Whitney and Taryn were honored to appear on the No Silly Questions podcast in September 2022: read a full transcript of the conversation below! To listen to this episode, click here. For more on No Silly Questions, visit their website or Instagram page.
DANIELLE: Welcome to No Silly Questions, an education podcast for parents, with your hosts Danielle Freilich and Jordana Fruchter: two New York City educators, school leaders, and friends.
JORDANA: Over the years we've received every question in the book from parents trying to understand the landscape of learning, development, and education. On this podcast, we bring you relatable research -based answers from experts in the field.
DANIELLE: You'll hear from pediatric neuropsychologists, elected school officials, ed-tech entrepreneurs, play advocates, professors of multiple intelligence theory, and more to bridge the gap of information and strengthen your parent toolkit.
JORDANA: We want all parents to know that there is no such thing as a silly question.
DANIELLE: On this episode, we answer the No Silly Question: "Where should I send my kid to school?"
JORDANA: So, your child is ready to move on to kindergarten, middle school, high school, etc. And you have to consider what school to send them to. For some in New York City, there are many possibilities and it can take some navigating to find a good fit. Today, we are in conversation with Whitney and Taryn from Admit NY to provide you with insight into the hows, whats, and whens of the New York City school admissions landscape. So, we are really excited to have Whitney and Taryn on with us today. Whitney Shashou and Taryn Siegelberg are the founder and partner respectively, of Admit NY, a boutique educational consultancy based in New York City, helping families find the right school for their children. Just to give a brief overview and some context for the conversation, there are different paths a family can take when they're considering schools for their child. So there's public school, independent school, charter school, gifted and talented programs, etc. And some families navigate this process on their own or with their Preschool Director, if that's available to them. And others may choose to seek out extra guidance. And that's where Admit NY comes in. So Whitney and Taryn, can you tell us more about Admit NY and how you both got into this line of work?
WHITNEY: Yes, so first of all, thanks for such an awesome introduction. First of all, Admit NY was created to serve mainly two purposes. Number one, to help families identify the schools that are best-suited for their children and to introduce families to those schools. And number two, to streamline a process that is incredibly complex and multi-step and competitive. We don't feel that it should be as challenging as it is to find the right school for your family and for your child. So we serve as an expert and informed resource for families to rely on throughout the entire admissions process from start to finish, nursery through high school. So we are with you every step of your educational journey from when you are little all the way through high school. My background is in education. I was a classroom teacher and curriculum developer, and then I entered the nonprofit world. And that's where I was really introduced to the world of high school placement and school admissions. And at the nonprofit, I was working with a really special population of students who were high-achieving, low-income students. And they were... my goal was to help them gain admission to their best-fit schools across the country. But I focused on New York City private schools, public schools, and East Coast boarding schools. And that was really my introduction to the whole process of really understanding who a child is, as a learner, as an individual, as a community member; who a family is, what their priorities are, what their goals are, and helping them identify the schools that really align with everything that they're looking for, and then helping them navigate all of the steps of the admissions and application process. And the added step with those families in particular was also ensuring that the possibility of attending a private school was also financially possible for them. So it was also applying for financial aid packages. And then when I transitioned out of that role, I started Admit NY to continue to do the same work, serve many families across New York City and provide resources and information to make the admissions process feel more accessible and manageable. And that's how I met Taryn. Because my background is in middle school and high school admissions.
TARYN: Whitney and I met and it was sort of like a match made in heaven. But I actually grew up in New York City. My mom worked for the Board of Education for basically all my life and actually still does teacher recruiting, I went to specialized public schools. And then I worked on the college level doing research and teaching and also doing some admissions work. When my own children went to apply for schools, it kind of was a wake up call for me since I hadn't been on this side of the table. And I ended up really having a passion for this, having the background that I have just having a lot of information, I then proceeded to kind of have a career change and switch into independent schools. And I worked at two different independent schools in two different roles. One more of a front-facing role, one behind the scenes, actually managing applications from nursery all the way through 12, which was really an eye-opening experience, just to see how much parents had to do and how much students had to do. And then when I transitioned out of that, and met Whitney, like I said, it was kind of like a match made in heaven. And we we kind of grew from there.
DANIELLE: Awesome. We are so excited to have you guys on today, for so many reasons. But you know, our podcast is called No Silly Questions. And for sure, the most common No Silly Question that we get asked is, "Where should I send my child to school?" And so we're really excited to sort of offload that question to the experts today. And if we can start with the most common scenario, right, which is that many members of our peer group are, you know, looking to put down roots and maybe become first-time homeowners. And they're thinking about what neighborhood, you know, to commit to their family to, and they're wondering if the local public school is a good option. So how can those families learn more about their local public school?
