Musings from the Godmother

Life as an urban mom in Washington, DC

DC School Lottery Advice: It’s All About Location, Location, Location

Crayon Pic

Photo by Melissa Collins, Flickr

I’ve been meaning to update my blog for a while, but with Queen Bee being in a new school, I haven’t had time, as I’ve been doing a lot of volunteer work for the school’s PTO.

New school? Well, not exactly new. If you will recall from my prior post, QB was matched in the initial My School DC lottery with H.D. Cooke Elementary School, our neighborhood school, and when we got off the waitlist at Bridges Public Charter School a few days before school started, we switched. Well, in December, we moved Queen Bee back to Cooke. I’m posting this a few weeks before the My School DC lottery closes because of what I learned in the process of the move.

I’m sure you’re wondering why we decided to leave Bridges. We loved Queen Bee’s teachers and classmates, and there was a warm and welcoming parent community, but there were two key problems for us.

The first was the quality of the after-care. Bridges decided to switch after-care providers a week before the start of the school year, and this really affected the quality of the care. There were some basic safety issues that went unaddressed while we were there, and we just didn’t feel comfortable leaving QB in the aftercare program. We tried finding a sitter, but we had no luck doing so when we started looking in mid-October.

Second, the commute was much harder than we had anticipated. On nice days, my husband could bike with QB relatively easily. But on rainy or cold days, or days when he had to work late, then I had to either take the bus or drive. The bus ended up being hard because the line dropped us off about a half-mile from the school. It was doable, but not without dragging-of-three-year-old feet. As a result, many days we would drive, and that just really stressed me out. I live in the city so that I don’t have to drive very often, and the grind of a daily commute really was difficult.

Thus, in November, we decided to get back on the waitlist for H.D. Cooke. Because we live in boundary for the school, we were able to move ahead of all the out of boundary families, and we lucked out that a spot opened up a month later. We were very sad to leave the Bridges community, but the transition was remarkably easy for Queen Bee. She finished up at Bridges on a Friday, started at Cooke on a Monday, and was quickly down to the routine at the new school with nary a tear. And Queen Bee’s teacher is fantastic, as is the school’s new administration and the strong parent community at Cooke.

I realized in this process that, even though commute counted toward about half of the ranking of our schools last year, it should have counted toward much more. We live on the same block as Cooke, just a few houses down from the school. It is so much more relaxing to be able to get up and easily walk to school with my three-year-old no matter what the weather.

This brings me back to my advice for people who are entering the school lottery for the first time: Just as in real estate, don’t underestimate—as I did—the importance of location, location, location. And if you try out the commute to different schools, remember that you’ll be doing it twice a day for 180 days per year, so if you have any qualms about location, consider either taking the school off your list or moving it down to a later choice.

In the next few weeks, I’m planning on writing posts about (1) how I would have selected and ranked schools last year if I had known what I do now and (2) how my experience at a very low-income public school compares with my experience at a charter school that had a more affluent base of parents. (Bridges is a title 1 school but is still substantially lower poverty than Cooke). If there are other topics you would like me to cover before the lottery closes on March 2nd, please let me know in the comments section, and I’ll do my best to cover them!

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Advice for the DC School Lottery

(Photo by Phil Roeder on Flickr)

Photo courtest of Phil Roedr, FlickrWith the 2015-2016 public and charter school lottery process getting ready to open up again, I thought it would be a good time to update people on how the 2014-2015 lottery played out for my family and offer some advice for those entering the lottery this year.

In the initial lottery, we were matched with our local DCPS, H.D. Cooke. We accepted the spot and quickly became involved with the school, along with a handful of other new incoming families. Just a couple of days before school started, Queen Bee was offered a spot at Bridges Public Charter School. We accepted the spot and have been very happy at Bridges. We were lucky that Bridges added two PK classes late in the summer, at which point most people did not want to move their three-year-olds to a new school. Even though we had nearly the last waitlist number for Bridges (and all other schools we applied to) in round 1, we got in.

