BronxMama Series: Turning Five

Even though there is still snow on the ground and September seems so far away, registration for Kindergarten already started back in January. And with February being a short month, the March 4th deadline is fast approaching. While all around the country it is often a no brainer to send your children to your local zoned school, that isn’t always an option for parents living in New York City, especially here in the Bronx. It just so happens that three of us here at BronxMama are getting our kids ready for Kindergarten and the search has not been easy. So, for our first ever BronxMama series, we will be discussing the topic of Turning Five. The stories will include our searches for the right school for our children and their needs, the process of preparing them for their first day, and everything in between. Also, we’ll hear from BronxMama writer Marilyn, who just so happens to be a Elementary school teacher in the Bronx. 

ON NOT LIVING NEAR THE SCHOOL YOU LIKE AND NOT KNOWING EXACT DETAILS OF YOUR WORK AND HOME SITUATION…

Having only gone to high school in New York City, my elementary school experiences are much different than many here in the big apple. I went to school in both Virginia and California and feel like for the most part I got a pretty awesome education. I always had computers in every classroom, a small class size, and an easy commute to school. Unfortunately here in New York you sometimes have to try a little harder to get all of those things at the same time.

Growing up, I was a marine brat, moving around almost every two years. The main thing I want for my daughter is to stay in the same place as long as possible. She has already gone to the daycare at John Jay College since she was in diapers, and I knew that the next place I put her would be her Elementary School she stays at until she is ready to move on to Junior High.

The problem I have is this- I am a full time student right now. I haven’t started my career. Therefore, I have no idea what tomorrow brings. It isn’t like I can plan around my schedule, or where my office is. I have to plan around what I know now, which isn’t a lot. There are two schools in walking distance from us. One has been completely ruled out in my book. The other, I am pretty hesitant about. The school I found that I’d really like her to go to is about a five minute drive from us, but not in our zone. This leaves her chances of getting in pretty slim.

Although I feel like a good school is worth the commute, I’ve been commuting with Briana since she was in diapers. It takes a toll on both of us. So, what is the point of going to an awesome school if the hour and a half train ride turns her into a miserable, tired, and cranky kid who can’t stay awake in class and who doesn’t have enough energy to do her homework when she gets home. Other kids might be okay, but I know my daughter and she needs something that isn’t ridiculously far.  Let’s leave the meltdowns and tantrums due to the MTA back in the Pre K days…

Our other option is moving. But, with both me and the hubby pursuing our goals- me in graduate school and him an intern at the William J. Clinton Foundation, we have a subsidy that helps pay our rent due to our income. Unfortunately the area that I’d love to move to in the Bronx isn’t exactly known for their landlords who are willing to accept these programs. So the chances of moving before the application deadline are slim.

So, with that being said, I plan to apply to a number of schools that I think Briana would be happy at and see what happens from there. I believe that everything happens for a reason. While I don’t know what will be happening the day I receive the offers-will I be working? Will we still live here? Will we finally have a car?- I do know that we will make it work, like we always do.

Nicole Perrino


ON FINDING THE BEST EDUCATION FOR YOUR CHILD WITH SPECIAL NEEDS WHEN YOU’RE NOT A MILLIONAIRE..

I remember kindergarten being fun.  I even remember my kindergarten teacher’s name: Mrs. Kapplan.  Every day, I was bused to the public school in Glendale, Queens.  Though I doubt my mother toured the school prior to my attendance.  She wasn’t thinking about it being the best, it was simply the only option available.  By the time I entered second grade, my brother and I were enrolled in the neighborhood catholic school.  It was my mother’s way of providing the best for her children.

I wish that the government believed my son is entitled to the best.  But if your child has Special Needs, “best” becomes a four-letter word whispered in the privacy of your own home.  According to the public school system, my child with autism is entitled to FAPE – an acronym for a Free and Appropriate Public Education.  And appropriate is an ambiguous word.

So since my son, Norrin, starts kindergarten this September I’ve toured private schools (funded and unfunded by the Board of Education), filled out applications, had him privately evaluated by a neuropsychologist and retained the services of a Special Needs Education consultant to assist me with the process.  Sound expensive?  It is.  Can I really afford the best or rather the most appropriate school placement?  No, unfortunately not.

