When it comes to registration in “programs of choice” in the public school system, there must be a better way. In New West, we don’t have parents camping out on the sidewalk overnight to be the first in line to register their kids (thank goodness) but our method is still crazy. When Wesley was first born, someone suggested I trot my newborn down to the School Board offices and get him registered for Montessori or French Immersion, if that’s what I wanted for him. I thought they were joking.
On the website, it’s easy to mistake registration processes for this school year for the overall registration in programs of choice. I saw a date to register kids the year they were to enter kindergarten, and I thought that was it, I’ll look it up again in 2013. Easy peasy.
I got it wrong. In New West, we continue the bizarre “first come, first served” tradition of registering children in Montessori and French Immersion, but instead of having the insanity begin the year before a child enters school, it begins at birth. As soon as you have your child’s birth certificate, you can sign them up for the school and program you hope they will enjoy six years later. You can even sign them up for late French Immersion, 12 years in the future.
Here I was, thinking I was overthinking things by planning out Wesley’s schooling four years in advance. It turns out that in New West’s school system, I’m a big ol’ slacker.
To add to the fun, you may not:
- submit the form via email or fax
- remove the form from the office and return it later
- mail or fax a copy of the birth certificate (you must bring the original and let the secretary copy it at the office)
The secretary carefully notes the date and exact time the form is submitted.
So do January babies have an advantage over December babies? Poor Nora (born in October) has to compete with all the babies in her cohort who were born earlier in the year (assuming other moms are looped in to the queuing process). And Wesley … well, he may be S.O.L. by now. Sorry, my son.
I assume the (very) early registration is intended to help the school district plan for future enrolment. I doubt how effective this process is for that, however. As an example, my first choice for my kids is Montessori, followed by late French Immersion. It’s what I did as a schoolgirl, and I thought it was a great sequence to follow. But if there are no Montessori spots, I’d be more than happy to put them in early French Immersion instead. There’s no way to indicate this on the form, so I had to mark down all of the above. I’ve now pre-registered for French Immersion kindergarten, grade one Montessori and late French Immersion for both kids! They almost certainly will not be using all those spots, and if I could wait until they were five or so, I could better select what would be best for them, given their temperament. Maybe by then I would feel that Wesley needs the structure of a traditional school program, or that Nora might struggle with a French Immersion curriculum.
Or maybe we’ll be living somewhere else, and all this will be moot. Many (most?) young families can’t realistically plan which school their children will attend six or 12 years from now. A typical real estate lifecycle for young families is to rent an apartment, buy a condo, then upgrade to a townhouse or house. Job opportunities and housing prices have a major impact on where those families settle when their children are school age. Parents who register their infants are engaging in wishful thinking, which may or may not translate into real places for their kids. Because even if you register years before kindergarten/grade one, the Montessori and French Immersion seats are so hot that you still might not get in.
And finally, to add to the ridiculousness of it all, the school district is right now in the process of deciding whether to move the programs of choice. It could be that my local school will no longer have either program, and the kids will be stuck with “regular” school unless we move to another catchment area (I don’t want to ferry the kids to a school across town, and chose our current house in part because the neighbourhood school offered these programs of choice). I also heard a rumour that French Immersion may be cut back to make room for all-day kindergarten in the district … who knows if that will come to pass, but it just goes to prove the point that it’s madness to try to encourage parents to put their name down when both personal and school district situations may change.
If we’re asking parents to jump through all these hoops to get their kids on the list for these programs, why not just expand the programs so that they are available to all children? The current system is elitist, favouring those families with local connections who know the score, and are settled and secure enough to plan six or more years ahead. It penalizes newcomers to the district, and those who misunderstand or are ignorant of the arcane registration rules. The reason given to me why these programs aren’t expanded is a lack of “space” – but all the kids have to go to school here, so I don’t think it’s “space.” If it’s money that’s the issue, I would rather see an education surcharge for parents to cover the extra costs of these programs than a first-come, first-serve or random lottery system that excludes kids who could otherwise benefit from these programs. Fees could be waived for families who can’t afford it, as is often the case for ‘extras’ in a public system.
Our school system should offer equal opportunity for all children in the district. The current model of meting out access to programs like French Immersion and Montessori is broken. The New Westminster school system must find a way to fairly respond to the demand for these programs. If money or other resources are a barrier for doing so, the district should work with parents and the Ministry of Education to find solutions to those problems. Above all, let’s not penalize the kids.