making decisions

This is the time of year when parents agonize over decisions. April, May and occasionally in June, I will sit down at my desk with a cup of coffee and at 8am, put on my headphones, and take 15 and 30 min. calls all day until 6:30. There are some days in April when I feel like I am an air traffic controller with planes stacked up over O'Hare. Parents circling, looking for a safe landing...
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The Diverse Schools Dilemma

I am reading "The Diverse Schools Dilemma: A Parent's Guide to Socioeconomically Mixed Public Schools" by Michael J. Petrilli and I am riveted.

He is the executive vice president of the Thomas B.Fordam Institute a think tank focused on K-12 education policy, and executive editor of the journal "Education Next". He is also a father living just outside Washington DC in Tacoma Park, MD (self described as Berkeley East... I thought Park Slope was Berkeley East!). Looking for a socioeconomically and racially diverse school in a vibrant, urban neighborhood that is experiencing gentrification.

He works through the studies, but this is not a dry recitation of stats. He asks the questions everyone asks - in a nutshell - "Will a diverse school slow down my child?" The answer is, not if it is the right school and there are many pieces to the 'right school' puzzle. The first part of the book lays out the many pros and cons. The end of the book gives some guidance about to how to assess your own choices and second to the last chapter entitled: How to Gentrify a High Poverty School...interesting. I haven't finished yet, but my next blog will be about those last chapters and how they fit our situation here in Brooklyn. It is a terrific short read and well worth the $10 to upload to your new holiday Kindle.

 

new years resolutions for parents of 2008 birthday children

1. Don't panic. There is no need and people who panic drown. Stay calm and centered and when "that mom" at the playground tells you that you are screwed because you didn't do this-and-such or didn't get into "the" school. Drop her. She is trouble and she is not correct, and your poor spouse will have to spend a week talking you down, when you should have been laughing with your child.
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i was a new school parent

I mentioned that I had some experience in a new school in the last blog and I thought it might be interesting for you to know a little more about that experience, lest you think I am just making all this "positive change" stuff up. I am sending this out as a love letter to the families considering the "new program" in Park Slope, PS 705 and New American Academy in District 17, PS 414 in Williamsburg and the myriad of new charter programs that are popping up in many districts, including BUGS Middle School that I hope will find a home in fall of 2013. My kids attended a local, diverse, strong and established elementary - our new school experience came at middle school. If you think that this doesn't apply to your situation - let me say that it I think it is a lot easier to "pioneer" at elementary when the kids are little and mostly under the influence of their parents.
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Park Slope rezoning update, and more cents from me

I attended the meeting at John Jay last night where the new version of zone lines where announced. As DNA info leaked, the 39 zone changes have been taken off the table. The 107/10 zone lines remained the same. The 321 zone has been cropped at 5th Ave.

The PS 39 parents pledged to remain active to help the new St. Thomas building program ramp up their new PTA. There will be meetings, yet to be scheduled, so that rezoned families can meet Elizabeth Garraway, the proposed new principal, see the building, and get more details about the new program. This will probably be after the vote has occurred.

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The Whole-Brained Child and 10 Mindful Minutes

The potential problem with reading books about child rearing when you have 18 year olds is that you will realize everything you did wrong and all of the great techniques that you could have used. I found both of these books interesting and didn't have too many moments of regret. Both books are approaching the subject with a basis in neuroscience - how the brain works and using that knowledge in everyday life.
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beautiful school libraries from colleges and robin hood

I can't stop thinking about the photos of libraries that I saw on Flavorwires Most Beautiful College Libraries in the World.  I want the slideshow on my desktop. I want to send them to all 9th graders to encourage them to aspire to the life of the mind. I want to send them to all first year architecture students. I sent them to my librarian dad.
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books for a better life

The National MS Society has asked me to be a judge in the 16th Annual "Books for a Better Life" Awards program. I am reading five parenting/childcare books and I thought that I would give you a preview. When I am done I would like to pass them on to you. Send an email to joyce@nycschoolhelp.com with the specific book title in the subject line, and I will pick names at random for the giveaway on Feb. 1.
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public high school choice rant

Forgive me for too many CAPS ahead of time.

I have been hearing a lot about the "second round" this year, like you get another shot at the choice you want late in the spring. GUYS! the DOE doesn't work that way!! The "supplemental round" is for students who have NOT RECEIVED ANY CHOICE in the main round. Your placement in the main round is where your child will attend for freshman year, no ifs ands or buts. The students in the supplemental round get to choose from the schools that have seats still available.

