Friday, February 8

Middle School Muddle: With choices listed and tours over, challenges remain

Since October, we’ve visited more than half a dozen middle schools, compared notes and listed our top five choices in order. We care a lot about education and choice in our family, so we laid out a fairly ambitious schedule of tours, questions and considerations. But we fell down on the job.

I can’t help but think about all the parents in the city who simply did not have time for tours, questions and soul-searching. Or the single parents who had to go it alone.

Some may have simply opted for their zoned school, where admission is guaranteed. We never even visited our zoned school — Baruch — because the location wasn’t right and the size — 1,043 — seemed daunting.

We never got to Salk, a school high on the list of many of my son’s classmates, simply because the day starts at 8 a.m. and the commute would involve two subway switches. If we couldn’t get there on time for the tour, how would my son manage on a daily basis? (Okay, we slept through the alarm clock that day, truth be told).

We missed the truly beloved East Side Middle on York Avenue, reasoning again that the commute would be too far. We didn’t tour highly regarded Robert Wagner on East 76th for the same reason, along with its overwhelming size — 1,400 students.

Parents who applied for out-of-district or specialized middle schools (with a tryout, like the one my son did for the Professional Performing Arts School) or their own admissions criteria and exam (like the highly competitive NEST+M) had even more extra homework.

Those applying for private schools had additional tours, day long school visits, admissions exams, tutors and letters of recommendation. And with chances slim of snagging a spot in these vaunted institutions, they went through the public process as well.

If it seems a little overwhelming, it is. And this year, we’ve been told our children will likely be interviewed and take admissions tests at their top two choices instead of just their first.

My son came home last night with a list of interview questions he might be asked. He had to describe his strengths and weaknesses as a student and as a person. He is 10. I wasn't surprised when he told me had trouble falling asleep.

There is a danger these kids will be burned out when it comes to finding a high school and tired of touring. They may, however, be savvy pros by the time they tackle college admissions.

Let's just hope they have also developed a love of learning about something other than what to look for in a school.

Read all of Liz Willen's Middle School Muddle


Anonymous said...

The number of contests a 10-yr old child must enter to gain admissions to middle school is absolutely daunting. Sometimes I dream of living in a place where my three children can enter wonderful middle school simply because they finish elementary school. The more I stress out about all the middle school circus that will ensue for us less than a year from now, the more I am convinced I might do just that. Moving to a good suburban school district doesn't sound like such a crazy idea anymore.

Anonymous said...

This has been an informative series of postings. But each time I read a new post, I couldn't help feeling frustrated and left out, because the choices you have as a resident of District 2 are so utterly beyond those of us who live in districts where the middle school choices range from mildly promising to simply dreadful. As a resident of District 13, if our child does not score high enough to gain admission to the selective citywide middle schools, we will either need to move out of the city or move to another district within the city--unwelcome choices both. Please consider devoting this blog space in future to middle school postings that might help those of us who do not live in District 2 or another district similarly blessed with good middle schools.

Philissa said...

Thanks for the comment, 9:41 p.m. You're right -- the choices available to Liz and her son are not representative of those available to most families around the city. This was Insideschools' first year having parents and students blog about their school searches, and in the future we absolutely want to include voices of families from a range of districts.

pritchie said...

To anonymous in District 13 - there is a promising middle school choice, Arts and Letters. It's very small. It doesn't have all the "bells and whistles" that other schools trot out for parents at tours (award winning chorus, huge drama productions), but what it does have is an incredibly visionary principal, and a team of super-smart, hardworking, and completely dedicated teachers. The classes are small, there are about 20 kids in my 7th grade son's class. While alot of schools talk about how they are able to teach to all children, the botttom line is that when class sizes top 30, as they regularly do in many middle schools, there's just no way that can happen. At Arts and Letters it's routine. Please tour this school when the time comes.