Based on my experience, here is the advice I offer families entering the lottery for the first time:

  • Check out your in-boundary school. Based on Cooke’s test scores, we were not going to apply, but my husband went to an open house, really liked it, and encouraged me to go as well. When I did, I realized that the school had a lot more going for it than I had thought—including really engaged PK teachers; a beautiful, newly-renovated campus; and amazing “specials” teachers missing from many charter schools (art, music, PE, library, Spanish). In the summer, a new principal came in who is changing the school for the better. Next year, anyone who applies for PK3 or PK4 to H.D. Cooke or any other high-poverty, Title I school with an in-boundary preference will automatically get in. As a result, I really do think it’s worth checking out your neighborhood school even if it doesn’t look good on paper.
  • However, if your in-boundary (or any other) school is one that you know you would not have your child attend, then don’t bother applying to it. The schools on your list should only be ones to which you would be comfortable sending your child, at least for one year (and preferably longer).
  • Don’t give up hope even if you get a bad lottery draw! The way the lottery works, your child’s number is drawn, and essentially the algorithm goes through your applications, from #1 on down, to see if there is a spot for you at the school. If not, you have the next spot on the waitlist. One consequence is that if you get a bad waitlist number at one school, you will generally have bad waitlist numbers at all the other schools you applied to. In the initial lottery, we were number 390 out of 408 waitlisted PK3 applicants at our top choice, Mundo Verde. Our number for Bridges was 138 out of just around 145 waitlisted students. We didn’t think we had a shot at all, yet we got the call from Bridges at the end of the summer. The waitlists do move, so keep up hope.
  • Only check out schools where the commute, start/end time, and before/after school options work for you. We loved the Inspired Teaching School but then figured out in a test run of the commute that there was no way we were going to be able to drive to the new location on a daily basis and keep our sanity. Similarly, I knew some people who applied to Thomson Elementary School and then found out later that they don’t have after-care until K, so they would have had to hire a babysitter to do pickup and watch their children during the afternoon.
  • Gather some basic information on the schools you think will work, and then make decisions on which ones to investigate further. The DC Education Festival allows you to check out most charter schools and some DCPS in one place. I definitely recommend attending it on Saturday, 22 November 2014, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the DC Armory (Stadium/Armory metro on the blue and orange lines). Individual schools also hold open houses throughout the year, sometimes during evening and weekend hours. There are many sources of information about schools online, and it’s always worth asking for feedback on schools from neighborhood listservs. You do not need to be an expert on all the schools to which you apply, but you definitely want to make sure that you have a general idea of which schools you prefer over others. You must rank-order your list, and if you, say, place your in-boundary DCPS last and get into a better-ranked school where you later figure out the commute will not work, you will not have the option to send your child to your in-boundary school. The ranking really does matter, so think carefully about what matters most to you.
  • Don’t discount the commute factor. We love Bridges, but it’s so much less convenient than Cooke (which was pretty much right next door to us). We either have to bike or bus to and from the school each day. We have a great teacher and Queen Bee is thriving there, so it is worth it, but it’s still a pain. We decided early on that we would not apply to schools to which we would have to drive. We live in a dense part of the city precisely because we don’t want to drive regularly, and that really helped limit the schools to which we ultimately applied. For us, when ranking schools, we considered academics worth about half the consideration and location the other half of the consideration.
  • Finally, accept that once you submit your picks, you have no control over what happens. It’s done entirely by computer. I got the sense that some people thought that if they really wanted their child to go to a school that the child would get in there, or if they really understood the lottery algorithm that it would happen. In reality, it’s a random process, and getting a bad lottery number is definitely frustrating—but there is nothing you can do about it. Once you submit your picks, relax about it and move onto focusing on other, more interesting parts of your life.

Best of luck to everyone who applies to the 2015-2016 lottery!

