Friday, July 26, 2013

Baby University

 I recently went to see 'A Kid Like Jake' at the 'Claire Tow' theatre in the Lincoln Centre. It follows the story of two parents as they brave the New York private school application process. It highlights the emotional affects it can have on a family and the impact on the child. The portrayal of desperation and frustration in this play must ring true with many parents across Manhattan. 

As a former Kindergarten teacher in London's private school system, I am aware of the stressful process required to secure a child a place in the most popular schools. However, since moving to New York I have discovered that the system here is more grueling, and the competition for spots even greater.

Applying for the best schools in New York starts early in a child's life, sometimes before they are even born. Waiting lists to apply for certain schools start years before the child will begin his or her education. The actual submissions procedure then requires endless form filling, essay writing, interviews, observations and exams. 

The ERB (Educational Records Bureau) test for pre-schoolers is required by all of the top private schools in the city. Many parents pay for tutors to coach their child in preparation for the exam, where anything below 90% is considered a poor score. It seems like a tremendous amount of pressure to place on a 4-year old.

But why are these schools regarded in such high stead? You could argue that if you only pick the brightest, most academic and easy to teach children, you will of course get better results. Would these schools be as successful if they were unable to hand pick their students? It is this exclusivity and prestige associated with such schools that attracts parents, making it worth the high price tag and excruciating application process.
Some might say that it is ridiculous for a child's future academic career to be determined before they are 5 years old. It places too much pressure on a family and replaces the excitement of starting school with doubt and anxiety. 

That said, with the demand for such schools at an all time high, it doesn't appear that the system will change any time soon. In an industry that seems largely unaffected by today's economy, it demonstrates the lengths parents will go to, both financially and emotionally, for their child's education. Parents I have spoken with say that choosing a first school is so important because it ultimately determines which university their child will attend. As each school feeds up to another it is important to start at the bottom of the best ladder you can afford. Although by no means a popular process, parents are willing to accept it in order to offer their child, what they consider to be, the best start in life. 

'A Kid Like Jake' played at the 'Claire Tow' Theatre in the Lincoln Centre until July 14th 2013. For more information visit http://www.lct.org/showMain.htm?id=218

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