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Archive for Sunday, March 16, 2003

Spots in preschools prove enticing for many parents

Camping out to enroll children not out of question

March 16, 2003

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Matt Bond was familiar with waiting in line. As a Kansas University student in the 1980s, camping out was a ritual for him and fellow students wanting a prime seat for Jayhawk basketball games.

The wait early one recent Saturday in Lawrence was for something more important: getting his oldest child into a good preschool.

"I figured if I can camp out for basketball, I can camp out for his education," said Bond, 36, an engineer with the Kansas Department of Transportation.

Educators say that sentiment is growing nationwide as parents go to extraordinary efforts to give children every educational advantage possible.

For example, Scottsdale, Ariz., parents began lining up at 8:30 a.m. the day before registration opened at CASY Country Day School. Armed with lawn chairs, televisions and food, they queued for remaining slots for new students.

"It's growing every year," CASY director John Spero said. "I think parents are more concerned about their kids' education than ever before.

Worth the wait

With temperatures in the 20s, Bond was clad in a Miami Dolphins hooded coat and insulated coveralls about 1:30 a.m. outside The Giving Tree preschool in Lawrence to enroll his son, Drew. Only five spaces were open for the fall semester at the school sponsored by First Christian Church.

By 4 a.m., the line had grown to three sets of parents. Steve Iboubi, 26 and a KU engineering student, was there to enroll his 4-year-old son Devlin. The school's affordability -- less than $100 a month for three days a week -- was a factor.

"Nothing is more important than having a good education for the kids," Iboubi said.

Julie Blumenthal of Leawood knows the routine, as well.

Last year, she waited for nearly nine hours to get daughter Sarah enrolled in the preschool program at St. Michael's and All Angels Preschool in Leawood.

"I had my bag of books and a cooler," Blumenthal said. "It was kind of fun. You feel a sense of being on a team -- if you get what you want."

The preschool fit Blumenthal's needs of being close to home and providing extended hours. Blumenthal works at Sprint Corp. and has changed building locations three times since Sarah started school.

Not just a play group

Charlie Andrews, director of St. Michael's, said high on parents' priorities is a safe learning environment with some degree of structure. She insists that parents visit the 50-year-old school before their children enroll.

"It's not a play group," said Andrews, adding that students spend as much as 20 minutes at a time on work sheets or other tasks.

Parents started lining up at 5:30 a.m. recently for 5 p.m. registration, Andrews said, but there were two slots available at the end of the day.

"We stress to parents that they don't go there with that sense of urgency," she said.

Since then, those who did not get enrolled are on a "huge waiting list."

"We have families that get pregnant that call asking for spots in a classroom," Andrews said. "We just don't do that."

Interesting offers

Neither does Doug Hicks, headmaster of Shaker Road School in Concord, N.H. Parents have called him asking for slots moments after giving birth because of the school's policy that children be born before getting on waiting lists.

"We do get some interesting offers," Hicks said. "I sometimes suggest the donation of a gym or fine arts building. However that hasn't happened yet."

Hicks has been in the childcare business since 1979 and has seen the interest among parents grow with a desire for quality education.

Recently, a Japanese family enrolled a child. Hicks told them that the policy was that the family had to visit the school before being enrolled.

"They arrived the next Friday. I didn't realize that they actually lived in Japan," Hicks said. "Needless to say, they will have a good chance of getting in."

Maximizing advantages

Alexa Pochowski, assistant commissioner with the Kansas Department of Education, said waiting lists and camping out were a product of the increased competition among parents to give their children every education advantage.

Some parents, she said, are choosing to wait until their students are 6 years old to enroll them in kindergarten, so that the children will be more mature and have more skills than other students. The idea is the student will be an academic leader and secure top scholarships for college -- 13 years later.

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