School Daze Blogisode 1-4 Catch Up: Story Only

Let’s get going.  Everyone clear your desks and take out a number two pencil.  It’s time to start our first blog story of year two–School Daze.  Do you think you aren’t interested because you don’t have kids?  Do you think this doesn’t apply because you live in Michigan or Cincinnati or Australia.  Wrong.  The great thing about this story is that at the end of the day–you have to remember (because you will start to forget) that this IS NOT ABOUT APPLYING FOR COLLEGE.  We’re talking high school.

Since we’re talking about school and I enjoy a quiz, let’s start one.  POP QUIZ!  Please keep your eyes on your own paper.

This is a catalogue the size of a phonebook.  This is to get into high school.  The type is about 8 point and you need a magnifying glass to read it.  True or false?

This is a catalogue the size of a phonebook. This is to get into high school. The type is about 8 point and you need a magnifying glass to read it. True or false?

True or False

1)  Let’s start with an easy one.  In New York City all eighth graders must go through a high school selection process because New York City’s high schools (all 5 boroughs) are “unzoned” and if you don’t “apply” via the selection process you will not get into a school.  True or False?

2)  Just that question alone made you go “Huh?”  Exactly.  Keep reading.

3)  There is a uniform selection and application process for all schools.  True or False?

4)  Your child will most likely go to the high school closest to home.  True or false?

5)  New York City schools have school buses?  True or false?

6)  Peyton Manning just threw a touchdown pass, pulling me very ahead in my fantasy football game against my brother-in-law?  (That is true.  Go MANNING.)

7)  There are many information nights with parents about how to apply to high school, starting in during the 7th grade.  True or false?

8)  Mike Wallace, a Pittsburgh Steeler is part of my fantasy football team, and he just scored a touchdown causing me to get more points and momentarily cheer for the Steelers.  True or false?  (That one is true that he scored a touchdown, but false that I am cheering for the Steelers because I am only cheering for my player, not the team as a whole).

9)  The New York City high schools are often specialized, meaning, the focus on a particular thing like a vocational school.  True or false?

10)  The good news is that at least after you’ve gone through this whole process, you get your acceptance letter in February and that is the end of it.  True or false?

And the answers to this quiz, Ladies and Gentlemen, will come throughout the story.  I will answer these questions one by one and add in some delightful tidbits including a brief but serious flirt with a move to San Diego.

Let it be said that our kid has good grades (honor roll) but not the best grades (that is high honor roll).  She went to a fantastic honors middle school.  She is articulate and friendly.  She has enthusiasm.  She’s a kid who should easily navigate the system.

But seriously, even with all that going for her, this process just about took her out.

The first question in our pop quiz was:

1)  Let’s start with an easy one.  In New York City all eighth graders must go through a high school selection process because New York City’s high schools (all 5 boroughs) are “unzoned” and if you don’t “apply” via the selection process you will not get into a school.  True or False?

The answer is TRUE.

For grades k-8 all students in New York City fall into a zone.  If your interest is peaked and you really want to see what

This very simple and clear map should up any confusion.  **Dripping with sarcasm.

This very simple and clear map should up any confusion. **Dripping with sarcasm.

I am talking about, you can go to this site and type in an address and you’ll see the list pop up.  If you don’t live in New York City, but still want to have fun, just type in my old address 114 W. 87th Street and you’ll see what I mean.

Looking at it you’ll see that the “zoned” school is P.S. 166 The Richard Rodgers School of the Arts and Technology.  Don’t be scared away by the name, it isn’t a performing arts school, it’s just called that and it might have a slight focus on the arts.  Charlotte, as an example, went to a school that specialized in chess and all that meant was that they played chess a few times and there was a chess team.  So the deal is, P.S. 166 is a fine school, not great, but there is also a list of other schools in District 3 that are near by, including a couple of really great schools.  So maybe you want to go to that school.  Great!  Be prepared to fill out paperwork and enter a lottery and probably send your little 4-year-old into a “playdate” test and get his or her IQ tested.  For real.  If you decide to go out of your zone it is cut throat.

Also, there are different districts.  The Upper West Side is District 3 and it is a largely terrific zone (always there are some clunkers) and I know a lot about it because Charlotte went to P.S. 9 and the M.S. 54 in the Delta Honors program.  Both are in District 3.  But, if you know me you might know that we no longer live in District 3, so how could Charlotte go to school there?  She was grandfathered in….basically, wherever you go to Kindergarten is where you are zoned until 8th grade, even if you move out of that district.  Maybe this rule has changed since Charlotte was a tot, but it was true then, and you can imagine that people moved into certain addresses in high rent zones for a year, got their kid qualified for the good schools, and then moved out and commuted their kids.  Why bother, you may wonder?  Is there such a difference in schools?  Yes.  There is.  Some of it is ridiculously snobby and pretentious (that isn’t all saved for the private school crowd, it is all over the public school system, too) and there is thinly veiled racism as well.  It’s rough.  Just get people talking about New York’s Gifted and Talented Program to see sparks fly.  While they are duking it out, bring up the state testing, grab some popcorn and enjoy the show.  It gets ugly.

