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Parents Struggle to Pick Gifted and Talented Schools As Deadline Nears

By Julie Shapiro | April 19, 2012 8:22am

LOWER EAST SIDE — With gifted and talented public school applications due on Friday, many families are still struggling over where to apply.

Anna Gusel, a Prospect Heights mother, is trying to decide between the Brooklyn School of Inquiry, which is closer to her home, and New Explorations Into Science, Technology and Math, which is on the Lower East Side and offers specialized enrichment classes including Mandarin.

Even though Gusel's son got a top score of 99 on the gifted and talented kindergarten entrance exam, Gusel is still worried that her son won't gain a spot at either of the schools, which are among the most competitive in the city, with hundreds more applications than seats.

"I don't know how to choose," Gusel said. "Nobody really knows. It's pretty nerve-wracking."

Gifted & Talented Quiz
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Billy Figueroa

Gusel was one of about 100 parents of high-scoring kids who attended a panel on the Lower East Side Tuesday night in the hope of getting answers before gifted and talented applications are due April 20.

"This is an insane process," Peter Szabo, a parent at the Upper West Side's Anderson School, who helped organize the panel, told the auditorium full of anxious families. "It's crazy. We feel your pain."

All of the parents who attended Tuesday night's panel had children who scored in the 97th percentile or above on the gifted and talented test, which qualifies them to apply for a spot in the five citywide gifted schools: NEST+m, Anderson, TAG Young Scholars in East Harlem, Brooklyn School of Inquiry in Bensonhurst, and the STEM Academy in Astoria.

But the families aren't guaranteed a seat at any of those schools. While 2,656 preschoolers scored a 97 or above on the gifted test, just 300 kindergarten spots are available this year in the five citywide schools, parents said.

Rosaly Kozbelt, a Ditmas Park resident, said she was initially elated when she found out that her son Ben scored a 99 on the gifted exam — until she found out that even a top score might not be enough to get him into kindergarten at the Brooklyn School of Inquiry, the family's first choice.

"It gave us this feeling of hope, and then in practical terms it may actually mean nothing," Kozbelt said. "It's been heartbreaking."

At Tuesday's panel, moderated by admissions consultant Robin Aronow, parents from each of the five schools described the pros and cons of their program, giving a taste of the differences between them.

The Anderson School is the most traditional, with homework starting in kindergarten and students often earning top scores on state standardized tests. One concern is that the school's Upper West Side building is getting crowded, since two other schools share the space, parent Joli Golden said.

On the other end of the educational philosophy spectrum is the progressive Brooklyn School of Inquiry in Bensonhurst, which has no required homework in lower grades and puts a large emphasis on social-emotional learning. The school could use a bigger playground and would like smaller class sizes, parent Evie Rabeck said.

NEST+m offers a strong, well-rounded curriculum with 10-week enrichment clusters in nontraditional topics such as Korean, street hockey and knitting. Kindergarten classes have 25 children but classes grow to 29 students by fourth and fifth grade, and parent Katy Stokes said she would prefer smaller classes.

TAG Young Scholars is a very diverse school — about 50 percent black, 30 percent Hispanic, 17 percent Asian and 3 percent white — and while it doesn't have as wealthy a parent base as some of the other gifted schools, there is a strong and devoted school community, parent Clarence Case said. While TAG can be competitive, the students also help each other learn, Case said.

STEM Academy in Queens is known for the principal's open-door policy, strong parent involvement and a playground that features a rock-climbing wall. It is the only citywide gifted program that ends at fifth grade, but parents are pushing the city to allow it to expand into a K-8, parent Margot Bouman said.

For more detailed comparisons, parents from the five schools also put together a detailed guide to help families choose a program.