How to Get Your 4-Year-Old Into a Gifted and Talented Program

By Amy Zimmer and Julie Shapiro  on April 10, 2013 6:40am

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NEW YORK CITY —  Many parents exhaled this weekend when they learned their children qualified for the city’s sought-after gifted and talented programs.

But many will hold their breath again for the next stressful steps: visiting schools, ranking their choices and submitting applications to the Department of Education by April 19.

Even if a 4-year-old made the grade on the new, harder standardized gifted tests — scoring in the top 10 percent — they are not guaranteed a coveted seat, especially as the number of gifted and talented programs is in flux in local school districts.

Radmilla Gordon, a Coney Island resident whose daughter, Alisa, scored in the 94th percentile, said her school district had three G&T programs slated for next school year compared to four this year. 

She worried she might not find a slot for Alisa.

“I’m very proud of my daughter,” said Gordon, whose 4-year-old spent more than a year preparing for the exam. “She did her part. Now her parents have to do ours.... I didn’t really think about placement issues.”

Gordon, a lawyer, visited one of the programs in her district and plans to see the other two as well.

“I’m pretty upset with the [limited] choices,” she said. “We’ll still keep our fingers crossed. I want to keep positive.”

More than 36,000 kids going into kindergarten through third grade applied for gifted and talented programs this year. Nearly 16 percent of them scored between the 90th and 96th percentile, qualifying them for a gifted program in their local district. 

Another 9 percent of the kids scored between the 97th and 99th percentile, qualifying them for the elite of the elite — the five citywide gifted programs: New Explorations Into Science, Technology and Math (NEST+m) on the Lower East Side; The Anderson School on the Upper West Side; TAG Young Scholars in East Harlem; the Brooklyn School of Inquiry in Bensonhurst; and the STEM Academy in Astoria.

Michael McCurdy, co-founder of TestingMom.com, a test preparation website that also helps guide parents through the selection process, urged all parents of high-scoring kids to visit schools.

“Don’t choose a school based on reputation or what other parents say,” he advised. “You have to make sure the school is a good fit for your child. Parents are really surprised that there’s no standardization of the gifted and talented curriculum in the city. We really tell parents when they go on these tours to ask about the curriculum.”

When Teresa Maher, of Whitestone, called P.S. 214, one of the schools in her district listed as offering a G&T program, the school wasn’t even aware it was supposed to have such a class, Maher said.

“They didn’t even know they were given the program,” said Maher. “They’re scrambling. So, there’s nothing to see on the tour.”

Maher’s 5-year-old Hannah scored in the 99th percentile, Maher said. She would have preferred to send Hannah to P.S. 209, the school where her older daughter Brianna, 10, is a fourthgrader in a gifted and talented program. But Maher said that school was discontinuing its G&T program. 

Maher did not want to send Hannah to the one citywide G&T program in Queens since the family lives more than 5 miles away from Astoria. And Maher didn’t want Hannah to go to a Manhattan school.

“It’s too far. There’s no way for me to pick her up and drop her off,” said Maher, an occupational therapist who works in Queens and whose husband works on Long Island. 

Although it won’t be easy for her to take her kids to two different schools in Queens, she said of Hannah’s score, “She made it so I want to give her that opportunity to at least be with other children who are of her ability. You do what you can.”

Once families submit their applications by April 19, the Department of Education is expected to inform families of G&T offers the week of May 20. Families will have until the week of June 3 to accept or decline offers.

But the list of programs is not yet finalized, and the Department of Education could not confirm which existing programs were closing and which new programs were opening.

“We’re continuing to work with schools to site programs based on the applicants we get,” a DOE spokesman said.

Younger siblings of current students in gifted programs have first priority in the admissions process, and then the remaining seats are distributed by lottery, first to children in the 99th percentile, then those in the 98th percentile, and so on, until all seats are filled.

Robin Aronow, founder of School Search NYC, advised parents only to apply to schools that they would actually consider attending and to list their choices in order of preference, not prestige.