WHITNEY: So, first and foremost, we're huge advocates of public education. Like Taryn mentioned, we actually both went to public schools ourselves. And depending on what a family is looking for, what their admissions goals are, and what stage they are in their child's life, public school can be an amazing option for families. In New York, the public school landscape and the admissions process is ever-changing. It's a constant moving target, which is why we actually recently hired a full-time public school admissions consultant whose full-time job is to remain up to date on all public school-related things and information from nursery through high school. But to answer your question about public school zoning and neighborhoods, I'm gonna let Taryn kind of talk through that.
TARYN: Right, so that's a really great question, we often get asked that a lot and where you live really can impact your school options, the way New York is divided, it's into districts and in zones and zones can be really large or they can be really small. So if families are really looking for their local public school options, we recommend really two resources. One is insideschools.org. We always are constantly going to this site, it's actually a great resource. It's constantly updated. But also the DOE website, the DOE has really done a great job updating their site. And myschools.nyc, which is actually your own portal, will help you narrow down what schools are in your area, it will kind of do that for you automatically once you put your address in.
DANIELLE: Great. So it sounds like a first step for families, right, exploring their local public school option would be to go online and do some research and be able to read the school's report card. Are there any measures on you know, on those sites that you would advise parents to attend to over others?
TARYN: That's a great question. You know, again, for parents to sort of break that down, I think one of the things that they should look at is really the write-up on the school, right? So some schools may lean more traditional, some schools may adopt a more progressive curriculum, and that's always in the write-up. I think the statistics are just to provide you with information. So there are statistics about how comfortable the teachers feel in the schools. You know, how safe do kids feel. And they do get a lot of school input and parent input. So I think that's great. I think you should look at the indices that mean the most to you. So if it's about demographics, if it's about free lunch, if it's about ICT classes, you know, look for the things that resonate with your family.
WHITNEY: And I think the next best step for families, once they identify the schools that they're interested in learning more about is going to see the school in person if that is an option. So open houses and tours in the fall, depending on what's going on with COVID, are available to families and that's a great way for families to get a sense for a school environment.
DANIELLE: Thank you guys, that's really helpful. And so, you know, if a family is, again looking to see other options in their neighborhood, how would you advise them to think about charter schools as an option?
WHITNEY: Charter schools are another great option for families in New York City. The great part about being in New York is that you do have the luxury of having so many different school approaches and philosophies. With charter schools, it's a total lottery-based application process. So it's about getting to know your charter school options, the ones that are closest by, the ones that are near you, or accessible via public transportation or any sort of transportation, but it is totally lottery-based, and you submit an application and then you find out whether or not you're admitted.
DANIELLE: So my background is in charter schools. And I was told recently there are over 15,000 families on the waitlist to get into charter schools in New York currently. So what you said about the lottery is absolutely the case at present moment. But it's still, you know, a good idea to explore what's around you, because you never know, just to sort of broaden the menu of options. Okay, so we are getting somewhere just sort of working our way through the list, would love to learn a little bit more about gifted and talented programs, and how does one qualify or enroll in one of those programs.
TARYN: So for gifted and talented, it is like a charter, which is lottery-based, gifted and talented is completely test-based or assessment-based. The test that they used in the past is a combination of an OLSAT and another exam which really bases a child's cognitive abilities and sort of their potential abilities going forward. The way that... the test is free, so anyone can sign up for it. Obviously make sure that you're applying for the right age for your child, all gifted and talenteds begin in kindergarten, not pre-K. So that's one thing parents can you know, make sure that they, you know, are not... that they're eligible for a UPK but not a kindergarten. And take the assessment in January, it's usually offered January of the year before you want to enter, and what you score on that assessment will open you up to either a city-wide G&T, or a local G&T. So a city-wide G&T, something like Nest or Anderson, and you need to score in the ninety-nines, and then for your local G&T, it's really anything 90 or above.
JORDANA: So Taryn and Whitney, I'm kind of curious, just for a moment to elaborate on gifted and talented, let's say a family comes to you and says, "I want to apply my child to a gifted and talented program." What are the questions you're asking them in response to that to determine whether that makes sense for their child and their family? Should everybody applied to G&T, or are there kind of certain things that you want to flush out with the family first, in order to determine if that's a good next step for their child?