A private unfunded school can cost about $100k per year or more.  However, many private unfunded schools have Connors Funding – available to families whose yearly income is under $250k per year.  We qualify for Connors.  As for private funded schools – there is the coveted Nickerson letter (only available in NYC).  However, there are several provisions to the Nickerson letter.  You may also receive a CBST referral for the funded schools.

If your child has special needs, the “Turning Five” process is a marathon, a labyrinth of special education law.  It is emotionally and financially draining.  It is exhausting and the finish line is blurred.

I am hoping to acquire a CBST referral or a Nickerson letter for a funded school.  The private unfunded schools scare me.  I’ll need a lawyer and I’ll need to sue The Board of Education every single year for reimbursement.  It’s a financial burden that’s too much to think about.

I am done touring private schools and I’ve filled out all the necessary applications.  Now all I have to do is wait.  Wonder and worry, until I am informed of my Turning Five meeting with the Committee of Special Education.  And then, at that point I will advocate.  And hope.  Because I do believe that my child is entitled to the best education possible and I am committed to providing it for him.  You’ll just never hear me say it out loud.

For more on our “Turning Five” process, please visit AutismWonderland or for more information, please refer to Advocates for Children or NYC Department of Education.

Lisa Quinones-Fontanez


ON FINDING THE RIGHT PUBLIC SCHOOL WITH THE RIGHT SERVICES…

My middle child, Alex, will be starting kindergarten. What does that mean? The search for a school is on. The search has been on since this school year has begun. There are tons of people in the same search for kindergarten boat. However, this is the first time I have been on this boat.

Five years ago, Becky, my oldest child, was in Pre-K going to Kindergarten. I wasn’t nervous about the process one bit.  She attended CS50 for Head Start and Pre-K so naturally she just moved forward to K within the same school. Ms. Middleton was her teacher. It was Ms. Middleton’s first year as a K teacher, so that year was a little bumpy but successful nonetheless.

This time around is very different. Alex is currently enrolled in a Committee on Preschool Special Education (CPSE) center. He is enrolled at Easter Seals Child Development Center on East Tremont off of Castle Hill. He has attended Easter Seals since he was 2 years old with Early Intervention. This center only services children ages 2-5. So that means that this school year is his last.

Now here is my dilemma…Alex has an Individualize Educational Plan (IEP).  Alex receives almost every type of service minus applied behavior analysis (ABA) and a one to one paraprofessional. That limits my decision for his placement. Also what limits the search even more, I can’t sue the city and send him off to a city funded private school.

Why not?

Well, Alex’s development has not stalled. His cognitive ability has steadily increased and he is currently on target compared to “normal” Pre-K students. In fact, he has nearly reached all of his annual IEP goals in all services areas and its only January. So that means New York City Department of Education has held up their part of the IEP. If they had failed in any way, an agreement would need to be made and that is usually a free private school education.

The list of schools is limited to public schools that provide his services. The center has begun gathering the necessary paperwork to transition. In the spring, the evaluations coordinator will be contacting me on her and the NYCDOE indicating the recommended special education services and where will they be provided. I can agree or disagree on the decision.

Luckily, I can apply for an admission in the school his older sister’s is enrolled in. The school has all the services he is currently getting but is outside of our district. The school doesn’t have to take him but they also can’t stop me from applying according to the NYCDOE guideline. It would be dream to have the older kids in the same school. That would be a huge weight off my shoulders.

Amy Guobadia

“An Elementary Teacher’s Guide for Preparing for Kindergarten”

If your child will turn five years old by December 2011, then you are most likely getting ready to register her for kindergarten. As a parent, you may have a lot of questions. You may even be unaware of some questions that you should have in addition to the ones already in your mind. The questions in your mind may be shared by many other parents: Which school is closest to our home? What will my child learn in Kindergarten? Other questions may not come to your mind so suddenly, but you should try to find the answers to them.

