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Middle school was fine, until faced with it

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Round two of the middle school process is doing my head in.

I once thought that it was good that we weigh and judge our 10-year-old children and make them stand before many tribunals to determine their worth.

Well, time and circumstances and the child up for judgement has changed my thinking. I am tired of hearing administrators say in front of my wide-eyed little one that thousands will apply for a mere couple hundred spots. I am tired of hearing, “We’re the best…” when the underlying language is, “And you might not be good enough.”

Maybe I’m just a softie for my sensitive baby, but it’s not just that. In the two years since my older one applied, the competition for the top public middle schools in District 15 has grown fierce, and the Department of Education has begun to place children from the top grammar schools into schools that hadn’t been on the radar just a short time ago. Yes, that’s right. Park Slope kids can’t all get into the three schools we’ve been told by older parents we can know and trust. And lotteries for charters, are, as we know, totally random.

Of course, that’s scary. To go from a small neighborhood school that you’ve helped build book-by-book, bake-sale-by-bake-sale, where parents gather out front to schmooze, to a school full of strange kids and strange parents, that no moms you know can tell you anything about? The unknown is, of course, unknown.

It was easy to defend the city and the necessity of placing kids in scrappy unproven schools after my older son got his top pick, but facing the abyss again in this new era now makes me extremely nervous, and it makes me feel horrible on about a million levels.

All schools should be great, right? All kids should get access to the same opportunities to shine both academically and personally, correct? But we know there are schools that have been buttressed over the years by powerful Parent-Teacher Associations, and we know there are schools that have not; we know there are schools whose programs have been shaped by demanding parents with cash and cache, and schools that have only the city to assist, and have been hard-pressed and under-staffed to deal with struggling students and parents too busy working and trying to keep afloat to volunteer, who don’t have cash to spare.

I drive to Bedford-Stuyvesant every week to tutor kids from a school where everyone qualifies for school lunch, and I am struck by how many neighborhoods I pass through, how many little areas there are that make up mini-communities. They are divided into larger districts for school zoning purposes, but we all know that New York “neighborho­ods” are minute. If you walk three blocks sometimes, it is foreign terrain.

So, what does that have to do with middle school? Seemingly everything. It occurs to me that the comfort level of children with their peers in the pre-pubescent years is, in fact, crucial. Familiar friendly faces, ones you’ve shared experiences with, can go a long way toward making you feel comfortable. But we mix it up here, so the rising tides can raise all the ships. And maybe that’s for the best. But maybe it is not. Maybe it rarely happens that way. And so maybe we need to cut the crap and put kids into neighborhood schools they can count on without having to put them and ourselves through a college-like hell right when their little hormones are beginning to rage. Maybe then, we take the models of some of the better schools and offer it up to help all the communities learn how to build up their own schools, and make sure they get the funds to do it.

Maybe that model would work, because this does not anymore, at least not for me. The application process with all its tour visits is a waste of time and resources that could be better spent helping schools get better. Something’s gotta give. Maybe I’ll say that to Mayor DeBlasio when next I see him at my corner diner. Maybe I’ll get my son to say it with those wide-waiting eyes that say, “please let me go to school with some of my friends.”

Read Fearless Parenting every other Thursday on BrooklynPaper.com.
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Reasonable discourse

Igor Blatavsky from Brighton Beach says:
Hey lady, you go tell that to DeBlasio. Meanwhile his son will have to commute all the way from Gracie to Bklyn Tech.

Why don't you instead look into homeschooling?
Nov. 21, 2013, 6:07 am
claire from cobble hill says:
You tutor in Bed Stuy where all the children qualify for free lunches? Can you get a little more insulting or racist? Perhaps your child needs to learn early that life is not easy, not even for middle-class white spoon-fed ones. And there is the ever-popular other option: move.
Nov. 21, 2013, 11:19 am
Joey from Clinton Hills says:
Great column. Middle School choice in Brooklyn is like Russian Roulette.
Nov. 21, 2013, 11:46 am
Dock Oscar from formerly Puke Slop says:
I actually hear you. Believe it or not, the Middle schools are much better than they used to be. It is crazy that you have to qualify to get in, but in the long run, by the time he gets thru high school, he'll be a pro at applying.

Just put the hysteria away (sorry all of you Brooklyn Moms) and know that your kids will be alright. Really.
Nov. 21, 2013, 12:58 pm
Parent from Boerum Hill says:
Hey Stephanie- did you notice the irony when you described Park Slope grammar schools as the "top" grammar schools (with all the connotations of privilege and entitlement that word contains), having in the previous breath complained that your son might not measure up to the "creaming" process implicit in selective middle school admissions?
At least the latter is presumably somewhat meritocratic regarding academic achievement, whereas the former is largely a function of how expensive an apartment/home you can afford. are you really bemoaning that the kids in the most expensive neighborhoods no longer have their pick of public schools? Wouldn't a neighborhood model just perpetuate the economic divide that's there already?
Nov. 21, 2013, 5:56 pm

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