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Luck of the Draw: My School Lottery Picks

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Photo by Balmain on Flickr

The DC public and charter school lottery just closed, and we recently submitted our twelve picks for preschool (now called PK3). As a reminder, here are the basics of how the common lottery works:

  • You may apply for up to 12 public and/or charter schools and must rank from 1 (most desirable) to 12 (least desirable) for each student.
  • You are not guaranteed a spot at their in-boundary neighborhood school(s) until they enter kindergarten. For PK3 and PK4, you must apply to your neighborhood school(s), though you get an in-boundary preference.
  • The lottery algorithm makes it more likely that you will be matched with a higher-ranked school than if each school conducted a separate lottery. However, if you list only highly desirable schools with few available seats, then you still probably won’t get in unless you are very lucky. Therefore, if you feel you must have a slot next year, then it is incumbent upon you to find “safety” schools—schools in which you know you will get in, based on prior lottery results.
  • You are matched with a maximum of one school. If you are matched with a school, you are wait-listed at any school that you rank as more desirable and are not wait-listed at schools you rank as less desirable.
  • Some charter schools are not participating in the common lottery, and thus parents must apply directly with those schools.

My husband and I went to over 15 open houses each during lottery season to better understand our choices and priorities. Here was our basic process for making selections:

First, we ruled out any schools where the commute would not work. We sadly had to rule out my favorite school—Inspired Teaching—for this reason. We also did not apply to another school we loved, Capital City, for location, along with E.L. Haynes.

Then, of the schools under consideration, we ranked each school on a host of weighted criteria. Most of the criteria dealt with academics (such as curriculum and implementation) and location (with walkable being the most desirable to bus-able being acceptable but not desirable), with about half of the weight given to academics and half to location. We did not apply to any schools in the common lottery in which we would have to drive, as we decided that we live in Adams-Morgan because we love the urban experience and don’t want to be tied down to a driving commute every day.

Our basic framework was to compare the school with our in-boundary school, H.D. Cooke. Cooke is essentially right next door to us. The question we asked ourselves was, “Is this school better enough than Cooke to warrant a longer commute to get there?” We found eight schools in which the answer was yes, and those are the schools we listed before Cooke. There were many schools that were perhaps marginally better than Cooke but not good enough to warrant the commute.

And now, onto our lottery list. Drumroll, please. . . .

