I’ve been waiting for March. It’s something I never usually do, as March is typically a pretty low-key month, but this year, my son will get his high school decision from the Department Of Education any day now. Any parent who has navigated the overcrowded city school system can relate. It starts somewhere around the time your child is 2, as you scramble for pre-K options, and it ends at college graduation (unless your daughter tells you she is going for her master’s!).
My kids have all attended Catholic schools in Brooklyn. With a five-year age range between each of them and a few moves in between, they have attended three different grammar schools collectively. When we bought our house seven years ago, we were incredibly lucky to find the school my son is graduating from in June; it has proved to be the best school I have ever known, and I’m really going to miss it.
While my girls both attended Catholic high schools, my son is considering public for his secondary journey, and I’m excited. After a horrendous experience with one of my daughter’s schools, we learned the hard way that just because a school claims to be academically rigorous, close-knit, and caring, the very opposite can be true.
Back in September, my son came home wide-eyed with books filled with high school options, and papers with dates for the Catholic High Schools exam, scholarship tests, application deadlines, teacher recommendations, student essays, and a never-ending list of individual programs and activities at each school. It was a whirlwind to say the least. He and his classmates kept up their regular studies alongside a non-stop slew of weekend classes, tests, and preparations.
The private school acceptances came back in January and on that front, my son is torn from having to choose between two renowned schools: Xaverian in Brooklyn and Xavier in Manhattan. Here is the catch: He really wants to go to public school and the Catholic schools require a large registration sum “to secure your child’s spot” weeks before the Board of Education announces high school placements. Of course, most parents pay the fee, because if you don’t, your child could very well end up being assigned to a public school that 1.) He did not choose and 2.) You would never want them to go to … ever. Those are called second-round schools, which you apparently enter if you don’t get into any of your first-round choices.
Contrary to popular opinion, public school admissions are much more competitive than private. For example, if your child is a good student with a decent record and does well on the Catholic schools admission test, she will most likely be admitted into her desired Catholic high schools. On the other hand, the public school programs are overcrowded and the competition is steep.
The program that my son wants to enroll in required an audition on top of the application. We waited for four hours one Sunday afternoon, the last weekend, in fact, after many prior weekends of auditions held at the school which determined who would audition according to his last name. Students from every borough waited along with us. So while hundreds of kids auditioned that month, there are just 53 spots in that program.
I’m glad my son has chosen to explore every available option, and I am trying to convince him (and myself) that no matter what happens, it will be okay. I really do believe that life falls into place exactly as it should. He is my last child embarking on his teen years, and I’ve learned to not take every single test, achievement, or even lack thereof, so seriously. I wish I had this view years ago when my first daughter was starting pre-K. Back then, I was preoccupied with always choosing the right school, the right amount of studying, the right project, and not stopping to realize that there are various avenues of getting to the same place.
My kids have all gone to different schools, had different experiences, and yet still ended up engaged and thriving young people. It’s all I can ask for, and I remind myself of this when I feel uneasiness about not yet knowing which school my son will attend in September. So while we still do wait anxiously for the mail to arrive, I try to remember that come September, he will be exactly where he should be.
Danielle Sullivan, a mom of three, is a writer and editor living in New York City. Sullivan also writes about pets and parenting for Disney’s Babbl