"There's no gaming this," Aronow told DNAinfo.com.

DOWNTOWN AND GREENWICH VILLAGE/SOHO

Lower Manhattan and Greenwich Village do not have any gifted and talented programs, and since the local zoned schools are so highly regarded, most parents decide to stick close to home. But recent kindergarten waitlists in Lower Manhattan may push parents to take another look at these programs.

LOWER EAST SIDE/EAST VILLAGE

The Lower East Side is home to New Explorations Into Science, Technology and Math, one of the most sought-after of the five citywide gifted programs.

Parents choose the Columbia Street school, known as NEST+m, for its stellar curriculum, which includes Mandarin instruction starting in kindergarten, Singapore Math focusing on problem solving and strong programs in chess, technology and the arts. Students have enrichment clusters where they can choose a topic like magic or cooking and study it in-depth with children from other classes.

Another advantage is that once children get into kindergarten there, they can remain all the way through 12th grade, which means they don't have to go through the city's stressful admissions processes for middle and high school, parents said.

The Lower East Side also has a district gifted and talented program for District 1, at P.S. 110/Florence Nightingale, which includes extra enrichment and emphasizes independent learning, according to the school's website.  

P.S. 110 also offers after-school chess lessons, a brand-new computer lab and an interdisciplinary architecture program that incorporates math, science, social studies and literacy.

The school is also one of the most diverse in District 1, with a student body that in 2010 was 46 percent Hispanic, 25 percent white, 15 percent black and 13 percent Asian.

A new program is expected to be added at the East Village's P.S. 15/The Roberto Clemente School, which according its website has several collaborations with artists and professional musicians, including a program with Lincoln Center and Ballet Tech.

In Chinatown, the city offers two gifted and talented programs that are part of District 2, which stretches from Battery Park to the Upper East Side, but does not include the Lower East Side and East Village.

P.S. 130, 143 Baxter St., is known for having uniforms and a traditional curriculum that pushes both gifted and talented and general education students to excel, parents said on Insideschools. While there is no outdoor yard for recess, P.S. 130 offers indoor gym and dance classes to get kids moving. The school is nearly 90 percent Asian, and many children enter kindergarten speaking no English, but they quickly get caught up thanks to the extra English Language Learners teachers the school provides.

P.S. 124, 40 Division St., also offers a traditional gifted and talented curriculum, with enrichment opportunities including a chess team that won the NYC Mayor's Cup in 2011 and a theater troupe that won the Freddie G Outstanding Achievement in Acting Award at Atlanta's 2012 Junior Theater Festival in January. Principal Alice Hom was also one of just five principals in the city to receive an excellence award from Time Warner in 2007.

CHELSEA/HELL'S KITCHEN

Chelsea offers three gifted and talented programs that are part of District 2: at P.S. 11 on West 21st Street; at P.S. 33 at Ninth Avenue and West 26th Street; and a new one expected at P.S. 111 at West 53rd Street.

At P.S. 33, kindergartners entering the gifted and talented program immediately start doing advanced work, and the instruction is both faster and more in-depth than in the general education classes.

Just a few blocks away, P.S. 11 offers a curriculum with a strong focus on the arts and often integrates gifted and general education students. The school's second-graders have taken modern dance classes, the third-graders have worked on one-act plays and the fifth-graders have put on "The Music Man, Jr.," according to the school's website.

P.S. 11 also boasts a sustainable school lunch program that features farm-fresh veggies such as kale and collard greens prepared by a professional chef. Vegetables that don't make it into the meals are sold at a student-run farmers' market.

P.S. 111, which is surrounded by new development, is trying to get a G&T program off the ground this year.

"The administration and teachers seem dedicated," Aronow said, noting "They have a fairly popular pre-K program."

MURRAY HILL/GRAMERCY

The city phased out the formerly popular gifted and talented program at P.S. 116 in Kips Bay, leaving neighborhoods from Gramercy up through Midtown East without any local options for gifted kids.

