one week later than the original due date of Dec. 3.
The DOE cited "hardships due to Hurricane Sandy" in an email message to families. Students may list up to 12 schools on their applications and turn them in to middle school guidance counselors by Monday, Dec. 10. This is the latest of several storm-related delays in the application season. This weekend 8th and 9th graders are taking the specialized high school exams, postponed from October because of Hurricane Sandy.
Students may use the extra time to tour schools and go to open houses, which were cancelled or postponed when schools were closed for a week.
Families researching high school options should also check out Insideschools videos about choosing a high school and our new list of noteworthy special education programs. We have posted new reviews and slides shows of dozens of high schools, the latest of which are posted on our homepage.
Are you looking to have a voice in deciding policy issues for your child’s education? Have you been concerned about what mayoral control of the schools has done to parent participation and what it will be like under future mayors?
The event will focus on the question: What might REAL “parent engagement” look like in NYC’s public schools?
Organizers Liz Rosenberg, Kemala Karmen and Dionne Grayman -- all mothers from Brooklyn -- are inviting parents from every district to join them in an all day forum called a “charrette”-- defined as an “intensive creative brainstorming session in which a mixed group of stakeholders generate workable ideas and collaborate on an action plan.”
Breakfast is always free for students in public schools but this month, lunch is free too. The Department of Education announced that free lunch will be available to all students in November, thanks to help from the federal government in the aftermath of the superstorm Sandy.
In separate news over the weekend, the mayor's office released a plan that calls for students to pay more for lunch in 2013.
Students who do not qualify for free or reduced lunches normally pay $1.50 per meal. That price would rise to $2.50 according to a proposal by Mayor Bloomberg which would modify the current Fiscal Year 2013 budget to deal with a shortfall. The higher price would bring in $4.4 million, the New York Times reports. The plan would also do away with reduced price lunches, according to the New York Post.
But for the month of November, students eat for free.
Here's what the Office of School Food says on its website: "School Food is pleased to announce that all school lunches for all students will be free for the whole month of November. Thanks to a special federal waiver, all lunches are free to all New York City students for the whole month. While the City continues to recover from Sandy, we hope you will enjoy our delicious and nutritious lunches at no cost. As always, breakfast is free for all students daily."
Two downtown high schools, Bard High School Early College and Urban Assembly New York Harbor will be back in their own buildings on Tuesday, after students and staff were temporarily located at other sites during the aftermath of the storm. [Students returned to Harbor on Friday, GothamSchools reports] In Manhattan, only Millennium High School on Broad Street, will remain in temporary locations on Tuesday, when schools reopen after the Monday Veteran's Day holiday.
The latest list of more than 30 relocated schools posted on Friday afternoon shows that the Manhattan schools have fared much better than those in low-lying areas of Brooklyn and Queens, many of which are still uninhabitable. In Red Hook, Brooklyn, the PS 15 building was not ready to reopen. Nor were five schools near Coney Island, including Mark Twain School for the Gifted & Talented.
Hardest hit was District 27, which includes the Rockaway Peninsula, where 20 schools remain unable to open in their buildings. Many students are simply not attending school at the temporary sites, with 26 schools reporting attendance below 20 percent, GothamSchools reported. The DOE is allowing students who don't want to - or cannot - make a long commute to their relocated schools, to enroll in schools closer to home. Many have enrolled in District 22 schools, including 79 kids at PS 207 in Marine Park, GothamSchools reports. Transportation has been a huge problem for families on the Rockways where there is no subway service at present. The DOE says that all K-8 schools will have busing for students onTuesday, although not all high schools will.
Here's the list of schools to reopen on Tuesday, as per GothamSchools:
Bard High School Early College, Manhattan
P.S. 253, Brooklyn
P.S. 105, Queens
P.S. 215, Queens
Wave Preparatory Elementary School, Queens
P.S. 197, Queens
Frederick Douglass Academy VI High School, Queens
knowledge and Power Preparatory Academy VI High School, Queens
Queens High School for Information, Research, and Technology
Academy of Medical Technology: A College Board School, Queens
Repairs will be ongoing throughout the long weekend and more schools may be able to reopen on Tuesday, the DOE said. Check the list on Monday for updates.
Children staying with friends and relatives or in shelters after Hurricane Sandy have the right to enroll in the school that's closest to their temporary home--and they don't need the usual documents showing where they live, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said in a letter to parents this week.
The Department of Education doesn't know how many children are staying in temporary shelters or doubled up with friends, but the number is certainly in the thousands. Some 26,000 students have been relocated to a different school because their school has structural damage or no power, a spokesman said.
On Thursday night, the chancellor said that students in relocated schools could enroll in schools closer to their homes, rather than travel to their school's temporary location. The chancellor's statement came after DOE enrollment officers told families that "only students whose families were displaced by the storm can enroll in different schools, not students whose schools were displaced by the storm," NY 1 reported. When asked about this by NY 1 reporter Lindsey Christ, Walcott clarified that students in relocated schools could enroll in schools nearer where they live.
Some neighborhood schools are already seeing an influx of displaced students. About seven children from the John Jay High School shelter attended PS 321 in Park Slope on Monday, said Principal Liz Phillips. Five more children who were living with families in the neighborhood also enrolled on Monday. "We’ll probably get a few more kids where families with kids ending up staying in the neighborhood," she said.
"A lot of schools are getting an overflow of kids," said Jennifer Pringle, director of NYS TEACHS, which runs a statewide hotline for schools and families about the educational rights of homeless children. And as some shelters close and families are relocated to other living situations, she said, "You’re looking at kids who are going to transition through several schools."