Kindergarten or Juilliard? Hard to Tell The Difference

Kindergarten or Juilliard? Hard to Tell The Difference

Nov 20

As you probably know, I live and work in San Francisco. This year, I’m teaching in the pre-k class the preschool where I work, and lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time working on massive piles of paperwork to recommend my children to kindergartens throughout the city. The process of applying to kindergarten in San Francisco is a little ridiculous – okay, it’s a lot ridiculous – and is rivaled, as far as I’ve heard, only by New York City.

The public school system in San Francisco is a cake walk compared to the private school system, and this, still, is far from simple. When I was in elementary school, there was one option for public schools: your local school, and that makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? Not in San Francisco. Here, parents pick their top 7 school choices, out of the hundreds in the city. They submit applications for each of the 7 schools they like and the district basically draws names from a hat. Priority is given to children who have siblings at the school, children who went to public preschools in the same neighborhood as their top choice school, and children who live near their top choice school, among other factors. Many people don’t get into their first, second, or third choices, and I know families who didn’t get into any of their top 7 schools at all!

Private schools put the public school system’s admittance process to shame. At the school where I teach, we recommend that families apply to at least 6 private schools for kindergarten, as competition is so high. Most of these applications are due in early December for the following school year, so the process start early. Parents start the search by touring schools in the city and meeting with the administration to discuss the school in question, and the families desires for their child. Children sometimes attend these tours as well, so that they can also see the school and so that the staff can meet the child.

Preschool teachers must fill out kindergarten recommendation forms for each school that a child applies to. These forms have a long checklist of skills and behaviors that the elementary schools want to see in its students, along with a written question and answer section that asks about the child’s strengths and weaknesses, the families level of cooperation and involvement in the school, and the type of program that we, as teachers, think would be most beneficial for the child. Finally, we have to check a box to recommend the child, recommend them with reservations, or don’t recommend the child to the school in question.

After those forms are all in, the schools schedule appointments for the children to come in and be assessed and interviewed by the school faculty. I used to work at a private school in San Francisco and got to peek in on one of these sessions. There were 60 or so preschool age children in one large room. Several tables and areas were set up where the children were asked to work on different tasks with each other (they were all total strangers), with teachers, or on their own. These tasks were things like finding a picture that doesn’t belong in a group of pictures, stringing beads, writing their name or other simple words, listening to a story quietly, drawing, building a structure with blocks, reading, among others. Children missed school for that day to attend this interview, and while there they rotated from one task to the next. The teachers and faculty administering these tests were taking notes on each child’s performance.

This particular interview was one of 4 sessions like it for the following school year, so there were a total of around 240 applicants for kindergarten at this one school that had two kindergarten classrooms of around 20 children each (40 or so spots total). Like the public schools, siblings get priority in the private schools as well. In fact, admittance is practically guaranteed for siblings. Siblings still have to go through the interview process, but they do so earlier in the year, and are already told if they have a spot in November, before the rest of the population can even apply. That year, of the 40 or so spots available for kindergarten applicants, around 35 were filled with siblings, meaning only 5 spaces remained for the 240 or more families hoping to send their 5 or 6 year old to that school – that’s an acceptance rate of around 2%! Juilliard has an acceptance rate of 8% – a full 6% higher than this kindergarten class in a private elementary school in San Francisco. It’s harder to get into kindergarten in San Francisco (at least at that school, that year) than it is to get into Juilliard, one of the most competitive universities in the world! I know this is anecdotal evidence for the challenges of getting into a kindergarten in San Francisco, but from what I understand of the system and from what I hear from families going through the application process, this isn’t out of the ordinary. 9 years later, the children at these kindergartens will have to start the process all over again to apply to high school.

Once children are accepted at a private school, if they get into one at all, the parents can expect to fork out anywhere from 15 to 30 thousand dollars a year for their child’s education, starting with kindergarten and going all the way through high school. That’s as much as $400,000 by the time one child graduates high school, just for education, just for one child. There are rarely discounts for sending more than one child to the same school, and that’s not including preschool, which in San Francisco can cost upwards of $13,000 a year, and children spend anywhere from 2 to 4 years in preschool.

I see parents and families every year, stressed beyond belief, working through this process, hoping and praying that they get into at least one of their favorite schools, and then hoping that they will be able to afford it. This stress makes its way to the children as well. They know they will soon be leaving preschool and going to a new school, likely the first time in their lives that they’ve changed schools. Beyond that, children don’t know what school they’ll be going to, unless they have an older sibling in school, as they aren’t informed of their admittance until march, nearly 6 months after their families started the search for a school and application process. The children don’t know who their friends will be, or if they will know anyone at their soon to be school. Furthermore, children are great at picking up cues from the adults in their lives. If their parents are stressed, they get stressed too. This application process affects everyone involved from the parents to families, teachers, to administrators (at preschools and elementary schools) and most importantly, the children.

Clearly, the system needs to change. And that, my fellow education enthusiasts, is a topic for another post.

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