I moved to Colorado from Manhattan seven years ago, and while there are many things I miss about New York, now that I have a kid, I can’t remember what most of them were. Especially now that my toddler is starting preschool in just a few months.
On the advice of people who know about these things, when I was six weeks pregnant I got on the waiting lists of a few preschools in the area. At the time I was horrified, thinking that was such a New York-type thing to do. But it was no sweat off my back and it has ultimately meant that my husband and I will be sending our daughter to the preschool of our choice. Which is why when I hear stories of nursery school nightmares in places like New York City — particularly this time of year when the acceptance and rejections letters are in the mail — I am reminded that one of the main reasons I left the East Coast was in search of a simpler, less competitive life.
Last month I wrote about a mom who sued her daughter’s tony nursery school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan for not properly preparing her for the rigors of a kindergarten entrance exam (within the first few weeks of the school year), which, she said, meant her child was then at a disadvantage for admittance into an Ivy League college. While that mom has been greatly ridiculed in the press for her lawsuit, her sentiments are shared by countless others nonetheless. Getting into the right preschool is big business and more families than not believe the implications are far-reaching.
A documentary film on the subject, Nursery University, brings you along for the ride with a few New York families as they attempt to get their 2- and 3-year-olds into some of the city’s most sought-after preschools. And while a few of the families are stereotypical wealthy, elite examples of everything you probably think is likely wrong with the system (one woman talks about the Ivy League schools she and her husband attended and is shocked — shocked — when their son doesn’t get his first choice nursery school because she says their family isn’t accustomed to rejection), a few of the families featured in the documentary aren’t well-off and just want their children to simply have a good start to their education and in their life — period. Since there are no public preschools in New York, the possibility of getting in nowhere is very real.
Before I watched Nursery University I assumed the people showcased would all be wealthy and/or obnoxious in their efforts for acceptance. I also assumed the schools would be admitting families on the basis of the size of their bank accounts and their connections. But what I saw was that all the families genuinely cared about their kids’ education (although to varying degrees), and the schools know there is a supply/demand issue and attempt to make the admissions process as fair as possible while trying to also ensure that the applicants are the right fit for their educational philosophies. As a result, when the movie was over, I felt genuinely sad for what families — rich and poor — in places like New York have to go through in order to give their kids even just the basics to get off on the right foot in their academic lives.
All that being said, the admissions personnel featured in Nursery University hint broadly at some of the stereotypical parents who try to buy or influence their way into certain programs. And I can only imagine that many parents have heard stories like that, or have experienced them firsthand.
Now for the giveaway: Tell us your best nursery school admissions horror story in the comments below, and we’ll award the contributor of the scariest one with a DVD of Nursery University. Deadline for entries is noon EST on Wednesday, April 20, 2011.