LOWER EAST SIDE — Pre-K application season is a stressful time in the Lower East Side's District 1, as families angle for a spot at their top-choice school.
"The whole process was definitely overwhelming, but the fear through it all is that your child might not get in [to a pre-K program]," said Kate Henrickson, whose daughter Holly attends pre-K at S.T.A.R Academy/P.S. 63 on East 3rd Street, the family's first choice.
The S.T.A.R. Academy initially put Holly on a waitlist last year, after receiving 93 applications for just 18 spots, but she eventually won a seat.
"It is a small school and everyone knew everyone's name," Henrickson after a school tour. "For [Holly's] first school experience I wanted her to feel safe, and I thought S.T.A.R Academy was very warm."
S.T.A.R. is far from the only school in the neighborhood with competitive admissions. In 2012, all of the public pre-K programs in District 1 — which covers the Lower East Side, East Village and part of Chinatown — had more applications than seats.
Maria Velez-Clarke, principal of the Children’s Workshop School, said the district has a pre-K program to match every family's taste.
"Not everyone wants their children in our school," said Velez-Clarke, who runs one of a handful of progressive schools in the district.
She encouraged parents to take school tours and look into the different options.
While hundreds of families submit applications every year to the buzzed-about Shuang Wen School and Earth School, which each only have a few dozen seats, the less-well-known P.S. 15 is expanding to try to meet the neighborhood's demand.
The school, which literacy coach Laura Salmon called a "hidden gem," is adding an extra pre-K class this fall, bringing its total number of seats to 36.
"We feel like we are ready to expand and grow," Salmon said.
When making pre-K decisions, parents aren't only thinking of preparing their child for school — they are often thinking of the elementary years as well.
"Most students come to the school through the pre-K program," said Bradley Goodman, the assistant principal of the East Village Community School.
Goodman said many parents take advantage of the priority the city's Department of Education gives to in-district families if they want their child to transfer directly from pre-K into kindergarten at the same school.
Here are some of the Lower East Side and East Village's noteworthy public pre-K programs:
P.S. 15, Roberto Clemente, 333 E. 4th St.
The school's pre-K offering is set to expand with an additional class come September, bringing the school's total to 36 seats, according to Laura Salmon, the literacy coach at P.S. 15. The program is packed with activities focusing on physical education, arts and technology — pre-K kids even learn to draw digitally on computers. A music program gives pre-K kids a weekly jam session, and students also warm up for leaning each day with 15 minutes of yoga.
P.S. 20, Anna Silver, 166 Essex St.
P.S 20 had 54 pre-K seats last year but received more than three times as many applications, something Principal James Lee partly attributes to the school's efforts to "keep the 'early' in early childhood." Play and socialization are central to the school's pre-K program, including 50 minutes of physical activity each day, and music and movement twice a week as well as access to the school's numerous enrichment programs.
P.S. 63, S.T.A.R. Academy, 121 E. 3rd St.
This small school on East 3rd Street teaches a diverse group of students from different cultural backgrounds in small classes, according to Principal Darlene Despeignes. For pre-K there is a teacher and teacher’s assistant for the 18-seat class. S.T.A.R’s program has a focus on storytelling that aims to develop a child’s ability to community verbally, through writing and through pictures.
Learning is a social activity for this East Village school, and that extends to its pre-K program, according to principal Maria Velez-Clarke. The culturally diverse school community is very involved, with students visiting the homes of their peers. Family members are also invited into the classroom.
The East Village Community School, 610 E. 12th St.
Assistant Principal Bradley Goodman believes parents are drawn to the school’s pre-K program for its use of the "Tools of the Mind" curriculum. Students develop self-regulation and executive function, so they learn to "persist through challenges," Goodman said. The pre-K program also focuses on the music, visual arts and theater as well as social studies and science.