Sunday, June 10, 2012

The kindergarten post

Judging by the amount of time between posts, it would seem that I have fallen off the face of the earth.

Yeah, wow. Sorry about that. Life got a little crazy for awhile. (I'm not saying our former neighbor gave us bedbugs, but if I ever run into him on the street I will TOTALLY PUNCH HIM IN THE MOUTH.) We also moved into a (bug-free) two-bedroom apartment after only 4 1/2 years of waiting. Ready to envy? Check it:

- It has more than one bedroom, which means we are no longer sleeping in the living room like hobos.
- It has a kitchen. Yes, our last apartment had a kitchen too, but this one is better.
- It has two (2) bathrooms.

Have you picked yourself up off the floor yet? Great. Now here comes the big news: My son, the 4-year-old apple of my eye, has been accepted to kindergarten.

I know what you're thinking.  "But Ali, what's the BFD? Every kid goes to kindergarten." And to that I say, WRONG. WRONG, WRONG, WRONG, WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. (Wrong.)

See, in New York City, kindergarten is a privilege, not a right. Almost all schools have waitlists, and very few slots to begin with. Itching for a real world factoid? Out of the 20 kids in my son's preschool class, only six have a kindergarten to go to next year. Luckily, my son is one of them. And it's all because last January I made my just-turned-4-year-old take an hour long test in a room alone with a stranger to find out whether or not he is "gifted" and/or "talented."

Can you tell I still have mixed feelings about it?

I think we all agree that giving an IQ test to a 4-year-old is nutballs. (Want proof? How's this?) So why did I do it? Even worse, why did I spend months - yes, months - having my kid do workbooks and flashcards and play memory games and do puzzles and ask awkwardly phrased questions like this:

"Take a look a the pictures inside the boxes. These have been organized in a certain way, and there is an empty box at the end. Now look at the pictures next to these boxes and point to the one that would belong in the empty box."

I did it because I want my son to go to a decent public kindergarten.

Gone are the days of dropping your child off at the nearest elementary school, at least here in NYC. There are simply too many children and too few schools. I read a quote that they could make 182* full kindergarten classes with all the children that didn't get a space in kindergarten last year. If your local zoned school isn't up to snuff (ours is adorable, with capable teachers and small-ish class sizes - but it's also a 45-minute bus ride away and 85% of the children have English as their second language) or you don't have a spare $40,000, the only other option is to try and get your kid into one of the city's coveted gifted and talented programs. Which is why I spent an anxious Saturday morning waiting in an unfamiliar auditorium while my 4-year-old took an hour long test with a stranger. Did I mention that part yet? Oh good.

To say that there's a lot of pressure on this test is putting it mildly. (There was a woman praying on her hands and knees in the back of the room. I wish I was joking.) Perhaps you saw the recent episode of Nightline about parents who pay thousands of dollars to tutor their preschoolers. Turns out we're lucky - our kid loves tests. He also loves talking and impressing adults, which - combined with a much-hyped post-test trip to Toys R Us - made for a pretty decent afternoon. And - spoiler! - he scored well enough to qualify for one of the city's five coveted citywide gifted schools. Unfortunately, so did 1,600 other little brainiacs. Double unfortunately, there are less than 400 seats available for incoming kindergartners. You do the math.

So the Dept of Ed held a lottery. Names were fed into a computer and some children got seats, but most didn't. Our son got placed in a really great school, and for that I am crazy grateful and prematurely gray. I also completely understand why people move to the 'burbs.

(*I'm not 100% sure about that number, but I don't think it's all that far off.)

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