But "ah ha!", you say, "what about the Specialized HS kids who get to choose between a two schools?! Aren't the schools that they don't take from the main round left over in the supplemental round?" NO!!! everyone (who has placed a seriously good number of good fit schools) is placed in the main round and all the schools get "over offers" -many more students than they can hold. The DOE has historical data from years of experience how many kids are going to take their Specialized HS seats (or private school, etc.) and how many are taking their 1-12 list seats. If a few more kids choose the Specialized HS, the classes are a little fuller there, but all the seats at the highly sought after, selective schools are still full, full, full. The process this year is NO DIFFERENT than previous years. The DOE always ran the WHOLE algorithm before the Specialized round placements where announced. They have always known in early Feb. where EVERYONE is placed. They just didn't release the info, because they did that New School Fair, and students had the option to add a new program to their list before they got their results. The problem was that the conspiracy theories abounded AND it pushed the supplemental and appeals process way too late in the year. This is a process that handles upwards of 90,000 kids a year. They will not entertain picking and chosing in a second round and if you are banking on getting no choice so that you can pick off Beacon or another favorite in a "second round" you are taking a bad gamble with your child's future.

college knowledge

We are almost done sending the freshmen off to school. I have gathered a couple handy sources that you may want to add to the college file.

  • 2 charming articles from the Motherlode about the send off: sending a son off, sending a daughter off
  • tax deductions: (I really had no idea!) this article from Prospect Heights Patch is Awesome!
  • I need this book: The iConnected Parent by Barbara K. Hofer and Abigail Sullivan Moore, I have gone to lengths (sometimes great) to not be a total helicopter parent, but the temptation to stay in contact electronically when they leave is too emotionally satisfying to be healthy - for me even more than for them
  • linens: after doing the round of BB&B, Marshall's, Target and Amazon we broke down and got the cheapest XL Twin dorm sheets from Residence Hall Linens, and they were good quality too, go figure.
  • computers Caroline at Ivan Expert told us what to get (Macbook Pro 13") plus the external hard drive and dropbox for backup. Then we all signed up for skype. I upgraded our homeowner's insurance so that when their roommate steps on the laptop they can get another one and they registered them with campus security. One college had the Microsoft Office for free download as long as she is a student, the other had a link for a cheaper version.
  • our favorite dorm room items: shower caddy (small, light, holds everything and the handles don't break off), most dorms don't let you have microwaves or coffee machines but we are hoping this super cute water kettle will pass, this cheap cute and useful drawer unit comes disasembled so it is easy to take in the car and put together on site, and finally the must have dorm poster of 2011

How is it going being a sudden double empty nester? I will tell you in two weeks when we return from the March Through the Arch at Northwestern to the shambles of our once gracious apartment. I do crave a little peace and quiet, no more skyrocketing emotions and last minute fire extinguishing, and the invitations for cocktails from our long lost friends seem to be sincere.

great allegheny passage and c & o canal bike trek

GAP trestle.jpg

If I was going to design the perfect 340 mile bike trek, it would be two completely flat, car free, shaded stretches, separated by a 20 mile downhill coast through beautiful farmland, with charming trail towns conveniently placed for lodging, food and homemade ice cream. When I was told that there were no up hills, I just didn't believe it, but it was not misrepresented and I did not disgrace my family. This is two combined trails; the GAP (Great Allegheny Passage - a Rail to Trail) and the C & O Canal Tow Path. The direction you take makes a difference - definitely go from Pittsburg to DC and not the other way round (and don't just do half starting at Cumberland like many people do, because you just miss the best stretch of road!) We did it all in 10 days (approx. 34 miles a day). We were two families (4 parents and 3 high school grads). We stayed in hotels, hostels and B & B's for the first 5 nights and then alternated camping in the free sights provided with hotels for the second week. These paths do go over the eastern continental divide but the grade is so low on the way up that it is truly not noticeable (believe me, I would be complaining if I had noticed). Our friends first did this trip with their son when he was 8 years old, but I think that it is the perfect trip for 12 years and up (you need some endurance). There were a lot of father/son duos and college roommates (both young and old) on the trail. The trail on the Pennsylvania GAP portion was very well maintained cinders. The C&O varied wildly in maintenance from newly packed clay to stone chips and muddy ruts, but aside from sore bums we had no injuries. You don't feel the heat on a bike because there is always a breeze.