  • What is the size of an average Kindergarten class? How long is the day?
    • Kindergarten classes usually have a maximum of 25 students. The students are in school for a regular full day with exception of a few days. You must check the school’s calendar.
  • How many teachers are in the classroom?
    • Schools in New York City do not have an uniform policy or strategy on the number of teachers that should be in a Kindergarten classroom. Some classes have a teacher and an assistant for the entire day, while other classes have one teacher and a different teacher that pushes in (works with specific student inside the classroom) or pulls out (works with students from the class outside of the classroom). Still, other Kindergarten classes have minimal help from a second adult. It’s important to know how many teachers are in your child’s Kindergarten classroom because having more teachers lowers the teacher to student ratio. A low teacher to student ratio means your child gets called on more to participate, receives more one on one guidance, and quicker intervention if she is struggling.
  • Will my child be learning about music, art, dance or theatre?
    • These subjects are often the first to be cut from a class’ flow of the day if there are budget cuts or if the school has a test prep culture (which I define as a school that worries about testing students instead of allowing them to become critical thinkers and problem solvers via guided exploration). For example, I remember having sensory tables and a kitchen area when I was in Kindergarten. We even had quiet time and took short naps! Today, the average Kindergarten classroom does not have any of these things. They are focused on reading, writing, and math such as with the older grades. Ask the school, and your child’s teacher, if your child’s class will participate in the “fun” subjects like music, art, dance or theatre. Children that are allowed an artistic outlet that is also academic can become well rounded students and have great overall academic success.
  • What should my child know before starting Kindergarten?
    • First and foremost, expose your child to rich language by using complete sentences and describing the world around you. If your child has attended preschool, he may be at an advantage. Preschool teaches similar concepts and skills as Kindergarten. Your child should be able to identify each letter of the alphabet, which letter corresponds to which sound (and vice versa), numbers 1-10 and be able to write her name as well as a few other basic sight words (dog, cat, etc). If your child is unable to do these things yet, don’t fret! She will relearn and practice in school. Still, be aware that some schools base the child’s reading ability on reading levels. They must start first grade on level D, which means that they must go through reading levels A-C in Kindergarten. Level A requires reading a couple or a few sight words repeated throughout a story. Level B requires reading a sentence per page in a story; the sentences typically have a repetitive pattern. Level C involves reading a sentence or two (per page in a story) that can be slightly more varied, although they may still share a repetitive pattern. Your child will be assessed in all subjects. This means they will be tested for their knowledge in reading, writing, and math. Many teachers group their students according to ability based on their assessment results. For reading, the students typically have a reading group where all students in the group are reading on the same level (again, based on assessment results).
  • Where is my child’s classroom located?
    • Believe it or not, some schools have Kindergarten classes that are not conveniently located. They may be near older students in the upper grades or they may not be on the main floor or near a bathroom. A great Kindergarten classroom has a bathroom in the classroom (so that the child does not need to share a bathroom with older students), is on the main floor (so that the child does not need to get tired walking up and down stairs with a backpack), and is near other Kindergarten classes (so they may be near their peers and you can also rest assured that the teachers are able to work collaboratively). Please note: even if the students do not have access to a classroom bathroom, make sure the teachers escort them and wait for them when the students use the public hallway bathrooms (unsupervised Kindergarten students going to the bathroom can become scared when they see the older students or lost).

What’s the difference between a public school and a charter school?

  • Charter schools are public schools. They are typically founded by educators, parents, and community leaders. They operate freely of the regulations that public schools must follow, but they still have a set of standards that they must meet. They may have longer days and/or school years, there is more accountability placed on teachers helping each and every child learn (this is monitored through frequent observations of the teacher; most charter schools have an open-door policy where they may informally observe a teacher’s lesson unannounced), and parent involvement is a top priority. They often have a stated educational philosophy and they may also have a theme (some schools may focus on the sciences, while others focus on the arts, for example). These are the three major differences that I have noticed as a public school teacher. This does not mean that all charter schools have these characteristics or that all public schools do not have these characteristics. Please note: to attend a charter school in New York City, you must enter a lottery and results are announced in the spring.

Registering your child for Kindergarten involves a lot of thinking and planning. It also involves prior academic preparation with your child. As a parent, it is best to generate and ask questions. Ask the school, ask the teacher, ask other parents that have children in the school of your interest, and visit the classroom several times so that you may comprehend your child’s academic flow of the day. It helps when teachers and parents work together and have consistent communication. Make appointments with your child’s teacher whenever you feel necessary. Become involved with the Parent Teacher Association as well if you are able. Good luck in coming up with your questions, researching for answers, and making educationally sound choices for the future of your child! But, most of all, remember that each child blossoms at her own pace. Enjoy Kindergarten along with your little one!

Marilyn Urena Rincon, 3rd grade teacher

Have a question for us? Want to leave your feedback? Comment below or email us at bronxmama.com@gmail.com. We can’t wait to hear what other pre school parents have to say about the process of Turning Five.

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