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I love the middle school application process!

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Let’s talk about middle school.

I grew up in Arizona where the average kid just sails through his or her local elementary, then moves to the area middle school and then on to the high school. It’s all dictated by ZIP code.

In New York, of course, there are assessments of academic achievement, interviews, harsh judgments and lots of kids getting put into a box at the early age of 10.

Initially, I figured that I would go the safe route and put my kids in private school — get them in early, in pre-school, before testing was required, and just keep them there, ego safely intact.

Yes, well. Things change. I can’t really justify the expense of private school when I had a lovely public elementary around the corner. Besides, now that we’re in the thick of the middle school application process, I see things a bit differently. I actually see the process as a positive.

Eli and I have toured a number of schools together, listened to principals and administrators speak of their programs and their areas of focus and how they try to prepare kids for their future. We have walked the halls, ducking our heads into science labs and music rooms to gauge what they actually might be like. We have held hands and stared into each other’s eyes with nervous excitement at the prospect of where he will be next year, at the idea that one of these places will be his new home away from home, where he will go every day for many hours to learn and grow.

Amazingly, instead of being stressed and strained, angry at the idea of feeding my young son to the wolves, I find myself thinking what an important experience it is for him to begin to imagine who he is and what he wants for himself at this pivotal stage of development. Maybe, just maybe, starting that process now might actually help him work toward finding the things that might really fulfill him — and feed him — in his life. I think of the state of our country right now, of all the people frustrated by the current economy and unable to figure crucial first-time careers or required transitions into new fields of employ. I cross my fingers that this figuring process, and the one in a few years from now for high school, might go some way toward helping him make sense of where he fits into the world well before many kids have to think of it for the first time to figure college.

We limited the options somewhat, ruling out places that seemed like they might be pressure cookers, simply too far from home, or a mismatch with our family’s winning-isn’t-everything philosophy. I am impressed by the schools that place attendance and enthusiasm over grades and test-based achievements (not that Eli hasn’t done well, you understand). I don’t want him to get stuck in the trap of success-by-numbers that seems all too easy to get sucked into here and increasingly everywhere.

Eli seems relaxed. He easily figured his first-ranked school, and I, blissfully, am in agreement. It is a place where experiential learning is stressed over test scores, seemingly, and where he felt the most himself.

This process has offered us the chance to discuss Eli’s strong suits, what he might do well or like to do. I am confident that what I tell him is true, that we are lucky in our district to have an embarrassment of riches even as these trying economic times tear away at school budgets. I feel sure that he will be happy in his new home if only because he makes it so and has thought about how he might do that. Unlike when I first imagined it, applying to middle school is not so scary. It is a great opportunity for self-discovery.

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Updated 5:28 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

O2 says:
middle school is an awful, hormonal 3 yr nightmare. good luck & remember, whatever their story, you're only hearing maybe a third of it.
Dec. 5, 2011, 8:21 am
distraught about middle schools from Dist. 13 says:
Which district are you in? Clearly one with at least one decent possibility.
Dec. 5, 2011, 9:01 am
@SchoolWiseNYC from Red Hook says:
My twins have had a similarly positive experience -- checking out schools, imagining themselves in a variety of settings, beginning to see what kind of social and intellectual environments suit them. It has been exciting and interesting. That said, I think our experience has been good for reasons that elude many families. We live in a district (15) with a number of very good options, we have flexible work schedules that allow us to spend the time to explore and research, we have the resources and skills to advocate for our kids. I simply cannot imagine how this would be a positive experience if, for example, we did not have computer access at home to check out school websites and reviews, or did not speak English, or worked two shifts.
Dec. 5, 2011, 9:36 am
Tim says:
"It’s all dictated by ZIP code."

And it's not all dictated by ZIP code here?