The city had to slash P.S. 116's G&T program because there was no longer room for it in the overcrowded school. P.S. 116 was also forced to eliminate its pre-K classes.

In the meantime, families in Gramercy and Murray Hill can apply to gifted programs elsewhere in District 2.

UPPER WEST SIDE

Children from all five boroughs apply to attend the Upper West Side's Anderson School, one of the most competitive gifted and talented programs in the city.

Anderson is known for its strong traditional academics, with enrichment including lessons in Spanish and chess, both beginning in kindergarten. Homework begins in kindergarten as well, but Anderson also allows time for hands-on, exploratory learning, Joli Golden, co-president of Anderson's PTA told DNAinfo.com.

One of the reasons Golden, an Upper West Side resident, decided to send her son to Anderson is that every classroom has both a regular teacher and an assistant, ensuring that the students get lots of individual attention.

Golden was also drawn to Anderson because of its well-regarded middle school, which her son will now automatically be able to attend after graduating from fifth grade.

While some parents who decided against Anderson said they felt it was too high-pressure for their children, Golden said she has found the environment supportive.

The Upper West Side's District 3 also has several district gifted and talented programs, at P.S. 163 on West 97th Street, which has an accelerated curriculum; P.S. 165 on West 109th Street, which has a dual-language English-Spanish program; and P.S. 166 on West 89th Street, which is known for its theater classes, community garden and landmarked Gothic building.

Since the local zoned schools on the Upper West Side are so strong, some parents choose not to apply to gifted programs at all, or even if they do apply and get in, they choose to stick with their neighborhood school, parents said.

UPPER EAST SIDE

The Upper East Side's Lower Lab School is one of the most highly regarded gifted and talented programs in District 2.

While Lower Lab is a district gifted program, which means children who test in the 90th percentile or above can apply, it feels more like one of the elite citywide gifted programs, Aronow said.

That's partly because Lab Principal Mara Ratesic-Koetke was previously assistant principal at The Anderson School, Aronow said. Also, while most district G&T programs have one or two classes of gifted kids alongside several classes of general education students, Lower Lab is solely for gifted students.

Students at the Lower Lab School do hands-on projects to learn math and science concepts, and the curriculum emphasizes independent research projects, according to the school's website. Children also learn to speak Spanish.

Sharing Lab's building at Third Avenue and East 95th Street is P.S. 198, a local zoned elementary school that started offering its own gifted program in 2010, according to the Department of Education.

Although P.S. 198's gifted program is still young, it has already improved the school's atmosphere and increased parental involvement, the principal told Insideschools.

P.S./I.S. 217 on Roosevelt Island also has a District 2 gifted and talented program.

HARLEM AND WASHINGTON HEIGHTS/INWOOD

TAG Young Scholars in East Harlem is one of the most diverse of the five citywide gifted schools, drawing many of its students from the surrounding neighborhood and The Bronx.

Parents raved about the electives the children can choose, including robotics and puppetry, and many liked the school’s racially and socioeconomically diverse environment. TAG was 46 percent black, 29 percent Hispanic, 19 percent Asian and 4 percent white, according to recent city statistics.

Harlem's District 4 added a new district gifted program at P.S. 102 on East 113th Street, which started with just kindergartners two years ago. The neighboring District 5 has a gifted program at P.S. 129 on West 130th Street. Just to the north, District 6 has a gifted program at P.S. 153 at Amsterdam Avenue and West 147th Street.

Washington Heights and Inwood no longer have any gifted and talented programs, now that the one at P.S. 98 on West 212th Street has phased out, but Upper Manhattan residents can still apply to the District 6 program at P.S. 153.

BROOKLYN

In Brooklyn neighborhoods where the public schools are well-regarded, such as Park Slope, parents often do not worry about whether their child gets into a gifted and talented program, parents and experts said.

"Very often families are doing the [gifted and talented] test to see how they do, but a lot of families opt for zoned programs," Joyce Szuflita, a Brooklyn school admissions consultant and founder of NYC School Help told DNAinfo.com. "The gifted and talented programs are well-respected, but it's not do-or-die."

