Kindergarten, Here We Come
It is a great rite of passage, and unfortunately for too many good people a line of demarcation after which urban living is no more. I'm speaking, of course, of kindergarten registration, which I did for the first time yesterday morning. Let me tell you about my most interesting adventure.
I've written at length of how we lucked into a great situation which makes our commitment to Philadelphia easier to follow through on: we bought when house prices were low, the neighborhood has improved, and the K-8 school we can send our kids to is both good, close, and diverse. The nervousness, then, is whether we would be able to score a coveted spot in the 2010-2011 kindergarten class. (Kindergarten is not required in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, so while the neighborhood school has to have a spot for you starting in 1st grade, it is under no such obligation for kindergarten.)
The school rep assured parents we'd all have a spot as long as we showed up on the first day of registration, but no one seemed to want to leave anything to chance. I wondered how early would be prudent for me to arrive and decided on about 6:45, for a 8:45 start. My wife thought I was nuts to want to wait outside for two hours in the cold, but I figured it was worth it.
But when I arrived at the school, there was no one there. I tried the door and it was locked. I waited for thirty seconds, and then decided I would walk back home, help Amy with the kids, and return in a half hour.
When I returned at 7:15, there were still only a handful of parents. I was a bit dumbfounded. I sidled up to one, we made small talk, and he casually noted, "Do you have a number?" Number? I headed in, asked for a number, and was given a slip of paper that read, "53." I was told I could go home and come back at 8:45. Wondering how 52 people could have possibly arrived before me, when I hadn't seen anyone at 6:45 and had only seen four or five 30 minutes later, I decided to hang out at the school.
I quickly struck up a conversation with some of the other parents who also decided to wait it out. One arrived on campus, sat down as if to make himself comfortable for a long wait, and now it was my turn to say, "Hey, you should know that they're handing out numbers." He ended up with "55."
By 8, the principal was nice enough to let us wait inside. By 8:45, the waiting area was full. Apparently, they had been giving out numbers since way early in the morning; no waiting, just grab a number and go home. Only the school had failed to tell anyone this.
(If I had known, I totally would have done yesterday morning differently: I would have made a beeline for the school at 4 when I woke up, gotten my number, gone back home to my morning routine, gotten my kids off to pre-school, returned to registration, and have been one of the first parents through the system. As it was, I am guessing it was my dumb luck that the very moment I arrived the first time, at 6:45, was when no parents were around and the guy handing out numbers had gone to the bathroom for a minute and locked the door in the meantime.)
Instead, at "53," I had to wait until 10:45 before I got registered. I was told there were 55 kindergarten slots, so that's uncomfortably close to being on the outside looking in, just because of a lack of awareness of how the queueing worked.
In four to six weeks, once the School District has gotten through everyone's paperwork and sent out official notices, I'll know for sure if we're in. I assume we are, so the fact that registration was so stressful and that I was so close to being out of luck, is now just a good story to tell and no more.
And, wasting the whole morning on this task wasn't a total wash: I did get to fraternize with my neighbors and the future parents of Jada's classmates. In fact, I made a few new friends, had some stimulating discussions on local issues of interest like real estate and taxes, and reunited with some of the parents of Jada's old "rat pack" friends from the local park. And even though I didn't get to meet everyone who was there, it was still interesting to scan the room and note the remarkable diversity: parents of all ages, races, and ethnicities, both moms and dads, some with kids in tow, some speaking languages besides English.
So God willing, come this fall, we'll be seeing our little girl off to kindergarten, and starting an 11-year relationship with our neighborhood school (from Jada's kindergarten year all the way through to Aaron's 8th grade). I'm glad the school is so good, so diverse, and so close, and that I already know so many fellow parents. I'm glad we don't have to flee the city to have such a comforting arrangement. And, after yesterday's nerve-wracking ordeal, I'm glad that Jada's registration process is finally over.