I'm guessing that parents who don't live in Districts 2, 3, 15, and 26 probably have a different take on the middle school process.
Dec. 5, 2011, 10:04 am
Boerum Hill Parent from Boerum Hill says:
I echo both your experience - and the caveats suggested by many of the comments. My daughter (2 years ago) had a similar experience - but some number of her classmates did not. The idea that one's actions in 4th grade (because a student's grades, test scores, attendance, etc. from 4th grade are the most important) may preclude access to a school that might bring out a child's best self in middle school seems deeply disturbing. District 15 has many good choices, but all the good choices (except one charter school) are selective. This means that from 6th grade on, students are being tracked and separated, rather than, as in elementary school, all educated together. Our city needs to be equally committed to ensuring that every middle school offers students a sound education - and the ability to compete for those precious high school slots!
Dec. 5, 2011, 10:25 am
jay from upper west side says:
More power to you if you found this an empowering experience for you and your child. For most kids I've met, however, it is traumatic, nerve-wracking, judgmental and demeaning, with the bottom lne being that kids who don't get the middle school they want carry the label of being dumb or maybe, just not good enough. It is an unhealthy competitive prospect even in districts where there are some good choices.

Basically, school choice is a joke because the choice belongs to the city -- not to the parents.
Dec. 5, 2011, 10:48 am
LS from Brooklyn says:
The NYT op ed today is very informative about the sham that is the schools choice movement. It just covers up the limited resources going to the majority of the schools and segregates schools further by pulling the better performing kids out of some local schools. There are limited spots in these, "good," schools in NYC. So even if you can't imagine your child having to suffer through not having a good match with a school choice, that will be the reality for a tremendous number of kids applying to middle school in NYC this year. Performance on high stakes tests should not mandate our children's future opportunities. Unfortunately, that is indeed what is happening.
Dec. 5, 2011, 11:59 am
Jamie from Flatbush says:
The application process is one thing, the selection process is another. My younger child put down a middle school as his top choice. His name was included on that school's list of students they wanted to accept (I know this because a neighbor works there, but is not involved in admissions, and saw their list).

Once the school made their recommendations to Central Dept of Ed, though, the people at Tweed saw fit to place my child in his second choice. As far as I can tell, this was done for no reason other than the Management Consultant types that Bloomberg and Klein brought in wanted to show who's the boss, and mark their turf. In keeping with their general disdain for career educators, they believe that they know better than either the child, his parents, or the school itself, who should be admitted where.
Dec. 5, 2011, 12:25 pm
Mike from nearby says:
Wait until you don't get any of your choices.
Dec. 5, 2011, 7:58 pm
Mike from nearby says:
Or should I say, in support of Jamie's comments, wait until you don't get any of your choices and then people tell you to contact the schools to see if they actually accepted your child.
Dec. 5, 2011, 8:01 pm
jocelyn from PS says:
Oh, but just wait until the warm and fuzzy NYC High School Darwinian-like application process....
Dec. 6, 2011, 10:38 am
Mom from Carroll Garden says:
We deserve better choices in BK for middle schools and high schools. Sadly, this admission process get worse in HS. Better off sending your kids to Manhattan.
Dec. 6, 2011, 10:14 pm
dist 2 mom from manhattan says:
You seem like a sweet, granola eating, tree hugging, no meat eating mom, and your son is lucky to have someone relaxed like you. The bad news is that your laid back attitude may hurt you when it's time to apply for high schools. Good luck. The tiger moms out there will be getting their kids into the best high schools while the nice moms like you will be scratching their heads and considering the move to Montclair.
Dec. 12, 2011, 8:46 pm
district 22 mama from Brooklyn says:
So instead of being dictated by zipcode, we are dictated by district. Not sure how this is better.
I don't know about your child, but my 5th grade and I are having a very different experience. She is competing for a limited number of spots in CIG (our district's version of G&T) w her equally qualified friends for one decent district school and of course the one citywide that is talent based. Our other choices leave a lot to be desired. The system is ridiculous, not transparent and is pitting child against child.
We are asked to rank programs in district 22 without knowing our child's OLSAT score which is a big factor in admission to CIG. I can't wait till May and cross my fingers that my daughter is admitted to a top choice.
Dec. 13, 2011, 11:26 am
Jaquie from Brooklyn says:
Just wait until the HS process. It's even worse. And then the college process is insanity. The reality is that kids these days are judged and 'put into boxes' as you say earlier and earlier. Putting all this stress and competition on 9 and 10 year olds can't possibly be good for them or their friends and friendships. Especially when you get to HS the competition for those 8 specialized HSs breaks up friendships and even hurts families. However, we should thank our lucky stars that there are at least good public schools in NYC, and that everyone has a chance....
Dec. 29, 2011, 7:23 pm
Diane from Staten Island says:
Well I'm looking now for my fourth grader, it is a harsh competition!
Feb. 8, 2012, 6 am

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