  • First Choice: Mundo Verde, a bilingual Spanish/English school in which PK3, PK4, and K are taught 90% in Spanish; the remaining grades are 50% English and 50% Spanish. We loved the expeditionary learning curriculum framework of the school, the school’s bilingual program, and its sustainability focus. The parents were also super-engaged, and there seemed to be a real sense of community. Unfortunately, the school told us that there will only be eight PK3 slots for non-siblings, so we don’t expect to get in here. The school is moving to Thruxton Circle, which is accessible via bus from Adams-Morgan.
  • Second Choice: Two Rivers, an expeditionary learning school in NoMa, also accessible by bus from Adams-Morgan. We loved this school. The principal, who is also a founding parent, started the open house by saying that their goal is to create a love of learning, which is something that I think is missing from many schools these days. Our chances of getting in are very slim here too, with only about 12 spots for non-siblings.
  • Third Choice: Ross Elementary School: This is a wonderful DuPont DCPS with a high level of parent involvement and a high percentage of in-boundary students, especially in the early classes. Our chances of getting into this school are exactly 0%. We have no sort of preference for the school, and with only one PK3 class of 15 students, many in-boundary people are shut out. It is walkable or bus-able. We listed this school because we love it and it is convenient, and we had an extra slot for our 12 choices. Why not try?
  • Fourth Choice: School-Within-School (SWS). This is a DCPS with a city-wide draw, meaning that there are no neighborhood boundaries or preferences. SWS uses a Reggio-Emilia curriculum from PK3 through 5th grade. It has extremely involved parents, a hallmark of the Reggio framework, and it’s one of very few schools world-wide that uses Reggio past kindergarten. The school is on Capitol Hill and is bus-able from Adams-Morgan.
  • Fifth Choice: DC Bilingual. This school teaches half the curriculum in English and half in Spanish and also has an extensive nutrition program. We loved the school at the open house, which was the most organized open house that we attended. I also appreciated the principal’s responsiveness, as she replied promptly with detailed information when I emailed her. The school is currently extremely convenient to us—it’s walkable and just a few blocks away. We would have ranked it higher except that the school is looking to move somewhere in wards 1 and 4, which would make it a lot less convenient for us.
  • Sixth Choice: School Without Walls at Francis-Stevens. This school, formerly known simply as Francis-Stevens, is a PK3-8 DCPS in West End that was on the school closure list a year ago. The neighborhood rallied to save the school, and the Chancellor agreed to keep it open by merging it with School Without Walls High School, a selective (application-based) public high school ranked the top DC public high school by U.S. News & World Report. Although the high school is not pleased (to say the least) about the merger, it has engendered much-needed change in the elementary/middle school. The high school principal is now managing both schools, and he cleared house at Francis-Stevens, hiring 90% new teachers and changing the curriculum, e.g., by having children start Latin in PK3. We think this school has a lot of potential, in part evidenced by the high level of parent involvement. We also like that it goes through 8th grade, as DC really struggles to provide high-quality middle schools. Note, however, that SWW@Francis-Stevens students are not guaranteed admission or given any preference for the high school; they must apply for admission just like everyone else.
  • Seventh Choice: Bridges, a beloved charter school not too far from our house that features small class sizes and an inquiry-based curriculum from PK3 through 5th grade. We loved this school, but it would require a bus ride that is in the opposite direction of our jobs. If we could walk there, it would surely have been a higher choice.
  • Eighth Choice: Marie Reed dual language. Marie Reed, an Adams-Morgan DCPS right on my way into work, has two programs—a 50% English/50% Spanish dual-language program, and an English-only program. It also has the most dynamic and engaging principal I met in over 15 open houses. However, it is struggling to attract neighborhood families, in part because of the truly awful, wall-less building it is in. Thankfully, it has received $40 million for a major renovation and thus should be opening with brand-new facilities (with walls!) in August 2016. We think the school is up-and-coming and is poised to become much better with the new facilities, along with leadership from a great principal.
  • Ninth Choice: Marie Reed English only. We had to use two lottery slots so apply to Reed since each program counts as one spot.
  • Tenth Choice: H.D. Cooke. This is our neighborhood, in-boundary DCPS. It is a struggling school, but it also has a lot going for it, including an engaged principal, a brand-new building, and an international baccalaureate primary years programme curriculum. This essentially is an inquiry-based model where everything a child learns–from math to art to literature–is based on a thematic unit, which changes every 6-8 weeks. Cooke couldn’t be more convenient, and we are practically guaranteed admission, since it historically has taken all in-boundary PK3 and PK4 applicants.
  • Eleventh Choice: Capitol Hill Montessori. Like SWS, this is a city-wide DCPS with no boundaries or neighborhood preference. I wish I had liked this school more so that I could have listed it higher, since I am a big fan of Montessori (per my prior blog post). However, I’ve heard that the school has expanded too quickly (now covering PK3 through 8th grade) and is disorganized and the experience is very dependent on your child’s teacher. As a result, we decided to include the school after Cooke.
  • Twelfth Choice: Garrison, a DCPS in Logan Circle. Like SWW@Francis-Stevens, Garrison was on the closure list and was able to stay open after the neighborhood rallied behind the school. As a result, there is good parent involvement, especially relative to some of the other DCPS we looked at. We put this down just in case we don’t get into Cooke, which we don’t expect to happen.

In terms of predictions, I’m assuming we’ll get in, but not to a top choice. I’m thinking Cooke or Marie Reed most likely, but that maybe we will get off the waitlist at SWW@F-S or Bridges later in the year. The only other lottery I have entered before was the room-draw lottery at Colby College, where I went to school. The first year I entered, I received a pretty bad number, but one of my roommates-to-be lucked out and got a great number, so we were set. The next year, I got the last female draw number in the class. I am acutely aware that it’s possible to be the unlucky one who comes in last in the lottery, and I am prepared for that. Thankfully, I should still get in even if that happens, given my in-boundary preference at Cooke.

