Mondays are for mommies at HH. Due to multiple requests, I've finally addressed how we handled the preschool decision this year.
Cliff notes: it was a frustrating path with a happy ending.
The second that you even think about possibly getting pregnant in LA, well meaning folk start bending your ear about schools. I have been hearing about various preschools and charter schools and private schools since before I was even married. The prevailing wisdom is to start doing the preschool tours when you are pregnant with your child. If you start when they’re six months old, you will probably get a tsk tsk, but you’re still well within range of making it. If you start, as we did, when your child is two years old, most will just widen their eyes and clamp their mouths shut out of pity. One woman at music class did actually laugh in my face.
Look, it wasn’t that I didn’t know some people started crazy early, it’s just that I naively couldn’t conceive of it being a problem. In my small town, there was one school option for your area. On enrollment day, you showed up. On the first day of school, you got on the bus. But even now, in a big city atmosphere, it’s still just preschool. These are toddlers, who may or may not yet pee in the potty. How is this so competitive and strange?
So, just before my daughter turned two, I emailed a few local friends, I did some lazy internet searches. We were still a year out from when she would start. Most of the preschool tours are in the spring and fall, you must apply by the end of the year, and they send out notices in February or March, with school starting in September. I made lots of phone calls and browsed web sites. It’s true that a couple of web sites made me cross well-known schools off my list. I wasn’t down or their “motto” or whatnot.
By complete absolute dumb luck, I got in on a couple of fall tours. Usually they would be full by this time, often full of people touring for their child a year or more younger than mine.
Looking at schools was a little bit like looking at houses. You could tell pretty quickly what felt right and what didn’t. I did not look at single school that I would call bad, just that it was clear which place had a vibe that fit our family and our kid better.
We officially narrowed to three schools: one close to our home with philosophies we loved, one a little further out with similar philosophies and friends that we knew, and one very popular and notoriously difficult to secure a place. (I actually found the popular one on the internet, and had no idea that it was one of THE schools in the area.)
I was told by multiple sources that if you got in on the parent & me classes for a school, you had a definite one up when it came to placement. So we signed up for a ten week parent & me class at the school that was my first choice, and closest to our home. The Saturday classes took place during the time I birthed and brought home our son, so my husband faithfully took our daughter to her parent & me at this school in the hopes of sending her there as a student one year later.
We did not get in.
We paid a chunk of money for the parent and me classes and a hefty application fee, and there was no spot for our daughter. For preschool. In our neighborhood.
In the meantime, before we had even been rejected by the close school, my husband had fallen in love with the school that was a little further out but where we had friends. It has a large play yard, an open and loving director, and, importantly, a transparent waiting list. On the day we took the tour, we filled out the application and were told immediately that we were number 46 on the class waiting list.
I should note now that the close school and the popular school both required photos of the family to include in the application, did not require a meeting with the child, and could not give me concrete criteria for acceptance when asked. Therefore, an upfront first-come-first-served, waiting list number was a welcome relief.
When friends and I later compared various rejections around town, there was no rhyme or reason. I know children who have everything that one would think would be valued in LA: a celebrity parent, financials to pay the high tuition, the right address, the right last name, and still they were rejected. It is an enigma.
By the first week of August, Pigtail was #3 on the waiting list at the school that my husband preferred. I had come to terms with the fact that we were going to have to wait another year, and our plan was to apply to that same school, but in a better list position. The week before classes started, I was driving on the freeway when the director called to offer her a place. I shrieked at my steering wheel.
Then I got mad at myself for being upset she was rejected by one school, mad at myself for being excited that we scraped into the other school, irritated that after I said I wouldn’t, I got caught in the ridiculous rat race. (For preschool.)
I waited to publicly proclaim our love for this preschool until she had been there for a few months. She’s now done a full term there, and my husband’s instinct’s couldn’t have been more spot-on. We feel exceptionally lucky to have found out about this place and to have gotten in against the odds. It’s the absolute right place for our family and our kid.
What I would have done differently if I could do it over:
- As much as it pains me to say it, I would have started earlier. I also would have read this book by Beyond the Brochure by Christina Simon, as it seems to be extremely helpful in this area. (As I understand it, the book is not about the specific schools, but about the whole process, of which we were clueless.)
- I would have leaned more heavily on advice from our friends. We wouldn’t have even known about our current school if we didn’t have friends who sent their kids there. I was hesitant to ask people about schools (because I hate to bother people, because I make the assumption that we won’t have the same kind of opinion, etc.), but honestly people are the best for this kind of thing. I had advice resources that I simply didn’t use.
- I would try not to be blinded by the wrong stuff. Looking back, I got a few priorities wrong. I valued the school that was close to us for legitimate reasons, but it made me dismiss a few warning signs that I should have heeded even before we got rejected.
Now, as irritating as the Los Angeles preschool process is, it still exists. Where you go to preschool could determine where you go to elementary school, which in turn could affect where you get in for middle and high school. (It also could have nothing to do with anything. LA is fickle like that.) But I’m stuck with it.
In a few short years, we’ll be starting again while looking for elementary schools. My goal is to approach it in a more knowledgable way, but not to get caught up in the hype. ‘Cause that’s what it is, you know. Hype. In Hollywood. Go figure.
photo by tarotastic