Here is a brief list from the trip:

  • 3 high former train trestles (the photo is taken from the first one - there are railings)
  • 3 lonnnng dark tunnels (super fun and very disorienting)
  • 75 antique C & O canal locks
  • 1 continental divide
  • 1 twenty mile coast downhill (worth mentioning twice)
  • 4 rivers (Ohio, Youghiogeny, Casselman, Potomac)
  • 1 beautiful 6 mile detour that did have some hills (not part of the official trail)
  • 1 almost disastrous hotel reservation in Harpers Ferry (on a 4 lane highway)
  • 1 round of drinks at the bar, courtesy of the hotel in Harpers Ferry
  • 4 soaks in a river (Youghiogeny - cold and Potomac - warm)
  • 1 Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece (Falling Water)
  • 3 nights camping
  • 1 raccoon, 6 fauns, 5 woodchucks, 7 turtles, 2 herons, 1 buzzard, 3 bright green caterpillars, countless songbirds and butterflies
  • 1 spider museum (women's bathroom)
  • many, many trains
  • 0 cars (except in the first 13 miles leaving Pittsburg)
  • 2 very brief rain storms (just enough to cool us off)
  • 5 blown tire tubes, 2 repaired luggage racks, 1 cracked axel, 1 cracked rim
  • 2 panniers bounced off mid ride
  • 1 lost bathing suit by the side of the trail
  • 3 Ruben sandwiches, 5 crab cakes, many Caesar salads and a coconut cream pie
  • 2 root beer floats
  • 1 one match campfire
  • 7 happy campers

If you are interested in other interesting trails that we haven't yet tried. check these out.

that's right! i am traveling 334.5 miles on a bike this summer with all my camping gear

So what does a middle aged, soon to be empty nester do on her summer vacation? She ships her bike to Pittsburgh and travels under her own steam with the camaraderie and encouragement of her super fit family and their adventurous childhood friends to Washington DC. It is called the Great Allegheny Passage and connects to the C&O Canal tow path - motorized vehicle free! (I guess that means no ambulances or Enterprise Rent-a-Car pick ups)

We will do 10 days of biking (I have been assured that it is flat, flat, flat, but I grew up in the shadow of the Skyline Drive so I am skeptical) with stop overs to visit Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water and see the grandparents in northern VA. What will you see when you book a consult with me in August? Tanned, toned and ready for the Albany to Montreal trek or beaten limp noodle? Kind of exciting isn't it?! We will be camping a bit and staying in the little towns along the way a bit. I will be out of the office from July 16 to July 31. I am not sure that I will be able to update on our progress along the way, but I will eventually give you a full report.

Valedictorians have hotdogs with Mayor Bloomberg

Since Murrow is a "non competitive" school there was no mention made at graduation of the fact that my brilliant young relative was Salutatorian (knowledge is its own reward - I really believe that - although she is not so sure - file that under "life lesson"). She did get an invite from the Mayor to come to Gracie Mansion for hotdogs with all the other lovely valedictorians and salutatorians from high schools all over the city. But that is not what I want to talk about...
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Wordsworth for parents of all graduating students

I heard a wonderful interview with Priscilla Gilman on Leonard Lopate's WNYC show yesterday. Her memoir is called "The Anti-Romantic Child" about her son with hyperlexia. It sounds like a terrific book, but I had a driveway moment (while parallel parking) when she read an excerpt from "Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey" by William Wordsworth. Yesterday was my daughters' effective last day of high school. It is over. We did a good job; they did a good job. It is time to push them out of the nest with a brave face. So for all of you getting ready to leave the fours, 5th grade, 8th grade or 12th grade...

--That time is past,
And all its aching joys are now no more,
And all its dizzy raptures. Not for this
Faint I, nor mourn no murmur; other gifts
Have followed, for such loss, I would believe,
Abundant recompence.






words of wisdom from the last parent / teacher conference ever

I have made it through 284 parent teacher conferences (give or take a couple). I know that I am extremely lucky to have children who are focused students. Sometimes I went to the conference to understand the curriculum, clarify homework policy, eyeball the interesting character that my child was doing impressions of, offer support, but mostly it was a pathetic ploy to hear nice things about my kids, and sometimes to bask in reflected praise. I will say again, emphatically, that I KNOW how lucky I am. So what is the parent of a graduating senior doing showing up at school in May? I told the teachers to put away the grade book for a minute and give me their parting words of wisdom for a college bound student. I was moved by their advice.
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