The Kindergarten Quandary
For those of you out there who thought it would be a good idea to give up your freedom, your disposable income, the ability to shower or even use the restroom uninterrupted – isn’t parenthood grand??? I kid, I kid. As a parent myself, I know all of the precious little moments along the way help to ease the bumpy road of family life, but I will say that for me, the responsibilities that go along with motherhood make it the hardest hardest thing I have ever done.
I’ve recently found myself in a situation that many of you might also be in, or will be soon, and that situation is called kindergarten. That monumental moment when your child enters the formal education system for the first time -- one they will be in for 13 years at a minimum, and potentially many more if they go to college, and then graduate/law/medical/business school.... But, worry about that later! For now, let’s focus on kindergarten.
Selecting a school in Nashville feels a lot like blindly following the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland. It seems innocent enough at first, and then before you know it you have gone deeper and deeper down a hole, disoriented, confused, and wondering how you even got here to begin with!
To start, according to Metro Nashville requirements, to qualify for kindergarten, your child must be 5 on or before August 15 of the year you want them to start. Private schools don’t have to follow that guideline, and some parents choose not to start their children if they feel the child isn’t ready, either mentally or physically.
So let’s say your birthday is August 14, and you start kindergarten. You fit the requirements, but you will be young. Probably the youngest in your class, so possibly one of the smaller children, and possibly not the smartest, only because you are potentially several months (or even a year!) behind other kids. In kid life, months can really make a big difference. But the school should be operating on a curriculum that has been designed for kids in this particular age range so it should be fine; but alas, many kids wait, meaning they might start kindergarten at age 6 instead of age 5, putting those who start at 5 at a bit of a disadvantage immediately out of the gate. Make sense?
Okay, so we know when – sort of. Now we need to know where. If you plan to go to public school, you have to visit the Metro Nashville Public School website and use the Zone Finder tool at the bottom of the page to find out what school you are zoned for. (You can also call 615-259-4636 if you don’t have access to a computer.) When you enter your address in the Zone Finder, the school that pops up most predominantly is the school you are zoned for. It’s basically your default; if you make no further efforts, that is the school your child will attend. But underneath that first listing you will find other schools for which you might also be eligible for, based on a lottery system. However, the website doesn’t tell you that, so you just have to somehow use your magic parent brain and know. I looked all over that blasted website for information on the lottery and finally gave up and called. Here’s a recap of the conversation:
ME: ‘Hello, I’m looking for information on the school lottery system on your website and I don’t see it. Can you tell me where it is?”
THEM: “The lottery doesn’t open until January 11.”
ME: “Oh, okay, well how would I even know about it? How can I learn about it before then?”
THEM: “Your child will bring home a pamphlet.”
ME: “My child isn’t in school yet, so they won’t be at school to bring home any collateral.”
THEM: “Then you just have to know to check the website by January 11.”
ME: “So I can’t get any information on the lottery until January 11? Isn’t that late for me to be able to assess my options?”
THEM: “Then you should attend the School Choice Festival.”
ME: “Oh, will they have information about the lottery there?”
THEM: “They will have all the metro schools there. It’s this Thursday. Would you like the address?”
I can’t lie, I was disappointed. I feel like I am an informed, educated parent who wants the best for my child and I’m having a hard time getting the information I’m asking for from the school system. It makes me wonder about parents who don’t have the ability or wherewithal to be as inquisitive as I have been, combing the internet and making phone calls. What if a parent doesn’t have a computer or access to the internet? How would they know any of this? Doesn’t this defeat the purpose of the lottery system, which is to provide children with the chance to attend a school outside of their zone?
So it looks like the School Choice Festival is pretty important if you want to get any kind of information on the different Metro schools your child might be eligible for. Turns out, it’s this Thursday, November 15, so I hope you don’t have plans, and if you do, you had better cancel them!
Of course, if you decide not to go the public school route, there are many excellent private schools in Nashville. The Chamber of Commerce has a list of them, and you can quickly find information like: which of the schools are religious-based, or what grades each school includes. I can’t lie, the list is long and may seem overwhelming at first glance, but you can easily go through and eliminate the ones that don’t appeal to you and then research the remaining ones.
When it comes to private schools however, you’ll be looking at a whole different set of quandaries. Namely: can your child even get a spot? Many of these schools have more than half their kindergarten spots filled before you even call, because they hold spots for faculty and staff children, alumni children, and siblings of current students. This can often make up 50% of the class right there! But if the school interests you, go take a tour! You can decide if you like it and whether or not you want to apply.
Remember, if you don’t apply, there is a 100% chance you won’t get in. This is also true for the previously mentioned, mythical lottery that exists in the public school system.
After you apply, the school will contact you to set up a time to evaluate your child. I’ve been told this is when your kid casually talks to and plays with a representative of the school who is trained in determining where a child falls academically, socio-emotionally, and physically compared to their peers. Then, you wait to see if the school offers you a spot. Most of the spots (as well as the lottery) are offered in February, so only then do you have a full idea of your options and can then determine the best choice for your child and your family.
Easy peasy, no pressure situation right??? And this is for 4 and 5 year olds. I can only imagine what the future holds. Maybe those sleep deprived newborn days weren’t so bad after all!!!
So remember, if you’re interested in your public school options, make plans to attend the School Choice Festival held at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds on Thursday, November 15 from 5 - 7pm. And if you are interested in private schools, start setting up those tours so you have time to assess your options and get in your application! It’s only your child’s most formative years we’re talking about here, so it’s best to know all of your options.