TARYN: I think one of the things that you should do is really research that, you know, what this accelerated program entails. While I do think that most kids are really innately, you know, curious and smart, and you know, want to feel challenged and want to feel stimulated, these really are accelerated programs, and they may not work best for every child. So for example, if your child has any OT needs or PT needs and needs an ICT class, which is a class that has a special education teacher in it, a G&T may not be the best fit. So that is definitely something that we will evaluate as we're speaking to a family. The philosophy in the curriculum may also not match what a family is looking for. So these curriculums tend to move extremely fast and be much more structured than maybe just a local general ed classroom. So that's another thing that we'll talk about with the families, what is the curriculum that you're looking for? Does this match what you want for your child? Obviously, if your child is showing, you know, interest in reading and, you know, math concepts really early on, and you feel like they should just even try to take the assessment. We always say go for it, right, it's free. A lot of community members, you know, in your local community will probably also be taking the assessment. Not everyone will get accepted to a G&T. There's just not as many as there are people that are qualified for it, or students that are qualified for it. So you can try, it's always an option. We always want parents to have, you know, options and do their research and see what happens.
JORDANA: That makes a lot of sense. And so do families ever asked you, as far as the gifted and talented program goes, if they should, you know, get their child extra support before taking those tests? And how do you guide them, if so?
TARYN: That is something we've definitely heard. Getting... I will send me the era of COVID, I will be honest with you, a little support is probably... a lot of kids need that right now, and outside support, because they've missed that in-person classroom experience. It's not a bad idea to have someone else evaluate your child; I don't ever think that's a bad thing, especially if you have concerns. In terms of actually prepping for these tests, it really is discouraged, because they really want to see your child's natural ability to perform on these tasks. So for example, these tests are extremely auditory in terms of how children have to listen to prompts and stuff. And I'll just give you a perfect example. My daughter is a very visual learner, not an auditory learner. And when she went to take the test, she did really, really poorly; not to say that she's not a brilliant child. And I think she obviously proved that because she's doing so well in high school, but it just wasn't the right kind of environment for her. And that was something that we kind of garnered after she took the test, like this just wasn't the right kind of fit. And I think that's something that parents, you know, we are constantly talking about that with parents - that fit, and kind of recognizing where your child is as a learner.
DANIELLE: We actually taped an episode yesterday on multiple intelligences. So this is, you know, fits in completely with that theory that there isn't a narrow way of viewing, you know, a student as gifted or talented, there are the scholastic aptitudes, but there are so many others. And it's really about finding that right fit between the student, family, and the school. And so we would love to double click on that a little bit. Parents are making these decisions to commit to a school, some maybe just elementary, others, they're really interested in this, like K to 12 pipeline, how do you make that match, right? How do you sort of get to know your student, your child as a student and think about, you know, what environment they would thrive in, and also to look at the school holistically and tell us more about that.
WHITNEY: So, focusing on fit is the foundation of everything that we do at our company. And we spend a ton of time at the forefront of the process, evaluating and getting to know the families that we're working with, what their priorities are, what their non-negotiables are, what their value system is, and then also spending a ton of time with the student that we're working with. And obviously that approach looks vastly different for Taryn, who's working with the younger students, than me and our team members who are working with middle school and high school applicants. But the reason why we're spending so much time getting to know our families and students and evaluating what their needs are is because we need to determine what does school fit look like right now. Because living in New York is such a privilege. Families have so many options. I know the town that I grew up in, there was one high school and that's the high school where every kid went. But in New York City, you have so many options from public to private to charter, but then also just within the private school world, there are so many school options and so many choices, which is a privilege, but that privilege can also feel like a burden, overwhelming. Because where do you begin? Where do you start? How do you know which options are the right options for you? So that's what we boil down. And I don't think there is an exact science to what we do. It's an evolving process. We spend sometimes a year with families, if not even more if we're starting with them really far in advance. And I will say that a family's school list evolves over time, as we get to know them more, as their child matures, and things evolve over time as well. But the benefit about living in New York is that nothing is set in stone. And that's another testament to the work that we do. New York City schools have various entry points: kindergarten, fifth, sixth, ninth, those are considered entry points or entry years in New York City schools; there are also off-entry years, any year that I didn't just list, but you can still apply for those years if you want your student to have a change or to shift to a new school. But these entry points aren't arbitrary because they are representative of pivotal transitional times in a child's life. And they are great opportunities for parents to pause and take stock of what their child's needs are so that they can determine if switching schools at that point is in their child's best interest. So that is one of the benefits of attending a K through 8 school, for example, is because it automatically forces the parent or the family to stop and reevaluate their child's needs to determine whether or not there's a specific high school model that would better suit them. So we're advocates for all school models, all schools, K through 8, K through 12. But we think that the luxury for New York City families is that there are multiple entry points in New York City schools. And that's a great excuse as a parent, or a great reason as a parent, to just stop and take stock of who your child is in that moment, and what they need right now.