I am looking forward to checking in after the lottery results come out on March 31st. Best of luck to everyone who entered!

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Montessori Schools Demystified

Photo by AlphaPolaris on Flickr

It’s lottery season, and in the last couple of months, I’ve gone to about a dozen open houses for charter and public schools. In looking at the various models of learning, I initially thought that Queen Bee would not do well with Montessori, since at home she can be high-energy and “spirited,” as a friend euphemistically put it.

However, once I talked to her daycare teachers, I realized that at daycare she is in fact very focused. One teacher noted that they might be doing an art project where other kids will work on it for a few minutes; Queen Bee might be engaged for a half hour or longer, working to get her project “just so.” As a result, I started to explore Montessori more, since I have heard that it works well for children who are focused and self-directed.

By way of background, the Montessori public and charter schools that I have looked at—Lee Montessori, Shining Stars Montessori, Latin American Montessori Bilingual (LAMB), and Capitol Hill Montessori—all go through at least 5th grade, some as far as 8th grade. That is very different from private Montessori preschools that do not offer elementary grades. Since we are looking for a school for Queen Bee that will last us at least through elementary school, we are looking at both the primary and elementary programs of the schools.

A typical Montessori schedule follows, which comes from my open house at Shining Stars, which starts at 8 (definitely on the early side for DCPS/charters):

  • 7:30-8: Children arrive, eat breakfast, get ready for the day.
  • 8-11:  Uninterrupted “work” period. In this work period, the students can choose to use any Montessori material, as long as no other student is using it and the teacher has shown them how to use the material. Children can work with a material for as long or as short of a time as they want.
  • 11-12: Outside time
  • 12-1: Lunch “family-style”
  • 1-3: Two-hour “work” period or naps, depending on age. (Three- and four-year-olds at Shining Stars can leave at 1 to nap at home; I haven’t heard of any other school with this as an official policy.)
  • Children are picked up at 3, or can be in after-care from 3-6.

Missing from this, you will note, are “circle time,” group-wide lessons, pull-out reading/math groups, or other teacher-led activities or group work. In this sense, Montessori is unstructured, in that the child gets to choose what to do from a wide range of options, and she can choose whether to work alone or with someone else. A typical Montessori room has 30 children, one teacher, and one aide and is remarkably quiet; you get the sense that kids are really concentrating on and engaged with the task they have chosen. In this way, it is a child-centered approach.

It is structured, however, in that every material has a specific purpose, and if the child is not using the material in a way to support that purpose, the teacher will redirect her to use the material properly. In this way, it is a teacher-directed approach. My concern about this is that it could stifle creativity and imagination, which I think in the preschool years should be fostered.

Overall, there is a lot I like about Montessori, but I have a few cautions.

Montessori Pros:

  • The method is remarkably good at fostering independence.
  • Montessori finds creative and different ways of teaching key skills. For example, Montessori approaches math in a very different–and much more intuitive–way, using 3D figures that children can touch and manipulate. I have heard that Montessori kids are much better at math than kids schooled in a traditional environment. Similarly, Montessori teaches writing in a unique way and before reading; reading comes naturally after children learn to write.
  • Teachers observe each child individually throughout the day; they really know her strengths and what she needs to work on.
  • The method can support children where they are, whether they are at, above, or below grade level in different areas.
  • It is a child-centered approach, which is very different from some of the programs I’ve looked at that are teacher-led. This is true at the primary level and is even more so at the elementary level.
  • There is generally no drilling of skills or teaching to the test; there are also no grades. Children learn because they want to do so. By choosing what to work on (with the prompting of the teacher/aide, if necessary), they are invested in their own education.
  • Classes are mixed-aged, so younger children can push themselves to learn by seeing the capabilities of the older kids; similarly, older kids can mentor and work with the younger kids. I think this is particularly good for Queen Bee, who otherwise with a September birthday would always be the youngest in her class.

