In New York City, it’s buzzing with the frenzy of K-12 school applications. The fall begins a pilgrimage of parents from every part of the city and from every background swarming on independent and select public schools and charter schools for tours and open houses. Parents are eager to figure out just how the system works and how they can get their child a strategic edge in the application process.
Despite the park bench chatter that takes place and is referenced as solid fact in my many conversations with parents, the school placement process isn’t a code that can be cracked. People would like to say that they have it all figured out, but no one has it all figured out because this is a process dependent on human beings, relationships, and certain subjectivity. Yes, standardized test scores are considered, but so much more takes place. Similar to a carefully orchestrated dinner party, schools are interested in inviting the right guests. They want to be sure they can truly meet their students’ needs. They want to be sure they’re diversified.
All of the admissions professionals I’ve met really do care about the individual student and family and I’ve seen admissions directors do everything they can to make a situation work when it feels right. At the same time, I’ve seen great students be declined because of enrollment numbers and I’ve seen less than perfect matches get accepted because of politics. It’s just the nature of the process and it happens at every level and at every organization from nursery school through internships. So what should parents do?
To be as well prepared as possible for the admissions process, I do support students and families working with tutors, coaches, and consultants. There are ways to do this responsibly and to use the application process as an opportunity to practice real life skills, such as preparing for tests, finding your voice with essay writing, and developing interview skills. Even very young learners can work on some of these skills and readiness through structured play. But if there’s no secret sauce to school admissions, what else should families do? Here are five tips I share with families to help get grounded in the frenzy of this process.
- Appreciate that you’re in a position of having options.
- Visit any school you’re considering and observe teachers, students, and their interactions with one another carefully.
- Connect with someone from admissions and share genuine reasons for why your family is a good fit for this school community.
- Focus on your child’s needs and your family’s values in an honest way.
- Be open-minded and cast a wide net.
In New York City, families have hundreds of choices with schools specializing in so many different philosophies, program offerings, methodologies, and learning support services. In the last two weeks, I’ve visited Birch Wathen Lenox, the Dwight School, Trevor Day, Parkside, Central Synagogue’s nursery school, and PPAS. Over the next two weeks, I’m visiting Nightingale, Brearley, Manhattan School for Children, and NEST+M. All of these schools are terrific and offer something special for the right students and families.
When I visit schools, I generally meet with an admissions director or administrator and often accompany families as they tour schools. My primary focus is on assessing the school climate. What values are expressed? What evidence of student work is visible? How are adults and children interacting? How are children interacting with each other? How does the space feel? Simultaneously I’m considering the curriculum, the quality of instruction I’m able to observe, the programmatic elements and the support services. When I tour with parents, I’m trying to imagine their child in this space. When I tour on my own, I’m asking myself if I would want to teach at this school and if I would want my own child to be a student at this school.
At the end of the day, it really boils down to one simple thing. Community. School selection should be about finding the right community for your family and your child. We find the right community through due diligence and we know we’ve found it when it just feels like all the stars have aligned. We apply these same rules to finding the right apartment, finding the right church or synagogue, finding the right college campus, finding the right job. In all of these searches, we begin with certain requirements and then accept that there will likely be some type of compromise. Anyone who has searched for an apartment in Manhattan knows that there’s always a compromise.
Having taught in a variety of school environments, having visited dozens of schools, and having tutored students from a variety of independent and public schools, I can assure you that no school is perfect all the time and certainly no school is perfect for every type of learner. The process shouldn’t be focused on “how can I get my kid into School X?” The process should be focused on identifying options that can truly meet your child’s needs and then making the best possible situation work. You can always supplement what you feel a program is lacking, and you can always construct a team of experts to bolster, enrich, or help motivate your child. What’s essential is finding the right community where you know your child will be safe, happy, challenged, and provided with opportunities to realize his or her full potential.By Brad Hoffman, M.S.Ed.
Board Certified Educational Planner and Learning Specialist
My Learning Springboard, Inc.