JORDANA: And I think that, you know, that's a great point to make about throughout the process and as your children grow up, thinking about where they're at, and what the best environment for them is. And I think that's a really big positive. I don't think that it was historically always like that. I think that in the past, you know, families kind of thought that they were committing to a school K through 12, and kids were there, unless there was really, really a significant issue, or a specific reason why they shouldn't be there. So I think that that's a super positive trend, that families feel more open minded and more flexible to seeing who their children are as they get older.
WHITNEY: Yeah. And of course, there are families who find a school at kindergarten and their kid stays there through 12th grade. And it's awesome, and it's great, and the kid is thriving, and that happens. But there is something to be said for the kindergartener who's entering a school at five years old. And then once that kid turns 10, 9, their needs could be totally different. So it's nice that we have the option to kind of reevaluate that at that point.
DANIELLE: That makes a lot of sense. And so we'd love to understand a little bit more about the trends generally, right. Jordana was saying that, you know, it wasn't as... there wasn't as much movement, right, throughout the course of the K to 12 career, and maybe there is more so now. And so we're wondering, what comes across your desk, what other trends do you see?
WHITNEY: So I think the pandemic has ignited some really unique trends in school admissions that maybe aren't ones that are going to remain post-pandemic, but for right now, or at least during a brief moment, in the spring of 2020, which was peak pandemic, there was a lot of movement, and a lot of openings became available in New York City private schools that don't typically have openings. And that was really unique, especially in our position of seeing admissions for a very long time now, and working in admissions, that was something that we hadn't seen before. And so that was when a lot of movement took place. Currently, and since that point, schools have regulated and they're receiving a competitive number of applications across the board. Some schools and admissions directors who we speak to all the time, have said that they're receiving more applications than ever before. So the number of seats available, the number of spots available has remained the same, but the number of applications has increased pretty significantly. So New York is not gone. Everyone is back -
DANIELLE: It's like the housing market!
WHITNEY: Exactly. The other thing we did see with New York City private schools is a slight over-enrollment in certain grades, because there was this point where schools were uncertain about whether or not families were going to be returning. And because of that, they slightly over-enrolled, you know, some of their grades to kind of cover that just in case families didn't return. So as a result of this, across the board, there are are less and less spots that you would typically see. There's a little less wiggle room than you would typically see, especially for students and families who are applying late or after the application process has closed, there's usually a bit more wiggle room. And right now there's not because schools somewhat over-enrolled for those... for that just in case families didn't come back.
JORDANA: It's all really interesting to think about. I mean, you made mention to the fact that like New York City is not dead, that that's coming through in the way that, you know, you're seeing things progress in the application process. Have you seen families... tell us a little bit more about, you know, the public and private school, you know, environment right now; are you seeing families who maybe would have thought that they want to go to public school now considering private school, or families that thought that they wanted to go to private school considering public school more than before? Tell us a little bit about what you're seeing in that respect?
TARYN: Yeah, that was actually one of the biggest trends we saw during the pandemic because private schools were just better equipped to handle the shift to remote learning. So many public school families who maybe thought they were going do public school K through 5 and then you know, figure out their options, have decided to apply to private school earlier than they had anticipated. So we did receive multiple families coming our way with, you know, multiple children being like, okay, now's the time we're going to shift; we were going to wait, but now we're going to apply multiple children at one time.
DANIELLE: Really interesting. I'm wondering about single-sex education. What are the trends there?
TARYN: So it's interesting, single-sex wasn't, we didn't really see a big shift in just that, we saw more of a shift to campus schools or schools that actually... I should say, not just campus, schools that had more space, and were able to spread out, and schools that had more either access to a park or to an outdoor gym, those schools we definitely saw, or we should say, we saw families more interested in those schools. So we did see kind of an uptick in parents who are like, "Well, I wasn't going to send my child, you know, on a bus this early. But now I'm wondering if that's actually just a better option."
WHITNEY: I think with coed, trend-wise, what we see across the board, which I think often is reflective across the country, not just in New York City, is that students who are going to a single-sex school often go at least through middle school, and then transition to a coed school for high school. It's very rare we have a student come to us who's starting single-sex in high school. It happens. We've worked with those families in the past, but I think usually it's shifting from single-sex to coed at that high school point, rather than vice versa.
DANIELLE: Oh, I didn't realize that that's really interesting. And does it seem like families come to you, you know, maybe that that was what you know, has always been done in their family. And so they sort of come with a point of view there that they'd like to send their kid to a single-sex vs. coed, or religious vs. nondenominational, you know, and/or do you sit with them and sort of explore - maybe this wasn't on their radar, but, you know, the benefits of a single-sex education versus a coed. Do you have those conversations, or do you find that parents really come to you with their point of view already set in stone there?