One exception is the sought-after Brooklyn School of Inquiry, in Bensonhurst, a citywide gifted and talented program that draws students from every borough, except The Bronx. Parents liked the school’s holistic, individualized approach to learning. Second-graders last year, for instance, were building scale models of the Brooklyn Bridge displayed in the school’s playground.

While some families travel long distances to get to the Brooklyn School of Inquiry, the Brooklynites who choose district gifted and talented programs mostly stay closer to home, Szuflita said.

One of the most well-established and highly regarded district programs is at District 15's P.S. 230 in Kensington, which has a rich progressive curriculum and a devoted group of parents, she said.

Other popular programs include the gifted classes at District 13's P.S. 9 in Prospect Heights and the new gifted program with lots of enrichment options at District 15's P.S. 32 near Carroll Gardens.

"A lot of people believe in the progressive heterogeneous model [of education]," Szuflita said. "To go to a tracked model, for some people, is antithetical to what they believe in."

Though some Williamsburg and Greenpoint parents prefer to send their kids to Manhattan schools like Nest+M, District 14’s P.S. 132 G&T program has gained a reputation along with the Williamsburg school, which has an array of clubs, including one where kids tend chickens and help tend a rooftop farm in Greenpoint, according to Insideschools.

QUEENS

There were no citywide gifted and talented programs in Queens (or The Bronx or Staten Island) when Teresa Maher’s eldest daughter, Brianna, now in fourth grade, was entering school, Maher said. So she rolled up her sleeves, contacted elected officials and prodded the DOE to expand its offerings. 

Besides more than 25 G&T programs in Queens, families in Queens flock to the STEM Academy in Astoria, one of five citywide gifted and talented schools. Parents said their children there were learning everything from how to build skyscrapers to how to dance salsa.

Margot Bouman, a Jackson Heights resident whose son, Nathaniel, was in third grade there, liked the school’s hands-on learning, preferring STEM's interdisciplinary curriculum to some of the more traditional district gifted programs in Queens, which she said focus more on preparing kids for the state standardized tests.

One disadvantage of STEM is that it only goes up to fifth grade, which means the students still have to go through the city's arduous middle school application process. However, STEM parents are pushing the city to expand the school into a K-8, Bouman said.

Many parents also like the G&T program at Sunnyside’s P.S. 150, where students are then enrolled at the prestigious “Academy” at Astoria’s P.S. 122 middle school. But the DOE is planning cuts to that program.

Despite the more than two-dozen district gifted programs, many Queens families, like Brooklynites, still prefer their neighborhood zoned school or one of the area's newer charter schools, parents said. 

One admissions consultant said gifted programs were more popular in the Queens neighborhoods closest to Manhattan, while in the farther-out neighborhoods, more parents were satisfied with their zoned school.

THE BRONX

The Bronx does not have any citywide gifted and talented programs, but is slated to offer programs at seven schools next fall.

The borough's lack of gifted and talented seats was at least partly due to the fact that so few children apply.

In the South Bronx's District 7, for example, just 122 kids took the kindergarten gifted and talented test two years ago, and only six of them qualified for a district G&T seat — too few to fill a kindergarten class. This year, roughly 70 took the test and seven qualified.

Among the Bronx schools offering programs include District 8's P.S. 182, District 10's P.S. 7 and District 11's P.S. 121.

STATEN ISLAND

Staten Island does not offer any citywide gifted and talented programs and is slated to have six district G&T programs.

Since Staten Island has only one school district — District 31 — families living anywhere on the island have an equal shot at getting into these programs.

There were 170 4-year-olds on Staten Island who qualified for gifted and talented seats, out of 754 who applied.

Gifted programs were expected to run at P.S. 3 in Pleasant Plains, P.S. 29 in West Brighton, P.S. 50 in Oakwood and P.S. 69 in New Springville, among others.

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