The Pre-K Shuffle

I’m currently trying to figure out a plan for Pre-K for my son. I thought I had it all figured out, but things fell through. 

Here’s the conflict:

In NYC, public pre-k is free and open to any child born in 2006. However, there not enough slots for every child in the city to attend Pre-K. This is not that bad because there are many day care centers and private schools that have Universal Pre-K programs. However, entry into these schools is done by lottery, with preference given to children who reside in the district. You can select up to 12 schools and wait and hope that your child not only get into one of your top choices, but into any school at all. They let you know up front that they do NOT guarantee placement.  They notify parents of placement about two weeks before children need to register. Ok…

The affordable Pre-K programs at various centers or those run by Community-Based Organizations are a slim option because they reserve most of their slot for children in the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) system or Human Resources Administration (HRA). The former are usually foster children, abused children, etc. The latter are children whose parents are on welfare or are so low-income they qualify for financial assistance for childcare from the city.  The reserve these slots for them because that money is guaranteed and they receive incentives for accepting more of those children.  That leaves private payers like us out of those affordable options. Ok…

Specialized schools are an option, but there is a lottery there too AND they cost more money than I’d feel comfortable paying. However, those lotteries aren’t fair lotteries and it is really about who you know. We could pull some strings, but I know I’d always feel bad about going about it the “wrong” way.

Private schools cost a GRIP!! One places was $383/week, another $1700/month. And this is for 9-3. Extra if you need coverage from 8-6.  Whoa… Ok…

The main issue: I’m moving. I’m not renewing my lease and my heart is set on moving one state over. Its a lower cost-of-living, it gives me more distance from his father, its a new fresh environment; I can truly start over. However, with this Pre-K situation in limbo, I’m not sure I can do that. For the public lottery, I put schools by my job and schools by his dad’s home and job. I dont LIVE in any of the districts though, so I’m not feeling too great about this. The schools by my job are SO amazing!!! It would mean G living with me full time though, which wasnt the original plan.  It would be a dream to get him in there, but its highly unlikely. The schools by his dad are so-so, but I figure its only Pre-K so he won’t suffer too much. PLus that would go along with the plan for his dad to keep him until he starts Kindergarten, giving me time to get settled, hit the reset button, and get things in line for him.

This is stressing me out!!! All this just to make sure your kid is on the right path. Jumping through hurdles, possibly sacrificing peace of mind, just so he gets off to the right start. Boys have it harder as it is… so I’m being really proactive about this. I just want what’s best for my son and my city is leaving me few viable options. Too rich to be poor, too poor to be rich! I think he will thrive in any environment, but I can tell more and more that he needs to be challenged.

What 3 y/o responds, “Why… certainly, mommy” when you ask if he would like something to drink??

Crossing my fingers and waiting for August…

18 thoughts on “The Pre-K Shuffle

  1. I am so feeling your pain, Michelle. I’ve been stressing about the same thing and Bailey is only 3 months, not 3 years! The fact is, I have to start planning now for the future possibilities. Private schools are a grip and the Philadelphia school system leaves so much to be desired. I’m already looking for homes based on the school district and stacking my chips so I can afford to make the move when the time is right. But even that is complicated by the fact that we have three other boys to consider (4,5, and 6 yo). I’ve even considered saving up and doing home schooling but they may not be the healthiest option for me or him.

    I wish you the best in solving the dilemma. “Too rich to be poor, too poor to be rich!” That pretty much sums it up.


    1. Mutual sympathies/empathies to you, Nina!

      The middle class in this country is suffering in so many ways, especially in major cities like Philly, NYC, LA, Chicago, etc. You get your education, make enough money to be comfortable, try not to be greedy or over-the-top, but you take major hits when it comes to things like this. Some people work just to pay childcare!! I know in some two-income homes, its like almost the entire salary of one parent goes to childcare. One begins to question working at all. His father said to me yesterday, “What’s the use in working, when not working means getting more help and opportunities for advancement these days?”

      Its like you have to be dirt poor or super rich and we’re neither. Another part of it is that we’re not a two-income household. Were we sharing resources, this would not be an issue. We could afford the $300/week school. But since I’m living on my own, my personal expenses dont leave a lot of room for extra spending.

      Just another casualty of divorce I’m guessing.


    1. Its like if you make a wrong choice, you could mess up the course of your kid’s education!! lol

      It goes back, for me, to the struggle of no longer being married. This is another by-product of that. We had a plan before, knew the school we wanted to put him in, were prepared to pay the costs. But now… nope… and I’m trying to not be angry at his father because he is (potentially) going to be negatively affected by this. Public school in NYC?? ONe of the worst in the nation??? The mere idea of that makes me want to scream!!! But, that’s why I’m moving to Jersey. Jersey has one of the best public school systems in the country. A 20 mile move and my kid will be on a different course, so I’m trying to not stress Pre-K… but its like you can’t help it!!

      And he is SO ready. He already wants to go shopping for a bookbag and lunch box. He says ,”Mommy I cant WAIT to go to school!!” When his sister does her homework, he sits with her and pretends he is doing his homework too.

