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To Pre-K or Not to Pre-K, That Is the Question

June 14th, 2012  |  by  |  Published in Polls, Q & A, The Tantrum, Travel  |  6 Comments

So, we got the letter: Sasha has a spot in a free pre-K program starting this fall! This puts us in a bit of a quandary—since we never thought she’d get in, we didn’t really figure out how we’d respond to an acceptance.

Let me back up a bit. Universal pre-K, for those of you blissfully unaware of the concept, is, in NYC, a bit of a misnomer. It’s a public program available to everyone (hence “universal”), although so limited in practice that most kids have little chance of being accepted, unless they’re willing to go to a school deemed “not so great” by the hordes of over-ambitious, over-protective, over-sensitive parents who populate the blogs of this great metropolis.

We applied, I think, to six schools, expecting to get rejected from our top choices: the bilingual Shuang Wen in the Lower East Side, for instance. And that’s just what happened, except that we put, as our last choice, the school that is only four blocks from our home in Brooklyn, P.S. 38. And that’s where we got in. Yay.

And so now what do we do? As much as I like the idea of FREE PRESCHOOL, it’s complicated to just say yes. For one, Sasha really likes her current preschool, the bilingual English-Chinese Preschool of America. We like it, too, particularly the fact that it runs from 8:30 in the morning till 6 p.m., allowing both me and Jean to work a full day. Will pre-K at P.S. 38 do the same? Not quite—the school day ends around 3, and we’re not too sure of the status of after-school programs for the pre-K kids. So we’d either need to cut our own workday short, or hire a daily babysitter/nanny, whose cost would totally negate the whole FREE PRESCHOOL benefit.

But then, of course, there’s the possibility that my or Jean’s work situation could change drastically at any moment, either freeing us up to spend afternoons with our precious snowflake or burying us deeper in office dilemmas or sending us packing for Taipei post-haste.


Why isn’t there some Web version of those mortgage calculators that could just let me enter in all the details and give me one single answer: Yay or Nay? In the end, I think we’ll register her for P.S. 38 and make our actual decision sometime in August, when my book is done, the second baby is imminent, and we have a better sense of our financial future. Blech. Hey, what do you think?


  1. Peter says:

    June 14th, 2012at 2:33 pm(#)

    I say jump in.

    When we applied to Pre-K the first time (our son is now entering 2nd grade in Brooklyn), we were somewhat blissfully ignorant of the chances of getting in. We gathered the information from the official sources, asked our friends who had kids and who had gone through it, filled out the applications and ranked our choices and hoped for the best.

    Before doing that, however, we dutifully toured each school we were interested in. Some (P.S. 321 and P.S. 107) just went through the motions, forthrightly informing us that we did not have a snowball’s chance. Others (P.S. 10) had great facilities (an actual gym!), but seemed a bit far away.

    And that really was the rub.

    What it came down to for us was ease of drop off and commute. Our kids both started Pre-K at, and still attend, the school for which we are zoned. The school is on the way to the subway for both my wife and me.

    Could. Not. Be. Easier.

    This is why I dread the Middle School process. I grew up in a town (not NYC) where your school was the one in your neighborhood. Of course, it helped that my district was so small that there was no chance you would be very far from school. But the NYC middle- and high school rat race phenomenon will probably be a Dadwagon post in a few years, I suppose.

    You see, my wife and I both work full-time. We might be able to afford a nanny to help with school drop off and pick up, but (frankly), the nanny route in general was something we avoided and hoped to continue to avoid (this might be the subject of another entirely different Dadwagon post, so I won’t get into that here…).

    We were also helped by the fact that the pre-school our kids attended a) is in the neighborhood and b) had already established a relationship with all of the grade schools in Park Slope, providing after school programs with pick up services at all or most of them.

    Almost as important to us now, although we did not realize it initially, is what I will call, for lack of a better phrase, the “school culture.” P.S. 39 has a group of dedicated and involved parents, and most of the teachers there are accessible and dedicated as well. If only my wife and I, both with full-time jobs, could be as involved as some of the others! We really have made out in this deal and owe many folks a great deal of thanks. Also, the principal is no less than a gift to the neighborhood.

    Aside from that, and to address your concerns about work changes and after school care, I think you will find that many of the other parents at your new public school have similar situations and concerns, and most are willing to help each other out. There have been countless times where my son or daughter’s friends’ parents (or caregivers) have gotten us out of a jam as far as pick-ups. We all want those play dates. You trade off. It all works out, and you make new friends too!

    Finally, it must be said that universal Pre-K is a significant relief to our family budget, saving us thousands / year in child care costs (if you don’t count taxes, which we’d pay anyway whether our kids were in Pre-K or not). This may not be a factor for your family, but it sure helped mine to not to have to continue to fork over that chunk o’ change to the private pre-school, much as we love it.

    While the program at 39 does not have such upwardly-mobile trappings as bilingual education (believe me, the only reason it doesn’t is lack of resources, physical and otherwise – if it were up to some of us, we’d find a way to have things like early foreign language instruction), it was still worth it to us if only to get our foot in the door at the school. There is a renowned chess club there, for example, in the higher grades. One of the parents and my son’s teacher just up-and-started a math club that he participates in one day a week.

    It’s that kind of community.

    These things somewhat alleviate the challenges face by P.S. 39 as a result of being so small in size. And there’s not enough time or space to get into the advantages of having your kids in a smaller school. (P.S. 321 is bigger than my high school was! )

    Perhaps P.S. 38 will yield similar results for you!

  2. DadWagon via Facebook says:

    June 14th, 2012at 2:49 pm(#)

    Just added a poll to this one. Vote now and tell me what to do!

  3. Christine says:

    June 15th, 2012at 2:08 pm(#)

    My thoughts: with the new baby, won’t you be paying that Nanny anyway? Isn’t it more like a bonus that this person you are already paying to take care of the baby can also pick your older child up from school?

    We have a pre-k aged son and a 2 month old and we didn’t get into our zoned pre-k (PS154) so we’re still stuck paying for another year of preschool AND a nanny. I’m jealous you have the choice. Basically, my net income for next year will be a negative number. NEW YORK CITY! (Shanks fist in the air)

    I voted for Taipei.

  4. Matt says:

    June 17th, 2012at 8:37 pm(#)

    @Christine: A nanny for the new baby? Uh… Not the kind of thing we can afford! In fact, the kid (due in September) already has a spot reserved at Preschool of America for January—the school’s director was the very first person we informed about the pregnancy. Yeah, that’s New York.

  5. Christine says:

    June 19th, 2012at 2:21 pm(#)

    I get it Matt, but I did all this math too. 1 Nanny + free pre-K vs tuition for 2 in preschool; it’s something to think about. We went through the same considerations and I decided not having to sacrifice a vacation day each time either one of two children have pink-eye or cocksackie is worth the marginal difference in price. I hear sometimes a Nanny can help with laundry or shopping, too. However, I am still in the optimistic phase of not having put this plan into place yet, merely fantasizing about how awesome it’s going to be.
    Being poor I mean.


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