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Queens School Faces Heavy Demand on Eve of Kindergarten Deadline

Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - 11:15 PM

WNYC

Iris Rodriguez lives one block away from Learners and Leaders (Public School 305), a relatively new elementary school in Ridgewood, Queens. So, naturally, she expected her 4-year-old son would go there for kindergarten in the fall. But now, she’s not so sure.

"It’s very, very crowded," she said, explaining why she also submitted applications for him to three other elementary schools.

Ridgewood is one of several growing neighborhoods in Queens, along with parts of Brooklyn and Manhattan, where available kindergarten seats are scarce. A total of 3,000 incoming kindergarten students were wait-listed citywide last year, a 50 percent increase over the previous year. That number shrank by the fall, however, and only a few hundred children had to go to schools outside their zones.

City policy is to place students in their zoned elementary schools, usually within a few blocks from home. But when crowding makes that impossible, they are sent to other schools in their district, which may require more travel.

The application period for kindergarten ends on Friday.

The fact that Learners and Leaders has filled up so quickly is a symptom not only of a crowded neighborhood but also of its mission to be a different type of elementary school. Learners and Leaders is one of a couple dozen public schools in the city that go up to second or third grade and are known as early-childhood schools.

Everything at Learners and Leaders is designed specifically for younger children. The building is brightly lit and cheerful, with tiny furniture in every room. The school plans family weekend outings, movie nights and cooking classes. Teachers said they collaborate frequently. The gym teacher, for example, designed an obstacle course - including a long tunnel - for first graders who were recently studying solids and liquids.

But there’s a downside. Students graduate to another school, Public School 81 Jean Paul Richter, for fourth grade. Tania Torres, the Parent-Teacher Association president for Learners and Leaders, said the parents wanted to have the school extended to fifth grade because, "as parents, we don’t want our children to be transitioning so often."

The Department of Education denied that request for a simple reason: if Learners and Leaders did take the older students, it would not have enough space to meet the demand for kindergarten. The building can hold about 420 students.

A list of the city's early-childhood schools can be found by clicking on the Progress Reports for early-childhood schools. Many of them are charter schools that will eventually grow to include higher grades.

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