      I have to get this right!


  2. I understand your pain. Twice. Paying for TWO children to have quality preschool, in one of the most affluent areas in the country is absolutely ridiculous. Starting in September, we’ll be spending over $2,000 a month for high quality pre-school, including Pre-K for Ahmir, and that is with generous scholarships, university discounts, and discounts based on the fact we live on campus as a grad student.

    It’s very frustrating when you see options that are closed to you. I think it’s a crime that NYC doesn’t have enough Pre-K spots for all children, given what we know about the benefits of Pre-K for the future academic development for children.

    And I think this process is even more stressful for us, as Cocoa mothers, because we know that while schools and schools districts might look good on the outside, they may not be good for our kids. The amount of research that has to happen when we choose a neighborhood, and a school district, a school, and sometimes even a classroom is something that other moms, White moms, just don’t even have to think about.


    1. LaToya, you touch upon the other issue.

      I work on the lower east side of Manhattan. Schools in this area are really diverse in all ways: racially, socioeconomically, etc. However, some of the BEST public schools are in the area as well as some of the WORST. One of the schools I put down had 338 kids trying to get one of 18 slots. Another it was like 225 kids vying for 12 slots. Why? These schools are alternative public schools with low teacher:student ratios, explorative, engaging curricula, beautiful facilities, etc. I work in an area where the The Projects are adjacent to a development where 1bedrooms start at $2,450/month. So everyone and their mama are trying to get into these great schools that fall within the district. My kid doesnt stand a chance other than his dad making some phone calls because he just so happens to have contacts at those two schools. The other schools in my work area aren’t horrible, but they just aren’t the level of quality I want for my son right now. Those schools contain more lower-income children from un(der)educated parents. One of the great things about the system is that you can look up the schools online and see results of recent surveys taken by parents, teachers, and students. Whats interesting is how, in certain neighborhoods, parental response is SO low. Its like, dont you care? In other, more affluent areas, parental response and involvement is very high… and those happen to be the “better” schools.

      The ones selected by where his dad works and will live are so-so. Named after famous Black leaders, one might be excited by the opportunity for one’s child to attend, but again, same story. Low parental involvement, children of un(der)educated parents, more disciplinary problems, less-than-challenging curricula, etc.

      I’m trying so hard not to be so focused on the obvious inequality of education around this city but its glaringly obvious.

      Oddly enough, the school thats a block from where I live is one of the best in the Bronx. The question is, do I stay where I am for another year and let him go there, or do I keep working towards achieving the inner peace I NEED and try to place him elsewhere? This is where the balance issue comes in.


  3. This is such a tough issue and I swear, 9 years in,the only time I got it right was when I was a single-parent and could put Mekhi into a subsidized day-care program in a very highly regarded Kindercare in the South loop of Chicago. It has pretty much been all down hill from there.

    Next, I did half a year of Pre-K (mekhi’s second year of it because of his dec. birthday) and half a year of homeschool because he wasn’t learning anything new in Pre-K. The positives were that I taught him to read before Kindergarten, the drawback was that his dad and my mom both judged me for taking him out and moving mid-year. Keep in mind neither one of the were in Chicago with us to witness the first Pre-K year.

    When I had my second child we had him from about 6mos. to 2 years-old in the care of a beautiful lifesaver Ms. Aqueel who watched him only in her home from about 8am to 6:30pm for only $125/week. She was referred by the city (as was the Kindercare in Chicago) and she was awesome. Fresh food cooked and prepared by her, loving “grandma” and I trusted her fully (though she was 80+) because he never came home with a scratch, was learning/growing to be smart as a wip and he adored her. Only problem was by the time J got off (5:30pm) got to DC and picked up Mekhi (6:30pm) picked up Locke (6:45pm) and me from work (7:00pm) we did not get back across town to our house till 7:30 and that was only if we didn’t have to go the store to get something for dinner which never got on the table before 8:30. I felt like I never saw my kids. Hated the commute but couldn’t afford another car/note.

    This year we have successfully tried something new. I started the new job and we moved to a new city. J decided to stay home with our two pre-school aged children and he (and, most days, myself as well) are around at 3 when mekhi gets home from school to do homework with him.

    Its not forever, because I think the workforce and J’s independence are at least tapping on the door by this point. However, I see the tremendous rewards it has provided our family, ones that in my opinion have outweighed the temporary sacrifice.


    1. We were blessed with “Miss Marie” who cared for G from 4 months to 3.5 years for $150/week (8-6). A few things happened. 1. We split up, so since she was near my house, it would mean his father traveling out of the way to pick him up since I couldnt make it home in time. 2. We wanted to try and save money and his paternal step-grandmother volunteered to watch him for free. 3. I got a new job with more demanding hours. 4. He outgrew home group care.

      His dad had a GREAT school lined up for him for this past year, but it wasnt until the very last minute they told us he made too much money and it was only for severely low-income. They literally didnt say anything about that until a week before he was to begin, which was in June. Thats the plan we had. This place was next door to where his dad lives. So this is why we have to construct another plan.