But I digress and you may wonder what any of this has to do with high school.

Simple.  Once the kids go for 9th grade placement, all the districts and zones go out the window.  Does that mean you can live on Staten Island and go to school in the Bronx, a 2 hour commute by ferry and multiple trains?  Yes.  Do kids do it?  Yes, especially if they want to go to the much sought after Bronx Science High School.

But that is a specialized high school and I am getting, way, way ahead of myself.  Let’s all take a deep breath.

The next question in our high school quiz was:

There is a uniform selection and application process for all schools.  True or False?

This would be FALSE.

I mean, you would assume that would be true.  Wouldn’t you?  It’s not the college application process.  It’s not even private vs. public school.  In fact, it’s not even a different town.  We’re talking one district for the whole city.  The requirements should be the same school to school, right?  Students take one test?  Maybe (just maybe) if we are getting crazy we might think based on the results of that one test, schools might interview interested students, right?

Ha.  In your dreams.

Let me try to break this down and you should know that ****while I will give this my best effort I will get things wrong or leave things out.  There are entire classes and books on this subject.  I should not be your sole reference source or your kid will not get in anywhere and you will hate me****

Please sign and agree to that here ___________________________________

(The team of lawyers here at My Own Space made me add that for my own protection.  I am not an “expert”.  I prefer to call myself a “survivor”.  And my “team of lawyers” is my cat Sammy and Beatrix, both of whom are sound asleep but they approve this message.)

For the most basic and clear explanation, I am going to hand the reins of this blog over to Rob Meffe because he has a much more organized brain than I do.  As he just said, “It is very easy to write an short and easy explanation about how long and confusing this process is.”

Ladies and gentlemen, Rob Meffe.

Let me put the public high schools into three categories: Specialized High Schools, DOE (stands for Department of Education) High Schools, and Other High Schools.

1.) Specialized High Schools.  There are eight specialized public high schools in New York City and they are some of the most rigorous schools in the city and are the hardest to get in.  They include schools you might have heard of like Stuyvesant High School or Bronx Science, and some you might not, like Staten Island Technical High School.  Admissions to these schools is open city-wide, but you must have a certain grade point average and scores on your 7th grade standardized tests to even qualify to take the test to get into these schools.  The specialized high school admissions test (the SHSAT) is given to those qualified students in late October of the 8th grade.  Students are given the list of eight schools and they are to rank them in order of which they would like to attend (this, of course, is before they know their scores or have any idea if they might get in).  So it leaves students in the odd position of having to guess what their score is going to be and whether it is going to make it for the cut-off of their chosen school.

2.) DOE High Schools.  These are almost all of the other high schools in the five boroughs.  Many of them have

Stuyvesant High School.  Huge.  Hard.  Gateway to the Ivy Leagues.

Stuyvesant High School. Huge. Hard. Gateway to the Ivy Leagues.

names that gives you the impression that they specialize in a certain subject (like “High School for Environmental Studies”), but they all have to follow the NYC curriculum.  Here students are asked to rank the high schools that they want to attend (separately from the Specialized High Schools).  Some of these high schools have admission requirements like grade point average or standardized test scores, and some even require presenting a “portfolio” of Junior High work (like Beacon High School on the Upper West Side).

3.) Other High Schools.  These are other  high schools that fall outside of the parameter of the ones listed above.  Each one of them has a different admission policy and requirements.  For instance, LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts has an audition day where hundreds of kids line up early in the morning to spend the day being evaluated by the high school’s faculty.  Bard High School/Early College has both a test (a different one that the SHSAT) and if they score high enough on the test, they are invited to an interview with a member of the faculty.

After submitting the ranking of schools to which they would like to attend, the students sit and wait several months while the DOE collects all of this data.  In February of their 8th grade, students get a letter that tells them which high school they are going to.

Hi, it’s Sharon Wheatley again.  Thank you Rob Meffe.  Next up I will explain the step-by-step process for Charlotte and why I became obsessed with a town called New Rochelle.

Finding a high school in New York City is hard and involves ridiculous amounts of time and patience and paperwork. And we are not talking about the infamous NYC private school search, either, which is its own ball of wax and involves legacies and bribes and things you wouldn’t even believe. We were not going the New York City private school route because, you know, we don’t happen to have $35,000 a year floating around to pay for it.  That is not a random amount.  That is actually what private school costs.