TARYN: I would say that we definitely have both. But I will say that we... there is definitely a range where people fall on one side or the other. And that's really what our job is all about, right? It's finding that fit, and really listening to parents and listening to what their goals are for their child, evaluating their child, reflecting on their priorities. So maybe if a religious school wasn't initially on their list, but we're hearing from them that they like certain values, certain educational style, etc. And there's a school that kind of ticks that box for them, then we will suggest that, and that is something that we often encourage families to do is to really look at something. And if they come back and say, "Oh, my God, we hated it," we're like, great, we did our job. Now we know you actually really don't like that, or that's really not what you want for your child right now. And that's kind of what we... we circle back to that conversation all the time. And you'll often hear Whitney and I is saying, "Well, this family is really x," or "This really is really y," like this is such a great fit for them. And it's kind of getting them on board with that, and having them sort of understand why that is such a great fit for their child and great fit for their family.
JORDANA: Taryn, you made a point about really listening to a family. And I definitely find this in my position as well that, you know, we really have to walk the line between listening to a family and what they express is really important to them and what their values are. And you know, from my perspective, as a Preschool Director, thinking about the child as well, and then trying to figure out a way, you know, hopefully the family remains open-minded, it's not always the case. And that's fine, too. So I think it's kind of walking the line between what the values the family have are, what we know about the child, giving them different options to explore and then being in touch throughout the process to figure out what they're gravitating towards, and what they're not gravitating towards and all throughout helping to kind of set expectations if we're talking about the independent school process, about you know, what that might look like. And on that note, walk us through, if you would, what the process of thinking about independent schools and applying to independent schools looks like.
WHITNEY: This is a biggie. How much time do you have? I'll give like the high-level kind of overview of what the admissions process is like. There are obviously nuances depending on the grade level that you are applying for, but I will try and keep it as general nursery, well, K through 12, not specific to a certain grade level. Basically the process starts a full year before the year of entry. So for example, if you are a current fourth grade student and you are looking to apply for sixth grade, you're going to apply the fall of your fifth grade for sixth grade entry. So you apply the full year before you are going to enter the school. The application process starts in earnest in the fall, applications go live usually around Labor Day. Some of them go live in August or even earlier in the summer, but the majority of applications are released to the public around Labor Day. And the process involves a lot. There are open houses and tours that families need to attend in order to start to learn about those schools. There are the initial applications, there are parents statements, which vary by school, every school has a different process, a different set of prompts that they want families and parents to respond to. There our student essays, obviously not for our kindergarten applicants, but for our middle school and high school applicants there are essays and short answer responses. Families will need to submit letters of recommendation or for our younger students it's called a school report that your school fills out and submits on your behalf. Transcripts, report cards. For the older applicants, they are required to take testing, to take a standardized test and submit scores. However, a lot of schools, as a result of COVID, have gone test-optional. And so that's something else to consider as you go through this process. There are graded writing samples, activity surveys, character assessments, there's a lot that goes into the process. But it starts in September, and it goes all the way through technically early January. The process is split into split into two parts, part one and part two. Once you've finished part one, you get access to an interview. And then part two is all the other stuff all the bells and whistles, all the supplementary documents. Part one ends in November. And then part two ends early January. Internally, we have very different deadlines for our families, because we like to get things done early and way ahead of the timeline. And I highly recommend that for any family approaching this process, because it's a lot at once and the more you spread it out, the more successful you will feel. But the last thing you do for the older applicants is you submit test scores around December, January, and then you sit and you wait. And this is the hardest time for families because you've worked so hard, you've put in so much energy and effort, done all the research, you've done all the work, and now it's crickets, you sit, you wait. This is when admissions people go and evaluate all the applications. And then in February is when you hear back from schools with offers.
DANIELLE: This is really helpful. This is the first time I'm hearing about this timeline. And I feel like you know, folks feel like as soon as they get pregnant, it's like time to apply to school, right? Like it's really unclear sort of when that starts. But it's good to understand that it's, you know, this sort of year prior to your year of entry. And so that would mean, if you're looking to apply to an independent school for kindergarten, then it's the year before that applications are due. Is that correct?
WHITNEY: Yes. And there's a lot of planning that goes into the year prior. So we often meet with families... if you're looking for, let's say you're a nursery school applicant. Let's say you're me, I have a young daughter, and she's 13 months old, I am now going to start to do some research and figure out what nursery schools I want to apply to because I'm going to start applying this fall for the following year when she is old enough to enter a young 2s program. So although the process hasn't started for me, I'm going to start that research, that data collection, I'm going to start to figure out what's important to me as a parent, what's important to my daughter, what kind of environment I think she needs. So there's a lot of planning that happens pre-application process, but like you said, the process starts in earnest in the fall.
