The Day the Earth Stood Still a.k.a. Getting My Kid into a Manhattan Preschool

Yesterday morning, I made over 200 phone calls over the course of an hour and a half and spoke with one person. She had a lovely demeanor, as she asked me a few general questions about my family, and kindly thrust an appointment on me, without any care as to whether or not I could make it. She was none other than the Associate Director of the 92nd Street Y nursery school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

On my right and on my left were my generous mother and reluctant husband, respectively. My mother on the house phone, I on my iPhone, and my husband on his. Together, we called the oft-named “best preschool in Manhattan” from the opening bell at 9:00am until I got through sometime around 10:35am – for a total of roughly 600-800 phone calls total. This is the beginning of the process for applying to many preschools in Manhattan. Some may scoff at this ridiculous phone company mess that happens at 9:00am the day after Labor Day every single year, but for schools like the Y who accept 1 student out of every 5-7 applicants, there are few better alternatives on how to do it (I personally prefer the lottery system, which some schools have – but hey, I’m not in charge.)

Hundreds and hundreds of prospective parents/nannies/grandparents/etc. of these elite (a word ruined by Obama-bashers) private preschools all call at the exact same time on the same day. So many people call at once that the phone company’s recorded response mimics that of the response everyone got on September 11th when trying to call into New York. That’s how many people are calling. This mad rush to get a real live person on the phone is in the attempt to be one of the first 300 callers to gain an appointment for a tour. (If you are the 301st caller, you can take the 92nd Street Y off your preschool list.)

Many out-of-towners and locals alike scoff at this process. “It’s just preschool!” They say, as if that statement alone means anything. For those of you scratching your heads as to why anyone would engage in the Manhattan preschool admissions circus, here’s why I’m doing it:

1. It’s important to us that our little girl gets a lot of stimulation and exposure to things that will broaden her mind. We feel like she’ll get this more at a relatively structured, semi-academic environment of a formal preschool – and not simply a place considered “day care”.

2. We hope to send her to a private school in kindergarten, and private schools in Manhattan are so selective that your child will have a better chance of getting in if they’ve gone to a respected preschool. The NY Times perfectly timed the release of their article on how hard it is to get into private schools in Manhattan yesterday – the same day as the admissions circus. (Personal fact of pride: the article focuses on my alma mater.) NY Times article: Elite Schools Rethink Saving Seat for Little Sister.

So that joke about how your kid’s preschool will determine whether or not they get into Harvard? Yeh, not that far off.

Nursery University

(On that note, I don’t care if our little Monkey goes to Harvard, but I want her to have the best we can offer her and the option to go almost anywhere and do almost anything she wants.)

So how do you figure out which preschools to apply to? Here’s one way: purchase the (eh hem, outdated) preschool “bible”, The Manhattan Directory of Private Nursery Schools. Flip through it and do the research to find the program that fits exactly what you’re looking for for your child. Or, if all you care about is Harvard, then check out NY Magazine’s article on the top New York City preschools, called Inside the Sandbox and just apply to those. I’ll admit, I did a little of both.

Our little Monkey (though she doesn’t know it yet) is applying to nine schools over the next three weeks, all for September 2012. Three of them are on the Upper East Side and tout the alum children of such celebs as Michael (my fave) J. Fox, Katie Couric, Woody Allen, Caroline Kennedy, and (oh yes) Cindy Lauper. The other six are Upper West Side schools, as we ourselves, are Upper West Siders, and tout such celebrity names as… as… oh yeah, I think Sarah Jessica and Matthew’s son went to one of them. But the Upper West Side schools have a more down-to-Earth, family-oriented, let’s-do-what’s-right-by-everyone sort of feel to them. The parents are more like the professors of the world, the musicians, psychologists, and social workers of the world (according to NY Magazine) while the Upper West Side parents are the Chanel-wearing, mink coat carrying, bankers and other high finance money money money-makers. Of course, these are generalizations. I just recently met an awesome woman whose son is going to one of these Upper East Side schools. She’s a magazine editor and her husband is a doctor. Both down-to-Earth, both let’s-just-try-and-raise-a-happy-kid people.

I said from the beginning that I didn’t want to be a part of the drama, I just wanted to join the game. I don’t want to be involved in the “oh your child is going there, well my child is going here” mess, I just wanted to give our Monkey the opportunity to go to a strong program. But as I called Episcopal School for the 500th time today (no exaggeration – and why can I never spell exaggeration without using spellcheck?) trying to get through to someone to request an application, I felt myself withering away and slipping into the parental abyss of $13K a year for the first year, birthday parties where we’re the ones with the cheap gift, parent nights where we’re the ones wearing flip flops and no major labels, battling through the kindergarten application process in three years (which we also can’t afford – Kindergarten is already $36,870 a year at my alma mater… even more than it was per year for me to attend college only 11 years ago!). After hearing a busy signal for the 500th time, it rings. But then it’s a recorded message saying I should call back to speak with someone. My heart slips back into my chest.

What’s the alternative? I ask myself, as I continue pushing the little one in her stroller, trying to get her to take a nap. Leave New York? Do day care for some socialization and then public school? What do I want for her, and how much does it all actually matter? Then I hear the chatter from others in my head, saying “Some of the most successful people in the world didn’t even graduate high school!” Well, good for them. Good for Quentin Tarantino, Richard Pryor, and Flava Flav (if you can believe that one.) But I want my Monkey to learn everything she can. I want the world to be her oyster.

So damnit, we’re gonna find the money, I’m gonna keep calling friggin’ Episcopal School until they friggin’ pick up (sorry for the profanity, Jesus), and we’re gonna get our Monkey into the best schools we can. Because she’s awesome. And she’s worth every penny…

… even $1,350,000 of them.


1 Response to “The Day the Earth Stood Still a.k.a. Getting My Kid into a Manhattan Preschool”

  1. 1 ReluctantHubby September 8, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    Me – reluctant. Yes.

    I am completely behind a good education, but Im loathe to believe that $27k/year for pre-k is a good investment. For that much money my daughter had damn well better get her own personal clown and organic snacks that have been handmade by a child in a third world country who will receive no education. And he better be a good clown, not some old beat up has-been.

    I’m just sayin’….

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