Jumping to kindergarten after waitlist fear

Victoria GranthamBY VICTORIA GRANTHAM  |  When we moved to Tribeca more than a dozen years ago we noticed that there was a well-regarded public school — P.S. 234 — across the street. At the time we weren’t even married and kids shimmered like a mirage on a far-off horizon, so the whimsical looking red brick building with its turrets and archways and frog sculpture wasn’t at the forefront of our minds, but still, through our peripheral vision, we noticed.

We didn’t anticipate staying for all this time, but now that we have, and the kids have materialized, and our oldest has turned five, (and our apartment has turned into a clown car) the school has become a beacon.

Competent teachers, a nurturing, community-centric environment, a subway-free 20-step commute — oh my! Of course there’s been drama along the way — our building was nearly cut out of the school’s zone a few years ago, and as the neighborhood exploded with new luxury high rises filled with families, the waitlists at 234 were legendary.

These things didn’t impact us directly, so we watched from a distance with anxiety-tinged curiosity, but without a particularly acute sense of panic.

This year when we finally filled out the Dept. of Education’s form, we knew which school we wanted, but we tried to play coy. In addition to selecting 234, we also checked the box on a handful of popular schools outside of our neighborhood that are undoubtedly overcrowded with their own zoned kids. (It was an attempt to seem flexible without actually being so.)

We didn’t apply to any of the gifted and talented programs for our son (too high pressure) and we didn’t consider the wildly expensive N.Y.C. private schools.

When I explained our strategy to people who live in other parts of the country they were baffled.

“Wait a second. Your son may not be able to go to the public school you’re zoned for? I don’t get it,” said my college roommate.

I couldn’t really explain it, and attempting to do so made me feel like a participant in a hyper-competitive rat race, so I changed the subject.

I also laid low with friends on the other end of the spectrum — the parents of my sons’ peers in Lower Manhattan who were going through rounds and rounds of tours, interviews and tests with their preschoolers. Opting out of that particular merry-go-round made me feel like a slacker.

Mainly I was betting on the idea that lightening could strike twice. I knew that in spite of its history of waitlists, P.S. 234 didn’t have a waitlist last year and in fact the school had accepted children from a neighboring zone who couldn’t cram into their new school in Battery Park City.

Though our neighborhood had experienced a baby boom, some new schools had sprung up to accommodate the growth, so I was crossing my fingers hoping that the new seats in those schools would offset the crush.

At one point though I briefly allowed myself to consider the possibility that our son wouldn’t get into 234. (We’d been hopeful about universal pre-K the year before, but there were none in our area and the public community based organizations we could get our son into were too far away to be practical for two working parents.)

I went to my neighbor, a level-headed former elementary school teacher who has two girls in the school, with my anxiety attack: “What if he’s waitlisted, then not accepted? The other schools we selected will be even less likely than our school to have room for him. Is it possible that he’d not get a spot anywhere? Then what? Should we be touring and testing and interviewing?”

I did some quick mental calculations and realized we were almost too late to form a viable back up plan. She talked me off the ledge with her empathetic, but firm response. The message: Stop wheel spinning. Snap out of it, sit tight and it’ll work out.

Thankfully I listened to her and as luck would have it, she was right. We got the offer letter in May and that same week we confirmed our son’s attendance at the school across the street.

Our neighbors got our son a tee-shirt emblazoned with his new school’s name/number and with an image of the frog sculpture we’ve been walking by every day since he was born.

It’s way too big on him, but he wears it proudly and tells everyone who will listen that he’s headed for kindergarten at P.S. 234 in the fall. I trust he’ll grow into it someday.

Victoria Grantham, a writer and communications professional, is raising her family in Tribeca.

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