Montessori Cons:

  • There is not much group work, unless the children choose to work on a material together. (This is more common in the elementary, rather than primary, grades.)
  • The method requires (and fosters) independence and concentration. However, it could be a bad fit for a child who simply cannot focus.
  • Montessori children can have a tough transition to a traditional environment where the teacher teaches and the students listen/take in the information. In addition, since most Montessori schools have minimal or no homework, moving to a traditional school with a heavy homework load in later years can be jarring.
  • The large class sizes–with typically 30 students per class, even in the preschool years–can be disconcerting. The Montessori schools say student-teacher ratio is intentional, as it fosters independence and a lack of reliance on the teacher; however, this certainly gives me pause.
  • The “correct” way of using the materials could be stifling to creativity and imagination, especially in the primary classroom.

If anyone has experiences, good and bad, with Montessori education, I would love to hear about them and hope you will share in the comments section.

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The Common DC Public/Charter School Lottery Is Here!

School Bus by Caitlinator on Flickr

School Bus by Caitlinator on Flickr

A few weeks ago, I was in a coffee-deprived state flipping through the Washington Post when I came across this article. I admit I thought I needed another cup of coffee and had misread the headline (“Most DC schools to participate in unified lottery starting next year”). I really never thought it would happen–DCPS and charters cooperating to make life better for students, parents, teachers, and administrators? I’ve lived in the District long enough to be skeptical of promises about bureaucratic efficiency.

I am delighted, however, that all public and almost all the charters offering three-year-old programs will be participating. Details are on the lottery’s official website, along with this factsheet from the Public Charter School Board. Among the key details:

  • Families may apply to up to 12 schools and may choose any combination of public and charter schools.
  • Families must rank the schools by preference. Students who are successful in the lottery are matched with only one school. They are dropped from any other schools that they rank as less desirable, and they remain on the wait lists of schools they deem more desirable.
  • The lottery will operate in two rounds, and students who are placed in the second round are added to the waitlists after those who apply in the first round. Only families who do not apply or are not matched with any school in the first round may apply in the second round.
  • The lottery may be similar to other major cities like Denver, Newark, and New Orleans, all of which are mentioned in the factsheet. The lottery website mentions that the lottery will try to match people with their top choice school in order to maximize the number of students who get into a top choice school. It says specifically that the order in which a family ranks the choices affects the results. This is different from last year’s DC Public School lottery and will likely result in less wait list movement, especially after the school year starts. (I see this as a real benefit of the system.)

The lottery opens on Dec. 16th and closes on March 3rd (February 3rd for high school applicants). Results will be available on March 30th.

Clearly, the new system will require a lot more up-front work on the part of families. However, by doing a better job of matching students with their preferred schools, it will also lead to better outcomes, so I believe the up-front work will pay off in the end.

Best of luck to everyone in navigating this complicated process!

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DC Public Preschool Programs: A Basic Overview of the DCPS and Charter Lottery Systems

DC Public Schools and many charter started this past Monday, so it seems a good time to start talking about the preschool public and charter lottery system. One of my goals for this blog is to describe my experience with the lottery and offer guidance for those who enter it in the future. I’ve learned a lot about the process because Queen Bee will be three in September 2014, so we will be entering the next lottery to try to get her a spot. It’s incredibly complicated, and I know I have a lot to learn. Here are the basics of how it works in the public and charter school contexts.

One of the biggest benefits of being in DC is that there is free quasi-universal preschool. By “quasi-universal,” I mean that although preschool is not guaranteed, thus far there have been enough spots between the public and charter for everyone who wants one to get in—though not necessarily at their top choice school.

