Friday, December 10, 2010

Guest Post: Sometimes you have to sleep with someone to get your kid into the right school.

I asked my dear friend Jes to share this story today about the lengths she went to to get her son into preschool....To my surprise (and amusement and dismay), hundreds of Colorado parents camp out to get their kids into the schools of their choice. Would you?

Enjoy her guest post, and also check out her new business: Network: A Coworking Spot which provides a place to work and a community for self-employed peeps north of Denver.

"Why are we thinking about middle school when he's entering preschool?" my husband asked as we left the kids with a babysitter to attend a presentation on why this local preK-8 charter school was awesome. "Because, that's when schooling counts," was my reply.

Little did we know, in less than 3 weeks I would be sleeping on a mattress with a woman I had just met…not due to some drunken wild night, but the desire to get our son into this school. 

I don't really think that one preschool is so much better than another. When Gina moved out of state, we were laughing that some preschools she was finding cost upwards of $900/month…until we realized that isn't so unusual. Then we started crying. But when you boil it all down: Aren't all of these kids learning how to stand in a line? How to respond when their name is called and how not to have smears in their underpants after a day of not having a personal wiper?

Since when does the quality of wooden toys placed in pretty, reachable shelves differ all that much from a preschool filled with circle times and free play? Disclaimer: I was all for Austin attending a Montessori school. In fact, it was our top choice. Until I stopped to think of him as an actual person and not some model in a school magazine getting to play in all of the beautiful centers. Austin would find a work station that he is comfortable with (probably organizing numeric blocks and beads) and would not have strayed for 9 months. We can count beads at home; this I am sure. So, then I thought something a little more directed would be great for exposing him to new things. Seeing that other 3-year-olds aren't able to cut in a PERFECTLY straight line, that it's OK if you can't get the marker top back on, and that sometimes your shirt gets wet when you try to wash your hands would be nice confidence boosters for this little Type-A tot of ours. 

We are surrounded by great preschools. It's not a bad thing. But, with choices come the comparisons. Our public school preschool is nice, then we have the free-play preschool down the street, the Montessori school that is one mile away. The opportunities are endless. When you look further ahead though (to elementary and middle school) our opportunities aren't so abundant. We live in the fastest growing city in our county, which has provided overcrowding issues since we have moved here. We look at constantly changing boundaries due to new schools, and the year Austin enters middle school will be around the projected time a new middle school will be needed in our area, causing more disruption at what I've heard is such an easy time in parenting, the tween years.

The most compelling reason to attend a preschool (like the above-mentioned charter school) that’s farther away? Kids who enter the private preschools that are affiliated with the public charter schools are given higher priority for open enrollment in elementary school, and in this case, middle school too since the charter is pre-K through 8th grade. And, when one sibling is enrolled, priority is given to the following siblings. So, we are effectively comparing schools for the next 10 years of his, and his one-year-old brother's life. Crazy. I'm the first to admit it.

But that didn't stop me from grabbing a sleeping bag and joining the campout that began TWENTY SIX hours before enrollment processing at the school. Hundreds of other parents subscribe to the same reasoning I do, and vie for the limited charter school open enrollment slots. I was a lucky one. My friend heard the line had started, she grabbed my kids from me and told me to “GO. NOW.” I did. I got there at 5pm and was 22nd in line. Enrollment was not beginning until 8am the next day. Parents had tents set up, a bonfire was going in the school yard, an entire pickup truck filled with chopped wood was backed in as far as it could come and flasks were being passed. It was 22 degrees out. 

I talked to one mom who was there trying to get her son into the 6th grade. She was camped there, her husband at a different school, and her brother at another to ensure their son got the education they were going for. She had arrived at 6:30am that morning, closely followed by another woman, and more started lining up around 11am. One dad had driven by at 5pm after work to "see what the action was" before he planned on going home, changing into warmer clothes and heading out later. He was instead standing there in his work clothes waiting for somebody to bring him proper winter attire.