JORDANA: And just to add to that a bit, you know, so it's really in the spring of the nursery year that we would start having conversations with parents to get a sense of what their values are, and to Whitney's point, what schools they can start researching and thinking about, you know, as they move towards the fall. There's one aspect of the admissions process, the score report that Whitney brought up. And you know, this is where your child's preschool and their Preschool Director and their teachers really play an important role. And, you know, in this case, you really want to think about a school where they get to know your child really well, because that's what really comes through in the school report. I know that, you know, Taryn, Whitney and I often talk about this concept of "show, don't tell." And we'll, we'll get to that more in a moment. But if you are thinking about applying to independent schools for your child, you really want to make sure that they're in an environment where the teachers and the directors view this as a priority, and that they know your child well enough to provide anecdotes, and to really be able to paint a, you know, a very personalized picture of your child.
DANIELLE: So let's get into that actually, what makes a compelling application, especially for someone, you know, that's as young as four years old, right? So it sounds like the school report's important to, you know, for the prospective school to get to know, but what do you what are your recommendations around putting together a compelling portfolio or application to a school?
WHITNEY: Do you want to start, Taryn, and I'll jump in?
TARYN: Sure, I mean, this is basically like the nuts and bolts of what we do all the time. And one of the things that Jordana hit upon is really, you know, making your child come alive in the application. So during this process, you will get a few opportunities: your parent interview, your child's interview, and your parent statement to really show who your family is, and demonstrate why you're interested in a certain school. So use that opportunity to really, you know, showcase who your child is. So if we're saying your child is super compassionate, we're not just going to say that, we're not just going to tell it, we're going to show it. And so give an example of, you know, why you really think that that is who your child is, or showcase that characteristic in a way that you think is funny or memorable. Whitney always has a great line, we want to use like sticky stories, so that they come off the page, and the person can't forget it. We also like to say, you know, really be authentic and be consistent. The person, the child, I should say, that shows up, is also the person and child that Jordana may talk about in the school report or the teachers. So that's definitely something that we want to be true to who your family is.
WHITNEY: Yeah, I think the only thing I'll add... Well, I want to hit home the authenticity and consistency part. Painting a very authentic picture of who your child is is extremely important and does make your application compelling. Because like Taryn said, if the kid who shows up for the interview is different than the kid who is described in the teacher recommendation or the school report, that's not a good thing. And it doesn't help your case in terms of admissions. So consistency and authenticity is key. And then also, remember that schools are evaluating fit, but they're not just looking at academic fit, they're also looking at community fit. So it's really important that, as a family, you understand and can clearly state why you are applying to that school. Why is that a school that is a good fit for you, your child, and your family? Because if you can clearly get that message across through all parts of your application, then the school themselves will understand why you are a fit academically and in terms of their community as well. So the "why" behind things is incredibly important to share throughout the application.
DANIELLE: Awesome. Is there a magic number of schools that you encourage families to apply to?
TARYN: It depends. It depends on whether... well, there's a few things. It depends on, you know, if you're applying for twins, obviously that number is going up. But if you're looking at public and private, and charter, or if you have a great local public, and you're like, I'm just going to apply to a few schools, that number will go down. We really say abide by what your Nursery Director suggests. So if you have a Nursery Director, that is kind of the gold standard, and that's who you're going to listen to, and we want to, you know, definitely follow kind of the rules of the nursery school. But in reality, this is an extremely, extremely time-consuming process. So any more than eight, it is going to become very burdensome. We've definitely had families apply to more, we've definitely had families apply to less, depending on their certain circumstances. You know, six to eight is kind of what we say. And remember, you're seeing these schools, there's a potential to actually be at these schools three times. So if you apply to six, that's 18 visits right there. We joke that it's a full-time job. It's our full-time job, but for a family it really is a full-time job. And we always say to people, warn your boss at work that you're not going to be there. You're not looking for another job. You're just applying to schools. So it's going to take up a lot of time. You know, because you really do have to commit to this process. But that's kind of why we try to keep it a manageable number.
WHITNEY: I will say, I feel pretty strongly that there aren't more than six schools that a kid's a good fit.
DANIELLE: Ooh, that's cool.
WHITNEY: So that's also something to keep in mind... that I think, when families are casting too wide of a net, then you lose sight of what you're actually looking for.
