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Pre-K Options Overwhelm Uptown Families

By Nigel Chiwaya | March 4, 2013 8:25am

NORTHERN MANHATTAN — Uptown families have a wide range of options for pre-K — but that can make it difficult to pick a program.

"It's quite overwhelming," said Iris Snyder, whose 18-month-old son Jordan will start pre-K next year. "I think it's trying to find out about the zoned schools, and how are they? And then there are these 'choice schools.' What does that mean?"

Washington Heights and Inwood are home to 16 public pre-K programs, nine of which are in schools that have received A or B grades on their latest Department of Education progress report cards. Four programs are in "choice" schools, meaning that families usually come from all over Uptown's District 6.

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"It's challenging and a bit complicated to navigate," said Erin Scally, who is looking ahead for pre-K options for her 20-month-old son Oscar.

Many neighborhood parents also consider private programs, such as the Marble Hill Nursery School, the Nagle Avenue YM&YWHA and Spuyten Duyvil Preschool.

"A lot of our families don't even know about the free pre-K programs," said Dana Yeary, an Inwood parent who works for Head Start, a federally funded program that provides preschool for low-income families.

The district is making an effort to improve its communication with parents. The District 6 Community Education Council held a kindergarten fair on Feb. 23, and schools that had pre-K programs were clearly marked so that parents could find more information.

"A lot of the parents who are looking forward to kindergarten are going into pre-K this year," said fair organizer Allison James. "There's nothing wrong with having more information than you need."

Here are some of Washington Heights and Inwood's noteworthy public pre-K programs:

P.S. 513, Castle Bridge School, 560 W. 169th St.
Castle Bridge is the district's newest pre-K program. and it will open with 18 full-day seats in the fall. Principal Julia Zuckerman said the dual-language Spanish program will focus on self-initiated play and project-based work. Zuckerman added that students will play with blocks or in the sand, and that painting, writing and sewing will also be options.

While the pre-K program has yet to open, the school has received positive reviews at InsideschoolsOne parent wrote, "My son goes to Castle Bridge. He needed an academic setting with high expectations, clear rules and plenty of room for personal development both academically and socially — we've found all of this at Castle Bridge!"

P.S. 98, Shorac Kappock, 512 W. 212th St.
P.S. 98 offers three full-time pre-K classes. Principal Maritza Rodriguez said the program begins with a family-style breakfast to help students get acclimated to being social and being in school. The program offers reading, math and writing to students, and each teacher has a paraprofessional for assistance.

P.S. 210, Twenty First Century Academy for Community Leadership, 501 W. 152nd St.
P.S. 210 is highly competitive, as the school received 176 applications for 18 seats in 2012. The dual-language pre-K program means that lessons are taught in English or Spanish depending on the day.

Teachers College Community School, 168 Morningside Ave.
An initiative of Columbia University's Teachers College, this choice school offers an all-day program that gives preference to students from School Districts 5 and 6. The school opened in 2011 and currently holds pre-K kids through first-graders, although the school eventually plans to grow up to eighth grade.

P.S. 192, Jacob H. Schiff, 500 W. 138th St.
Jacob H. Schiff is a zoned school that offers two half-day pre-K programs with 18 children per class. Vice Principal Benjamin Lev raved about the school's pre-K teacher, who incorporates the arts and music into her classroom.

"I would definitely send my own pre-K-aged child to her class," Lev said. "She's awesome."