Chris arrived around 8pm, bringing me some dinner and hot chocolate, some warmer clothes, and set up our sleeping bag on a mattress for us. There were now around 50 families in line, shivering, talking, and still? No complaining. The principal came and told us he was impressed. That they were going to open the gym for us and let us keep warm (with bathrooms!). We filed in, staying in our little line, and made beds. One woman was spotted walking around in her nightgown and robe and had brought her son around because "he thought it would be fun!" I sent Chris home as I didn't need him to help keep me warm, and instead I shared my mattress with a woman who was right behind me in line. We slept, talked, watched movies, browsed the Internet and kept that line! The bonfire was kept going all night with some of the dads choosing to camp outside...a little too into it? Perhaps. Maybe they hadn't been camping in too long.

Needless to say, we were there and we weren't the only ones. It turns out many schools around our area had campers (ours was the only one who opened their doors to us). This happens at many, many schools. Public, private, and charter. If there is a "first come, first serve" enrollment plan, one night of the year schools around the nation turn into just another national park. 

Did he make the cut? We don't know, and we won't find out until February. If he doesn't get in, will we try for the next year? Possibly. But when does it end? "Daddy's been camped here for 3 years to get you in this school!" we imagined telling our kids some day.

"Will we have to do this for college?" Chris asked. "NO way, we'll have taught them how to camp by then, along with how to wipe their own butts, thanks to this awesome preschool," was my reply.


  1. I'm confused—what school was it? Why did you think it was the best school? Did you get Austin in? Did you think it was worth it?

  2. I just figured out that if I want to transfer Pinky to another school that seems off-the-hook awesome, it would cost us $1554.40 a month. That is after the 20% discount for going 40 hours a week. $1943.00 before the discount, and $1999 if I was to get it close to the hours for which I'm currently paying $760 a month. How much off-the-hook awesome do I really get for more than twice the price?

    I would also like to add a cry from all the full-time working moms and dads in the world:

    Dear Amazing Schools with really cool concepts:

    Really? School hours from 9am-1pm? You have got to be effing kidding. How in the world do I make that work and pay your crazy tuition rates? (Because I obviously can't have a normal job and get my child to and from your school.) Dearest Buddhist-inspired, and Waldorf-based, and Reggio-Emilia-precept-focused schools: Bite me. Your very design is not egalitarian.


    Working mom

  3. Hey Rachel!
    The school is Flagstaff Academy in Longmont. It is a charter school, so a free one :) We won't know if Austin is in until Feb. just like all of the other open enrollment schools in St. Vrain Valley School District.

    Why I like it...Mostly due to the school being pre-k through 8th grade. I also like their anti-bullying program, their restorative justice program, their teaching method (core knowledge...which is becoming popular in public schools as well), their monthly virtues and their community service programs they do with the students.

    Was it worth it...I'll let you know in Feb ;)

    Erin...yikes! Those school hours are tough. Is that for preschool or primary? And I agree about's hard to measure what an additional $1000 gets you when a lot of education is based on the actual teacher that is working with the children.

  4. Jes - those are preschool hours. I've found a surprising majority of the 'interesting' schools to have hours like 9-1 or 9-3. Uniquely, the school that would be $1999 per month takes into account that I wouldn't be able (as a working parent) to make the 9-1 hours work. So I could:

    Pay ~100/month to drop off at 7:30 (earlier than 8:00 official dropoff)
    Pay ~1200/month for the 9-1 school day
    Pay ~8/hr ($650/month) for care from 1pm - 5pm
    Pay ~100/month to pickup after 5, but before 5:30

    This makes this preschool more expensive than sending your child to Kindergarten at Alexander Dawson. As an in-state resident, I could send Pinky to CU, pay all of her room and board, and have money left over.

    I fully understand that I am going to have to pay for aftercare when Pinky goes to public school, as they often get out between 3 and 4pm. It makes me a little crazy that I can't even think of exploring these alternative forms of preschool education because they are completely inaccessible to our family as working, moderate-income people. Then I get really indignant when I think about the options that are available to people with even less income, people who have to work two jobs, etc.

    Then I have to go have a beer.

    Thanks so much for your post, it's been a very interesting conversation starter!

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