My husband was presented with a strange request this week. He was asked to write a letter of recommendation for one of his students. Unless you know what my husband does–that might not seem so strange so let me explain further. He’s a teacher. . .of sports. He teaches at a sports program on the Upper East Side in Manhattan and his program rents out space from some of the most elite preschools in New York City. He only teaches 3, 4, and 5 year olds. Which means that this was a letter of recommendation. . .for kindergarten.
What could you possibly say about a 5 year old boy–academically speaking that is? When the mom spoke with us, she mentioned that the school is looking for stamina. Stamina to do work–in a 5 year old boy? My son, as some of you may know from reading my other blogs is 5 and is considered gifted. I would describe him as curious, inquisitive, very observant, strong visual/spatial skills. . .but somehow stamina does not come to mind. He likes to play and sure, if he’s interested there’s a certain level of concentration–but I am failing to qualify it as stamina.
I was surprised at the kindergarten recommendation letter. . .but yesterday, I was waiting for my kids to finish gymnastics while chatting with the other moms. One mom was explaining that she was late because her child had an interview to get into kindergarten. This was one of 8 schools they were applying to. (Did you read that? EIGHT schools!!!) It was then that I realized that kindergarten admissions is serious business. So just what do you have to do to get your child into the right school aside from being able to afford the $20,000 (or more) a year that it costs to send your child to the best of the best?
The first step is to have your child tested using a measurement such as the Standford Binet Intelligence Test. If they don’t score high enough don’t even bother applying–you’re better off just trying to get into the best public school that you can. (Which by the way, is not necessarily a matter of where you live and can be an equally daunting process.) Next, the school interviews the parents. This is the only step in this insane process that I actually understand. Afterall, a child’s success is closely linked to a parents’ involvement in their education.
So finally, IF your child is ‘smart’ enough according to Stanford-Binet, and if the school likes you as parent, your child will be invited for a play date so that the powerful admissions folks can watch your child interact with adults, and a few other children as well. But don’t walk in empty handed! While it is not ‘required’, all the moms agreed that walking in with at least two letters of recommendations in hand is a MUST. Don’t forget the networking either. If you know someone on the board of the school you’re trying to get your child into–make sure and make a friendly phone call, perhaps even a dinner invitation.
These moms, not realizing that we live in the Bronx and that I homeschool, then proceeded to tell me about what a nightmare it is for parents of twins. After all, it is in fact too much to expect them to go to the same school.
Are you wondering why parents play the game? Partly because they can. We definitely do not have $20,000 a year to spend on our child’s primary education. We may spend $20,000 on all five in the course of 13 years–but I doubt it. They also play it because in the fast paced world of Manhattan’s elite, this is simply what you do. This is how you get into kindergarten. No one ever thinks that their kids are under too much pressure to perform or that perhaps the pressure to get in is unhealthy for kids and parents alike.
Regardless, I assure you that Harvard University is still taking students from all walks of life, including those who were educated in plain old public school!