JORDANA: Yeah, I think that, you know, six to eight tends to be the general recommendation. But to Taryn's point, it does change, right. So if you feel really good about your child going to public school, you know, some families might say, we really only want to go to this or that private school. And if not, we're really comfortable and really happy sending to public school. So their list will look shorter than a family who says we only want to go to a private or independent school. And I think that, within that, just thinking back, you know, to your own college application process, which is more recent in your memory, you want to think about a range of schools that you can apply to as well. So that's definitely something that comes up in conversation. But, you know, to this point about it being a full-time job, it is something that we do want to let parents know what the time commitment looks like. I think that, you know, when I was applying my son to kindergarten, I think it was two years ago, during the pandemic. You know, there were certainly challenging parts to not being able to go into the schools. But I think that some of the positives that have come out of the pandemic is schools offering more touchpoints through Zoom. And, you know, that I think will be really helpful to parents as far as getting the information they need, having, you know, those touch points, but some of them are now virtual. So maybe, you know, Taryn, you can also speak to that shift that has occurred.
WHITNEY: Schools did an incredible job of creating virtual resources as a response to the pandemic. They did a remarkable job, and there's a breadth of resources available to families. I think it is especially useful, like you said, Jordana, number one for working parents who don't have the time to leave work all the time to go see these schools in person. And maybe they need to be a little bit more selective as to which ones they can see in person and which ones they learn about a bit more virtually. But also, we work with a ton of families who are brand new to New York, who are currently living in LA and moving to New York, you know, in a year and need to find their kids a home in terms of schools. And those families can't be flying back and forth to see schools in person. So for a lot of families who are coming to New York in the future, these virtual resources have been incredible. But schools have created everything from virtual tours to student panels, they've really increased their social media presence, they've created YouTube channels, information sessions that they've now filmed, and that you can watch on their website. So I will say there's nothing quite like seeing a school in person. It's the same thing when we all went on our college tours, and we walked on campuses to really feel the energy and figure out which one felt most right for us. There is nothing like stepping foot on a school campus and really experiencing the community firsthand. But the virtual resources have allowed for a lot more flexibility and efficiency in a process that can feel quite time-consuming.
DANIELLE: So for families that do go on the physical tour or experience the virtual tour, do you sort of supply your families with any sort of special creative questions to ask to really get the real scoop of what the school is like, and sort of look under the hood?
TARYN: I would always say that parents should really try to do as much research as you can, before you actually go on the school tour. Because one of the things we always want, you know, parents to feel prepared, but also to not ask questions that they can maybe find the answer to on a website. So if, you know, the tour guides are usually parents or people from the admissions office, we want you to put your best foot forward and show up like you've actually done your research. I always say to families really ask the questions that you are curious about. So if you're, you know, curious about transportation or how kids get to school or curriculum design, and that's something that is like really important to you, or how teachers and parents communicate, then ask those questions. There aren't standard questions that we tell parents they must ask because that's going to show, you know, interest or show how much you love the school, because that is really inauthentic. And that's kind of not what we want, we want parents to be kind of present, we want them to be in the moment. And if there's something that really rings, or resonates with them, then ask about that. Also, the parent tour guides are an amazing resource for families, so feel free to talk to them. And that's what they're there for, most of the schools that we speak to, and that we go on, if we have a parent tour guide, we really get to ask them a ton of questions. And they're so close to the school. So really kind of take advantage of that and ask what's very important to your family.
JORDANA: And I'll just add that I think that a lot of times schools want to help you get those answers. So when you ask questions, they may say, "You know, what, I have somebody that I can connect you with who, you know, would do a really great job at answering that question for you." They really want you to have the information that you need in order for you to make, you know, the best decision for your family as well. So I think a lot of schools do a really great job with being responsive. And if you ask a question, you know, I think there's ways to really, you know, use the appropriate language to ask any kind of question.
WHITNEY: I was gonna say, also, student tour guides are the most incredible resource for families who are touring a school because that's when you really get the students' perspective of what their school experience is like. And I always like to ask, "What's your favorite thing about the school? And if you could change anything, what would you change? And why did you choose to come here?" I just think those are such insightful questions that you can glean a lot of insight from after asking them. But I think beyond just the questions that you ask, school tours are an amazing opportunity to see a school both when they are intentionally creating, you know, a curated version of themselves, and then both see an uncurated version of the school. So I always encourage families when they're on a school tour, to just look around, what do the kids look like? Do they look engaged? Do they look happy? Look at the uncurated spaces. So look at the common spaces, the hallways, the lunchroom, the library, the playground, to get a true sense for how the community interacts on that campus. And peek inside the classrooms to get a sense for what learning really looks like in action there. Can you tell which one is the teacher? Or is the teacher so enmeshed in in the learning that they're sitting right alongside the students and it's hard to identify which one's the student and which one's the teacher? Look at the bulletin boards? What's hung up? Is there a big play coming up? What clubs are important, what calls to action do you see on the walls? And then look for students and teachers interacting. Is it casual? Is it formal? What does that feel like to you? What resonates with you, what resonates with your child? So there's so much that can be learned beyond just the questions that you're asking on a tour, but just what information are you taking in as you walk around.