DC Public Schools

Many—but not all—DC Public Schools have three-year-old preschool programs. Generally, most schools that are east of Rock Creek Park have them, and all those west of the Park do not. Since you can apply out-of-boundary to schools, though, you are able to go to a DCPS preschool even if you don’t have an in-boundary program. Even if you have an in-boundary program, you are not guaranteed preschool admissions and must apply via the lottery.

In the DCPS lottery, you may apply to up to six schools (including your in-boundary school, if you choose to apply there). You must rank order the schools from 1-6; this ordering is essential because if, say, you get into your third choice school, you will not be wait listed at the schools you ranked 4, 5, and 6. The ranking does not, however, affect your probability of getting into any school—that is entirely determined by lottery, although certain categories get preference. For most schools, these are the preferences:

1) In-boundary siblings of current students
2) In-boundary
3) Out of boundary siblings of current students
4) Out of boundary but with proximity to the school
5) Out of boundary with no preference

However, for dual-language schools (which I believe are all Spanish-English schools), the preferences 2 and 3 are switched, meaning that out-of-boundary siblings have preference over in-boundary families with no siblings. This is controversial and is upsetting to some in-boundary families, as you can imagine, but DCPS says it is necessary to ensure an adequate representation of native Spanish speakers to make the programs work.

DC Charter Schools

There are a wide range of charter school options for preschool as well. Each charter school has a unique mission. Some are dual language. (The options for three-year-olds include Spanish, French, and Hebrew rumored to be starting next year (this year, the Hebrew program starts at age four); for four-year-olds there is also Mandarin.) One program—Appletree, with campuses throughout the city—focuses only on preschool education. Several schools focus on “expeditionary learning,” a hands-on approach to learning. Others still focus on Montessori or other approaches.

Because each charter school is independent, each also runs its own lottery. There is no universal application, so applicants must do their own research on what schools might be a good fit and apply to them individually, although they can apply to an unlimited number of schools. That can result in a lot of work for parents, but it also offers the prospect of finding a school that really fits for the child. There is no neighborhood preference for charter schools; the only preferences that exist are for children of founders and siblings in the school. Sibling preference, however, can take up the vast majority or even all the available spots for popular schools.

I’ll be writing more on this as we continue to navigate through the process.

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Shame on You, Washingtonian Mom

When someone emailed me an offer for a free copy of the premiere issue of “Washingtonian Mom,” I thought, “free issue? Why not.” After all, I live in Washington, DC, and I am a mom–perfect magazine for me, right? Unfortunately, within a minute of flipping through the magazine, I came across this ad:

Shame on Washingtonian Mom and Dr. Michael Olding for running this ad

Shame on Washingtonian Mom and Dr. Michael Olding for running this ad

Seriously? New moms don’t have enough to worry about, what with raising a newborn, getting no sleep, working outside the home, feeling isolated and alone, the list goes on. . . .? New moms ALSO need the added pressure to look like a model, to have all the curves in the right places, to weigh no more than (and even less than) the pre-pregnancy weight?

I’ve been thinking about how this space could have been used for good–perhaps an ad for the free classes at the Breastfeeding Center, an article on how to take care of yourself when you have a newborn, profiles of “real” moms attempting to balance motherhood, work, and self-care.

Thanks, but no thanks, Washingtonian Mom. Needless to say, I shall not be subscribing to your magazine. In fact, the free issue I received went right into the recycling bin.

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The Way of the Peaceful Parent on What Every Four-Year-Old Should Know

The Way of the Peaceful Parent on What Every Four-Year-Old Should Know

This post nails it–“Being the smartest or most accomplished kid in class has never had any bearing on being the happiest. We are so caught up in trying to give our children ‘advantages’ that we’re giving them lives as multi-tasked and stressful as ours. One of the biggest advantages we can give our children is a simple, carefree childhood.”

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Slow Down, Why Don’t You?

