Fuse #8

Monday, March 06, 2006

If you're feeling like human civilization has gone off the deep end...

... then here's your proof.
I'm including the whole darn article here because I can't figure out how to attach the link. Needless to say, it's amusing in a kind of soul crushing way.

March 3, 2006
In Baby Boomlet, Preschool Derby Is the Fiercest Yet
The fierce competition for private preschool in New York City has been propelled to such a frenzy this year by the increased numbers of children vying for scarce slots that it could be mistaken for a kiddie version of "The Apprentice."

Take the case of the Rabbani twins, who live on the Upper West Side. Their father, Usman Rabbani, graduated from Yale 10 years ago, has a master's degree from Harvard and works for a major drug company in Manhattan. Despite his accomplishments, Mr. Rabbani was stumped when he sat down to compose a short essay a couple of months ago. His assignment? To profile his two toddlers. Of his 18-month-old son Humza he eventually wrote, "He knows that birds like to sit on rooftops when they are not on the ground, that cats and dogs like to be petted, and that the blue racquetballs in the can belong in the racquetball court upstairs."

About Humza's twin, Raza, he wrote, "He is happy to point out all his body parts when asked."

With those words, Mr. Rabbani conquered parental writer's block and entered this year's version of the altered universe of private preschool admissions. After years of decline, the number of children under 5 in Manhattan, where the most competitive programs are located, increased by 26 percent between 2000 and 2004, according to census estimates. Yet the number of slots has not kept apace. "These are the kids who are 2, 3, 4, and 5 years old now, trying to get into p reschool and kindergarten," said Amanda Uhry, the owner of Manhattan Private School Advisors, a consulting firm for parents. "And it's a nightmare."

This is the moment of maximum anxiety for parents, many of whom have applied to so-called safety preschools, just hoping their children will be accepted somewhere. And the hot pursuit of slots has continued despite tuition that can run over $10,000 a year for 3-year-olds. Acceptance letters were sent out last Wednesday for private kindergarten programs, to be followed next week by the telltale thick or thin envelopes from the preschools.

"We're feeling it," said Ellen Bell, an admissions official at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School, an elite private institution. "It's a real problem for us to deal with the number of applicants and deal with them properly the way we want to, to be fair with every family. These numbers are just becoming overwhelming." "I see a greater angst in the parent, and that tr oubles me, and my heart goes out to them," she added. "We're sending out more news that people don't want to get." Part of the problem is that the number of twins and triplets born to women in New York City has increased, according to city Health Department statistics. In 1995, there were 3,707 twin births in all the boroughs; in 2003, there were 4,153; and in 2004, there were 4,655. Triplet births have also risen, from 60 in 1995, to 299 in 2004. Because preschools strive for gender and age balance in generally small classes” and also, some parents suspect, as many potential parental donors as possible” it is harder to get multiple slots in one class.

"I tell families that they may increase, hopefully double or triple, their options, by telling schools they are willing to separate their children," said Emily Glickman, whose firm, Abacus Guide Educational Consulting, helps parents win admission to private schools. "Unfortunate ly we are in a very cutthroat climate right now, where the schools have the power," Ms. Glickman added. New York City has about half the capacity it needs for its youngest students, public and private, said Betty Holcomb, the policy director of Child Care Inc., an agency in Chelsea that provides referral services for early child care. "Even if you're rich, you're not guaranteed a place in a preschool," Ms. Holcomb said.

So this year, the application essay, which parents might once have dashed off in a few sentences, has become a reason for more hand wringing. "What do you say about someone who just popped out?" Mr. Rabbani asked. "You're just getting to know them yourself."

In a sign of how overwrought the process has become, production is in progress on a pilot for a cable television reality series, "Manhattan Mom," about the daily travails of a New York woman. A producer said the series would include at least one epis ode focusing on the mother's struggles to get her 5-year-old into a top private kindergarten. But none of the 25 or so private schools the producers called will allow the producers to film any part of the process. "They don't want publicity," said Rachel Tung, one of the producers.

Few schools were interested in talking about the application process to a reporter, either; nearly a dozen did not return calls for comment. But many parents poured out their frustration. The preschool essays are just part of the problem, they say. Time-consuming interviews, observed play sessions, rising tuition costs and application fees, preferences shown to siblings and families who have connections to the school, and the increasing difficulty of gaining admission for twins and triplets, parents say, are making the process more stressful for the entire family. "I didn't get a real sense of competition like this until I was doing my colle ge applications, and even that seemed easier," said Mr. Rabbani, who went to high school in a small Canadian town near Buffalo.

Lori Malloy, who lives on the Upper West Side, watched friends try to get their children into preschool last year, and she remembered thinking, "I'm not going to get stressed out like the rest of these ladies." But when Ms. Malloy, a federal prosecutor, applied for her twins, a boy and a girl, she asked her husband to write the application essay. "I was so nervous," she said, "and I'm someone who took the LSAT, who's written for the federal judiciary and in law review." The family applied to four schools. "There's not a week that goes by that I don't regret that I didn't apply to three or four more," Ms. Malloy said.

Consultants are reaping benefit from the competition. Victoria Goldman, a consultant and an author of guides to Manhattan private schools, said, "This year, I've gotten more calls for nursery school than kindergarten." In writing the essay, parents can turn to the seminars that focus on "idea starters for application essays." Some good words to use in describing your child? Enthusiastic, creative, inquisitive, sensitive, consultants say. Ms. Uhry, the consultant, said it was almost impossible to overstate the importance of the essay. "The first way of separating the wheat from the chaff is to get rid of those essays in which the parents couldn't be bothered enough to write a decent essay or take this whole process seriously," she said. "It is your calling card. It is your entree." Still, no one can say for sure how much the essay matters. Some consultants think it is more important to have a strong contact or family friend already in the school of choice. Mr. Rabbani's advice? "You have to get creative in describing your child." Hence, his son Humza, in his essay, is "a soft-hearted jock." And Hum za's brother Raza is "a thinker and a mischievous lover." Perhaps Mr. Rabbani knows what he's talking about: Humza and Raza got into their parents' first choice of preschool two weeks ago. They were notified before most other parents because they applied through an early decision program.

Here's what I love about this article. Note this quote:
"Even if you're rich, you're not guaranteed a place in a preschool," Ms. Holcomb said.
Well that's a relief! Now all the lower to middle income families can just scrounge up the requisite $10,000 yearly tuition and carry on their merry way.
What, I have to wonder, constitutes "rich" these days?

My co-workers and all (children's librarians every one) sat around and chortled over this article last week. At one point I wondered aloud whether or not we see any of these sons and daughters of the ridiculous. That was when a co-worker pointed out that we see these kids every day. We're the branch their ridiculous parents turn to, simply because we're in the heart of Manhattan and we're the best children's room around. It's sad to conder and probably true. I know I've personally seen more twins and triplets running around than anywhere else.


At 9:37 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Loved your comment and included it with a link in the article I posted on the subject. Would love to see what you think as I included more information than outside of just NYC. Cheers! Hattie from MotherPie.com

Here's my link to the article: http://motherpie.typepad.com/motherpie/2006/03/harder_to_get_i.html

At 5:46 PM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

Ooh. Nice link. I'll make it into a posting. And I too would like to know more about what people around the country deal with. I have a feeling that L.A. is probably a lot of fun in this regard as well....


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