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Pre-K Admissions Have Parents Scrambling

By Julie Shapiro | February 18, 2013 7:37am

NEW YORK — Pre-K admissions season is about to begin — and many parents are already beginning to weigh their options.

Families can choose among hundreds of free public pre-K programs at elementary schools across the city, though some schools receive so many applications that they are harder to get into than an Ivy League college.

One of the most competitive pre-K programs is at P.S. 163 on the Upper West Side, which offered seats to just 3 percent of the 324 youngsters who applied in 2011, the most recent year for which Department of Education numbers are available.

In Park Slope, the Magnet School of Math, Science & Technology saw a staggering 604 applications for its pre-K program in 2011, while at P.S. 3 in Greenwich Village, 575 children applied for a seat, the DOE said.

Still, in other parts of the city, including Harlem and The Bronx, some schools regularly accept more than half of the kids who apply and others even struggle to fill all of their available seats, making those neighborhoods a good option for families who want to be guaranteed a spot.

And this year, the city is opening 4,000 new full-day pre-K spots in high-need neighborhoods, replacing many half-day programs that only ran for two-and-a-half hours in the morning or afternoon and were difficult for children with working parents to attend.

With the addition of the new full-day seats, the city will have 20,000 full-day pre-K spots and 23,000 half-day spots in the fall of 2013, officials said.

"Pre-K is so important, as is any early learning for young kids," said Maris Krasnow, clinical associate professor of early childhood education at New York University's Steinhardt School.

"We try to open up all of the child's senses…. They're learning about the world around them and learning to ask questions."

Applications to public pre-K programs will be available March 4 and will be due April 5. Families fill out a centralized citywide application that allows them to select up to a dozen potential choices. All children who were born in 2009 are eligible to apply.

Families will find out if their child was accepted to a program in early June, and then they will have until June 19 to pre-register at that school.

Dozens of community-based organizations throughout the city also offer free pre-K programs, though the application and admissions timeline varies, so parents must contact each organization individually for more information.

The city's public pre-K programs focus on four areas of instruction: physical, social-emotional, cognitive and creative expression/aesthetic, the DOE said in a booklet for parents. Common activities include climbing, running, drawing, painting, writing and playing make-believe.

"Preschool teaches children how to share, how to talk to one another and express their feelings, if they're angry, if they're sad," Krasnow said. "They're taught to use their words and not to hit."

Krasnow suggests that parents look for a warm, nurturing pre-K program that allows children to learn through play, which teaches them social skills including empathy.

One big change in pre-K this year is that children who attend an elementary school's pre-K program will be given priority at that school when they apply to kindergarten the following year, the DOE said.

That leg up will be particularly helpful in schools that select their kindergarten class by lottery, such as P.S. 150 in TriBeCa, or schools that often have kindergarten waitlists, like P.S. 187 in Washington Heights.

To help parents pick a pre-K program, the Department of Education will hold information sessions in each of the boroughs during the first two weeks of March, and many elementary schools run their own tours as well. For more information, visit the DOE's pre-K page.