JORDANA: Taryn, I'm curious, when families are working with you to apply to preschools, how often do they ask you about exmissions? I mean, this conversation, just to kind of define it... Sometimes it's referred to as "exmissions," the process of applying out of your current school into another school or applying to school for the first time. So exmissions, kindergarten admissions, there's kind of, you know, some interchangeable terminology, but how often do parents who are applying to preschool ask you about, you know, which preschool should I apply to in order for my child to have, you know, the best chance of, you know, having options for kindergarten? And how do you walk them through that?
TARYN: So if it's not the first question, it's like, the second. It's usually the first. And what I really... and Whitney knows this and all of our team members kind of do the same thing, we really actually kind of shut them down right away in in the most gentle, positive way, that this is a very antiquated way of thinking. And if not even from the pandemic, but even before that, there used to be more of like a linear path, kind of like you were just talking about, you know, staying in school K through 12. That used to be sort of the more common path. Schools are looking to build a community that reflects the diversity of New York, and that's actually admitting students from a variety of different nursery schools. And so we go back to that same exact conversation that we have with all of our families, and it's what are you looking for? What are your priorities? So, you know, if it is, you know, having religion in preschool, because that is very common, kind of having the foundations and having some sort of religion infused in the curriculum, if that's your number one priority, well, alright, let's go in that direction. If your priority is look, we're a two working family household and I need the longest day possible, great, that's kind of your non-negotiable, let's go for that. We really, really try to steer away from exmissions. Because who your child is at two, and what you want for them at two is so different than when they're turning five. And we see this all the time where... We work, we're so lucky that we get to work with repeat families, right, they've applied to nursery school, then they applied to kindergarten, sometimes they're applying to middle school or high school. So they kind of get, we get them kind of all through their stages, which is amazing. And we'll be like, "Remember that conversation we had? Look where your child is now." And we get to have like a little laugh about it. Because it's really true. A lot of the parents that we meet with, they're like, "Oh, my God, I have such a different understanding of who my child is now. And they're so happy, and they're thriving at this nursery school. And I'm so glad this is what our choice was, because now look at all the options we have for kindergarten, and we're in such a different mindset."
DANIELLE: Wonderful. You know, I think that this topic... you know, the ethos of our podcast is to bring the temperature down for parents, right, and give them sort of the information and the research to make decisions for their families. And this topic, I think, can, you know, often lead to anxiety for families, you know, because they want to do right by their kids and make the best decision. And I feel like just listening to you guys has just been really soothing to first of all understand the timeline and the planning and get organized, right. So just, you know, that in and of itself sort of brings the temperature down, but also this emphasis on authenticity, and, you know, in schools reflecting the diversity of New York, so there isn't only one right path has just been really, really helpful. So thank you guys so much for sharing all of your expertise and experience. We like to wrap up with what we call extra credit. So they're, like, complete-the-sentence style questions. So we'll offer you the sentence and then you can both answer, or one of you jump in, however you would like. So the first one is a big one. "If I could tell parents one thing, it would be..."
WHITNEY: Your child will will land in the right place.
TARYN: I was just gonna say: it's gonna be okay. It always works out.
DANIELLE: Awesome. Okay, the second one: "The role of schools is to..."
WHITNEY: Stimulate, inspire, and support your child.
TARYN: I'm gonna agree with that one. I can't beat that.
DANIELLE: Yeah you really encapsulated a lot there. That was a great answer. Okay. And then finally: "One thing that gives me hope for the future of childhood is..."
WHITNEY: All the kids that we work with. They're awesome.
TARYN: That many different perspectives, and paths are now being welcomed.
WHITNEY: That's great, Taryn.
JORDANA: Thank you guys so much. That was really well said. And it was, as Danielle said, super informative, and fun to have this conversation. And we thank you so much for joining us.
WHITNEY: Thanks for having us, guys.
TARYN: Thank you so much for having us. We love you guys. And we love... I can't wait to listen to all of your podcasts.
DANIELLE: Awesome. Thank you guys.
JORDANA: Thank you for listening to this episode of No Silly Questions. We hope you enjoyed learning from our guests as much as we did, and we'll see you back next week.
DANIELLE: For more information on this podcast, please visit our website at nosillyquestionspodcast.com. And, check out our Instagram account, @nosillyquestionspodcast.
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