      Right now, though, he is back with Miss Marie and staying with me until we figure this all out. His step-grandmother decided she wanted to spend her summer in Puerto Rico and left us abruptly with no child care. Thankfully, G is one of Marie’s favorite children so she is watching him off-the-books. She is a lifesaver, but having him back with me has been taxing mentally. I wasnt prepared mentally or emotionally. I know for sure I’m not quite ready for this yet. His dad understands, which is why we’re trying to get a place closer to him. I still need MY time because its affectig my mental health.


      1. I’m with my kids all day now, during the summer, and I hear you on the effects on the mental health. The first two weeks, I thought I was really going to lose my mind. And since I have first hand knowledge of what that feels like, I was really scared of what the rest of the summer was going to look like.

        Even though he is staying with you, can his dad come and take him some evenings until bedtime? Can he come and stay at your apartment while you get out?


  4. hey benee,

    have you looked into the KIPP schools in NY and NJ… also for the friend who commented from Philly, brand new KIPP early childhood opening there too. I am an advocate of these free, public charter schools not only because my kids have attended here in DC since 2007, but also because I spent the past year working for them. The schools are rigorous, academically-based with a character driven curriculum and behavior system that really works with little kids. I know I sound like a commercial but they hire folks who really believe in the mission and I gush about KIPP schools to anyone that will listen!

    I was in the same boat as you guys when my twins were ready to leave daycare and go to Pre-K. The DCPS system sucks for the most part, I was unsure as to the whole charter school movement. DC has an “out of boundary” lottery that you can apply to for school that aren’t your neighborhood school. So I put my name on the lists of the few excellent public schools in the city… and it became a waiting game. I was familiar with the KIPP schools because my godson attended one of the middle schools at the time and I knew it was a stellar program, but had no elementary schools. I lucked up on the fact that 1.) my niece who is the same age as the twins started at KIPP during their summer program and 2.) the temporary school they were housed in the first year was literally blocks from my house.

    As soon as I registered them, bought the uniform shirts and everything, my name came up on the lottery. I declined and never regretted my decision. I know it wasn’t this hard when I went to Kindergarten. My parents enrolled me in the school across the parking lot from our apartment complex. No questions, no vetting schools, nothing… The boys are now 7 years old and thriving, but I see realities of too little quality schools and too many preschoolers. We had 80 slots on our 3 y.o. Preschool list. Over 400 applications… and siblings get first preference for the ease of the parents! 37 siblings on the list. So in reality 43 slots for 400 kids! ridiculous…


  5. Yes the sibling thing sucks too!! J is in a great magnet school, but we wont get sibling benefits because the two of them dont live together 😦

    I mean it works for the parents, but sucks for onlies!

    Also, if we have to pay for pre-K ongoing, that affects where I can afford to move and that is getting to me too…


  6. I just found out my little one will be accepted to an pre-k program. I was worried because budgets hadn’t been approved by the state until recently. But he’s in there now and I’m wiping the sweat off my forehead. Hope everything works out from the move to finding the right classroom at a decent price!


  7. LaToya, that is what he is doing for the most part. He watches him so I can go to the gym or if i have to work late. I’m not all that comfortable with him just chilling in my house though while I’m there lol

    He’s been helpful, but when he leaves, G turns into someone else lol The other night he didnt go to sleep until midnight, and mind you, I wake him up at 7. Or try to. Its HELL getting him up and ready to go. When he was living with his dad, he didnt have to get dressed or ready to go anywhere because he was staying at the house. Dad had it easy like that. Similarly, if dad wanted to go out late night, he just waited until G went to sleep OR he left him with his parents. Its different when its just me handling all of that extra stuff. Again, I wasnt ready and this was all abrupt, so I’m trying to adjust as best I can since it is only until school starts.


    1. That’s rough – I remember those days of getting them up and dressed, bags packed and out the door. I used to just not sweat the small stuff – if clothes don’t match, got on two different socks – so be it. Don’t wanna eat breakfast in a reasonable time in a reasonable manner – you might go hungry.

      It is true that now life is easier, since we don’t have to go anywhere – somedays pajamas don’t come off until swimsuits go on for swim lessons. I found that once we got into a predictable rhythm, things go smoother.


  8. I’m finally catching up on the blog readings…woww. Even though my son is now 16, I REMEMBER these days like they were yesterday. What I finally decided on was a place that would be safe, lots of play and physical activity, and some place that would not have him posted in front of a tv all day watching videos and pbs (MUCH love to pbs btw :)). I found a place when I relocated by asking around… I was surprised to find out that there were quite a few places that I would have NEVER found, smaller, community mainstays that charged less and had good reputations.

    You’ll find someplace…go with your GUT. And DEFINITELY if at ALL possible, ask around. My cousin found a school by talking to mothers she’d see at a park she would take my niece to…


  9. Ive been asking around and the result is being pointed to places where they are only giving slots to the ACS/HRA kids *sigh*

    Its been an all around struggle, but I’m holding onto faith.


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