I’m generally a pretty high-energy person who runs around from one thing to another. On a typical weekday, I wake up at between 5 and 5:30 when my daughter does, nurse her, and then and up and going getting her ready for daycare. My husband definitely helps, but I do a lot for her in the morning in part because she’s still a bit of a “mama’s girl” and also because I really like having the one-on-one time with her. I then make a 20 minute walk to her daycare with her in the stroller, and then go to work. I also do pickup from daycare. (The daycare location is pretty much on my way into work and much more convenient for me than my husband). We usually stop by a park or playground now that it’s summer, and then we get home, I quickly pull dinner together and then it’s bathtime and bedtime by 8. My only real “me” time from 5:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. is the 10 minutes each way that I spend walking between my work and daycare.

Yesterday (Friday) morning, I woke up and had a scratchy throat, sinus pain, and a headache–all a sign that I was run down and possibly getting a cold. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me, since I had been running on empty for a while, not engaging in self-care and suffering from insomnia. More on the reasons for my insomnia in a future post, but suffice it to say for now that insomnia is awful when you NEVER can sleep past 5:30 a.m. For me, sickness is my body’s way of saying  “slow. it. down.” If I won’t do it when I’m feeling well, my body forces me to do it by getting sick.

I skipped the auto pilot yesterday morning. After nursing my daughter, I asked my husband to get her ready to go and take her in. He works on the other side of town and we don’t have a car, so taking her to and from daycare is a big ask. He agreed to do both drop off and pickup by using our super-awesome Burley bicycle trailer. And I worked from home, which allowed me to work on my research projects, writing, and analysis in the comfort of my PJs. It also gave me the space to take some deep breaths, slow down the pace of my life for a few hours, and really be present with what I was doing. And then . . .  I did it again today! I asked my husband to take care of QB this morning because I again did not feel well, and then I decided to have him take her on his own to her super-awesome Saturday morning music class so that I could get an acupuncture session in at my neighborhood’s amazing (and affordable!) community acupuncture clinic. I took a one hour “need nap” and came out feeling refreshed–though unfortunately still under the weather.

Slowing down and self-care are such important things for parents to do, but most parents I know don’t do them nearly enough. And since our children learn through imitation, if we don’t take care of ourselves, they might not learn to take care of themselves. I’m worried that if I don’t model these behaviors, then Queen Bee will pick up on my bad habits of not being present for herself and not taking care of herself. That is a powerful incentive for me to make these things a priority moving forward.

Some thoughts on how to do this are through exercise, meditation (even for a few minutes a day!), taking deep breaths when I notice I am not being present for myself, acupuncture, doing a few yoga poses each day and maybe even a class once a week, hiring a babysitter more regularly so my husband and I can go out alone on occasion, meeting up with friends on occasion for drinks/pedicures/whatever, and cooking a large meal from scratch every now and then rather than heating up leftovers or getting take out. Oh, and blogging regularly. I love writing and having a few minutes to do so on topics that I choose seems like a wonderful way to take care of myself. If you have any other suggestions for me, I’ll take them! And I encourage you to think of ways you can slow down and take care of yourself, too.

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Who is the Godmother Anyway?

Welcome. I’m the godmother of the Mommy Mafia. My friend gave me that nickname when I helped to start a new moms’ group in September of 2011, shortly after having given birth to a little girl. I knew and a lot of other women with due dates around mine from prenatal yoga at Tranquil Space and our Bradley Method natural childbirth class. We started a Google Group to plan get-togethers and called it the Mommy Mafia, because we would walk around the streets of Adams-Morgan in DC in our BOB strollers and Moby wraps and just take over. We allowed members to invite others. Now we have over 100 Mafiosi, and we are there solely to support one another in our role as moms. It is the anti-DC Urban Moms. (Those who have read DCUM will know what I am talking about.)

My daughter will be known on this blog as Queen Bee or QB. That’s her Mommy Mafia nickname. If you know her, you will understand why this name is so fitting to her. My goal is to share my joys and challenges in being a mom, as well as to share useful information for raising kids in the city generally and in DC specifically, such as how to navigate the very complicated landscape that is school choice in the District.

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