NYC’s Pre-K Diversity Problem

Elsen-Rooney 1: Janae Lucious lives in Washington Heights, and she’s facing a big change next year.

Janae Lucious 1: I have to go to Pre-K next year. Pre-K  is for big kids, and they have to do what their teachers tell them. And behave.

Elsen-Rooney 2: It’s also a big day for her mom, Mariela Montilla. Janae is already enrolled at Hudson Guild daycare in Chelsea, and has a guaranteed spot in their Pre-K next year. Montilla loves the school. And she works downtown, so she’s able to bring Janae to school every day, but the commute is starting to wear on them.

Montilla 1: So, we get on the train and commute together, down here. Which is, you know, a little bit difficult because the commute in New York is tough on adults, imagine on a four-year-old.

Elsen-Rooney 3: Still, Montilla says Hudson Guild brings advantages that she can’t find in her own neighborhood.

Montilla 2: When we’re by my house, it’s mostly predominantly Hispanic, same people she sees all the time, you know, she interacts with often. So I wanted her to be exposed to different cultures, different languages.

Elsen-Rooney 4: Montilla says the Chelsea school draws a diverse array of parents. And her daughter has noticed.

Montilla 4: She’s come home and said, ‘hey Mommy, people have accents. They’re from other places.’ Which is not something she ever noticed at her other daycare she was at. That’s awesome.

Elsen-Rooney 5: But Montilla may be an exception to the rule. Halley Potter studies Pre-K diversity for the Century Foundation. She says many parents can’t travel, and don’t even know about Pre-K programs outside of their neighborhoods. So they stick to what’s close by.

Potter 1: Right now geography is really the only factor that parents really know about.

Elsen-Rooney 6: Potter says we’re not giving parents a full array of options. 60% of Pre-K students are in privately-run, neighborhood centers, and those programs are often the most segregated.

Potter 2: Those programs, in many ways, have some of the greatest potential for diversity. But I think for many of those programs to be able to really create diverse enrollment, they need support in terms of being able to do the marketing and outreach to families of different backgrounds.

Elsen-Rooney 7: Schools chancellor Carmen Farina weighed in last week on Pre-K segregation. She said that if parents choose to stay in their neighborhoods, there’s not much the city can do about it. But Potter doesn’t buy that argument. She says they can start by providing better information to parents.

Potter 3: There’s still a lot more about the quality and the nature of a program that I think parents would be interested to learn about.

Elsen-Rooney 6: And for parents who do want to leave their neighborhood, Potter says the city could provide assistance, like subsidies for public transportation. Meanwhile, for Montilla, the stakes are high. In a year’s time, she’ll be looking for a kindergarten for her daughter, and hopes to prepare her for the Gifted and Talented Exam. She’s glad for the flexibility she had to choose a Pre-K program, but she knows that not all families are in the same position.

Mike Elsen-Rooney, Columbia Radio News

 

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