Wednesday, November 6, 2013
Applying to Independent Schools for Kindergarten
This is a compilation of hints, bits of advice and “dos and don'ts” that I've accumulated over the years. These ideas are based on true-life adventures and misadventures. (I used to be a preschool director. Applicant parents, preschool teachers and admissions personnel talk to me about this stuff a lot!) Please read with an open mind and in the spirit it is intended – to provide gentle guidance through what can be a nerve-wracking process.
1) Be the kind of family your preschool can rave about. The teacher will probably be able to go on and on about your child's great qualities. However, the questions about parents are pretty cut and dried: they center on openness, reliability and participation. The folks at your child's preschool will want to be frank, in order to protect their credibility and reputation. Ask yourself if you’re doing all you can to be a dependable and useful member of your preschool community.
2) Leave your child out of the process. The only time you should involve your child is if the school has a “play date” which serves as an opportunity to observe your child in a group setting. You can just tell your child, “We’re going to look at some schools and see what we think. I don’t know if they’ll have room or not, or whether this school will be a good match for our family.” Period. Please don’t coach or advise your child before the play date. Afterward, you will be interested in your child’s impression, but don’t pump him or her for feedback. Final decisions should be the job of the adult(s). Along the way, it’s only human to want to discuss and compare the various schools with family and friends, but avoid doing this in front of your child. Some additional pointers about “play dates” follow. (If your child will not be invited to school visits, skip items 3-8.)
3) Prepare your child. You can call ahead to the school and get information about what to expect so that you can tell your child how the visit will go, whether there is going to be a separation from you, and any other relevant information. Be sure your child is well-rested and well-fed. A snack in the car will ensure that hunger pangs don’t take the edge off the experience, and a last-minute trip to the bathroom might add to your child’s comfort.
4) If your child is ill on the scheduled day, call the school and find out how this is handled. Perhaps they can re-schedule you. Besides, you will be demonstrating courtesy and consideration.
5) Be prompt. It makes you look good and, more importantly, it will help put your child at ease.
6) Remember, you are a guest. They set the rules and you are visiting their “home” on their terms. Don’t insist on visiting areas that are off limits or partaking of anything that is not designated for you.
7) When visiting, be firm with your child. Letting your child wheedle or get away with something just to avoid a scene will make a very negative impression on any educators I know!
8) Leave at the scheduled time. If possible, give your child a five-minute warning and then follow through. You can show these people you appreciate that their time is worth something (plus they’ll get to see that you set limits and that you follow through.)
9) Remember that admissions personnel are responsible for putting together a diverse group of children, and that diversity takes many forms – gender balance, ethnic and socioeconomic variety, non-traditional family structures, an array of different personalities and temperaments. Parents of shy children often worry that they won’t dazzle the admissions folks. But imagine for a moment how unbalanced a classroom would be if all the children were extroverted, take-charge types. Yikes!
10) Apply to more than one program. It’s very competitive out there, so luck plays a bigger and bigger role every year. You should research thoroughly, cast a wide net, and keep an open mind. If one school in particular is you first choice, tell them so on your application or in your cover letter. (Be ethical about this – there can only be one #1.) Throughout, let your mantra be “I may not get my first choice…I may not get my first choice.” Disappointment is survivable.
11) If you are lucky enough to get into more than one school, please make a final choice quickly. This will help others (some of whom may even be your friends!) get out of “Wait-list Limbo.”
12) If you are dissatisfied about the way a school handled admissions, deal with it after the process is completed. If you wind up at that school, get involved in admissions and work at improving things from the inside. If you don’t end up attending that school, speak to your preschool director and let him/her decide whether to take this up with admissions.
13) Overall, try to be eager (not pushy) and inquisitive (not critical). Your demeanor tells them volumes about the likeliness of a healthy long-term relationship with your family – which is of course what they are looking for.
14) And don't give up! The ratio of applicants to available spaces shifts in your favor from year to year. Next year, they may only have a spot or two open for first grade – but they will have far fewer applicants.
Try to have fun -- and good luck!