But, there was one school we were looking at that was private. Turns out that about 20 miles from Manhattan, located in New Rochelle, New York, there is an all-girls Catholic high School called The Ursuline School and it is the sister school to Ursuline Academy in Cincinnati, Ohio. The very same Ursuline I attended and where I continue to visit and give Masterclasses and do a little fundraising with concerts on their behalf. I LOVE my high school. I am all-in when it comes to an all-girl education. My sister went to school there, two of my cousins work there, and my guess is most likely one (or more) of my former English teachers is reading this and auto-correcting my lackadaisical use of commas and dangling something-or-others. I mean, I am still wrapped up in this school despite it being 500 miles away.
So you get what I am saying, right? Charlotte Meffe is a legacy.  Scholarships.  Get it?

Ursuline Academy in Cincinnati.  Sister School.  Legacy.

Ursuline Academy in Cincinnati. Sister School. Legacy.

Oh yeah, baby. We were applying. And, uh, by “we” I mean “she” because this is about her and not me. But I am pretty sure I could still fit in my uniform skirt.

Given my sentimental attachment and lack of objectivity, I told Rob it was his responsibility to monitor my enthusiasms and make sure CHARLOTTE was interested in Ursuline, and not just me. And to double and triple check that she wasn’t just trying to make me happy, because she would do that.  It was nuts, we knew it going in, it was impractical and hard. It was expensive. It was a long shot. It would involve moving. If you know me well you know that this is the perfect storm of complications to really get me interested.

So why?  Why pursue an all-girls’ Catholic school in a far away suburb when Charlotte was being groomed to go to some of the best high schools in the country?  Have you seen the national high school rankings? All the big New York City schools are on there.  The Ursuline School in New Rochelle is not (to be fair, it–and other private schools do not qualify for the list.  There are–and I know this is shocking–strict requirements to qualify).  But why even look elsewhere?

This is a question that is fair to ask and let’s take a moment to talk about it.  It involves parenting a kid in New York City when you, yourself, are not a New York City native.

There are times when having a kid in the NYC school system is very cool.  Let’s break it down.

1) There is the whole “PS Some number” naming.  It is intriguing.  It sounds so much cooler to say “I go to PS 166″ than “I go to Foxwood Elementary.”  Foxwood Elementary is for babies.  PS 166 is for cool kids who probably eat lox on their bagels at the age of 6 (I still will not eat lox.)

2) The other parents (for the most part) are interesting and have cool jobs like, “I own Magnolia Bakery” (a very famous bakery here, known for their butter cream cupcakes) so you know that at every parent event and class party there will be delicious food.

3) The class is full of diversity.  Not just kids of all color, but kids who actually just got here from Africa or Taiwan or New Delhi.

Then there are times when having a kid in NYC school system is not so cool.  Let’s break it down.

1) I already talked about the el crappo school schedule.  I neglected to mention that there is a “winter break” which is a week off in February, and then a “spring break” which is yet another week off in April.  Two weeks in miserable, awful New York weather with all the kids home and nothing to do.  Rich people go skiing during the first break and to a tropical island for the second week, but we go to the mall.

2)  You have to walk or bus or subway your kid to school.  There are a few school buses, but I don’t know the circumstances one needs to ride on one and we’ve never done it.  I mention this because when it is a 5 degree day in February and you have a newborn, you can’t just shove the kid out the door to the school bus while you stay blissfully in your pajamas.  Nope.  Everybody is up and dressed and walking around in the cold.  Sounds lazy, I know, but believe me when I say that some days the idea of a school bus stopping in front of my door sounds like heaven.

3)  The kids have a cynicism to them from a very early age.  They are smart and precocious, yes, but I also listened to an extended conversation about being an atheist from a group of sixth graders that would make your hair stand on end.  Highlights include, “What do you think happens when you die?”  “Who cares?  You’re just dead.” “The idea of God is so immature.  It’s like believing in Santa Claus.”  “I never believed in Santa Claus.”

Now look, I am not saying that there aren’t a ton of 6th graders out there exercising their right to think God is stupid,



but during this conversation I could feel Charlotte shrinking.  My girl has a glow about her and a spirituality, and miraculously, a lack of cynicism that was making her social life at school strained.  Seventh grade was bad.  It was enough to push me right into a New Rochelle suburb and an all-girls’ school without ever looking back.  Maybe her quantum physics would suffer, but at least she wouldn’t be totally lost in a school with 5,000 kids feeling like a fish out of water.  Sometimes we just want things to be…nicer and easier–not academically easier, Ursuline is a tough school–but easier living.  Slower paced.  Is that so bad?

But the question of the day……would Charlotte like it?  And would Rob even entertain the idea?  And what about Beatrix?



About Sharon Wheatley

I'm a mother, an actress and a writer. I'm glad you're here.
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One Response to School Daze Blogisode 1-4 Catch Up: Story Only

  1. Linda S in PA says:

    Sharon, This was the only way I could think of to let you know that my thoughts and prayers are with you and your family during this weather crisis with Hurricane Sandy!! I am hoping after things get back to normal that you have some colorful and entertaining stories of how the Meffe family weathered the storm! My prayers go out to all the people affected by this crazy weather in NY, NJ, PA, etc. "And this too shall pass…"

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