Labor Day has come and gone and the race for a place in New York’s top preschools has begun in earnest. It’s a seven month long slog of deadlines, interviews, school tours, gathering of references and standardized admission tests. Finally, in March of the following year letters are sent. You are either in or out.
Why is getting a 3 year old in “that” school so important? Most expensive American preschools are part of schools that also have middle and high schools. And students tend to stay until they graduate, so vacancies can be rare. So, if at the age of 3 you’re in, you’re in. If you’re out, you’re out.
What do preschools do? They deliver early childhood education to children who are 3 (nursery) – 4 years olds (preschool). The theory is that children learn social skills, some basic pre-literacy and pre-math skills and world awareness. (Any mother will tell you that teaching a three year old to think of anything other than himself is an uphill struggle). A little art, making things out of clay and exercise are thrown into the mix. Some schools are half day. Others offer the option of half day or full day.
Americans love their preschools. You’ve seen the pictures. Katie Holmes walks Suri to her preschool in New York. Selma Hayek beams as she drops her daughter Valentina off for her first day of preschool. (Valentina doesn’t look so happy.) Some say preschools lay a sound foundation for the “academic” world of kindergarten and first grade. Some say it doesn’t make much difference. Some even say it is a world of high pressure and higher expectations that can harm a child.
How much? For the most expensive schools figure on at least $25,000. And in New York that’s only for half day enrollment. Eight of the ten schools on this list charge $40,000 plus a year. That’s $120,000 over three years, before you even get to Kindergarten. You could fund a degree at a pretty good college for that amount. And it’s going to take a cool half million to get your 3 year old out of high school
What do you get for the money? You get small classes, world class facilities and graduate degree level faculty. The average total student body for the preschools on this list (including all grades) is around 800. Class sizes are small, with student to teacher ratios of 9:1 or less. And you get curriculum and teaching methods founded on long established (some say long in the tooth) early 20th century Progressive educational philosophy that emphasizes learning by doing, critical thinking, good citizenship and personal responsibility (that might remind you of the Boy Scouts). There are signs that may be changing, as one of the schools on this list has a radically different approach.
And, not surprisingly, New York City is the home to the most expensive and presumably best preschools. L.A. preschools max out at under $30,000 per year for tuition. It’s a whole different ballgame in New York. Think East Coast establishment, penthouses on Park Avenue and summers in the Hamptons.
Tuition figures are for full time enrollment annually and include school lunch and books.
5. Bank Street School $40,045
Associated with Bank Street College of Education, Bank Street seems possessed of a rather serious air, considering itself a “benchmark” school. It offers preschoolers the traditional mix of reading, math, science, art and hands on manipulation of materials (blocks, clay) called “Shop”.
4. Horace Mann $41,150
Horace Mann, founded in 1887 is the New York mother of all preschools. But it adopts a somber, serious tone on its site. It has good reason. In 2012, The New York Times Magazine published a story claiming “multiple instances” of the sexual abuse of student by teachers. Other than the usual preschool fare, it does have an outdoor nature laboratory in Connecticut where preschoolers and older students can “explore nature and engage in outdoor pursuits.”
3. Ethical Cultural Fieldston School $43,265
Fieldston was established as a “Workingman’s School” in 1978 by educational pioneer Felix Adler and is another Progressive school. Located on Central Park West, the school is one of the larger ones on this list, having 1,600 students. Kelly Ripa’s son has been a student at the school.
2. Avenues: The World School $43,400
Located on 10th Avenue in New York’s Chelsea district, Avenues shot to the top of the preschool list at lightning speed, having only been founded in 2012. Avenues gained quite a bit of publicity when Suri Cruise became its most famous student. It is a breath of fresh air and stands out from the Ivy League pack for a number of reasons. It is the newest school on this list and is a for profit school. And its focus is international. It is part of a growing network of twenty international schools. Older students can spend time studying in London or Shanghai. Another stand out feature: From Pre-K through the fourth grade, classroom instruction is half Spanish or Mandarin and half English. Parents of prospective parents don’t take boring tours. They attend swish cocktail parties. There are some signs the Ivy League brigade is paying some attention. Apple has awarded it Distinguished School status.
1. Riverdale Country School $44,600
Number one in the tuition stakes, Riverdale is one of the oldest country day schools in the U.S. Its web site projects a smiling, well rounded, balanced, if traditional, feel where “Mind, Body and Character” are equally emphasized. Located on 27 acres in the leafy, affluent Fieldston area of the Bronx in New York City, it is decidedly not urban. Unusually for New York preschools, it has a S.T.E.A.M. curriculum where science, technology, engineering, art and math are taught, cross referencing one subject to the others. John F. and Robert Kennedy attended Riverdale’s Lower School.