By Lara Traum
“He who opens a school door, closes a prison.”
― Victor Hugo
In a city of unique academic options and restrictions, parental decision-making is perhaps the single most significant force that determines a child’s educational path. Unlike the idyllic American dream that depicts a wholesome Brady bunch in a balanced local high school, successfully stumbling through a system of well meaning and artful instructors, the school system in New York City is varied, inconsistent, competitive, and without guarantee.
Just as some kindergarteners spend their afternoons with tutors, preparing for admission into elite elementary school programs, many of New York’s seventh graders spend their summers indoors, drilling for the gamble of the specialized high school’s admissions test. As competition becomes more fierce and programs become more rigorous, more and more parents are finding it necessary to adjust their children’s educational plan.
Some decide to pay for expensive test prep programs, hoping that these will ensure entry into a free specialized school.
Others choose to divert their savings towards a private high school, fearing that they will lose in the specialized high school gamble.
Still others decide to opt for weaker local schools, channeling additional funds towards extracurricular enrichment instead.
While many of these challenges are unique to New York City, the decisions themselves, with the many nuances that inform them, come at a formative time in a child’s academic life and should not be ignored. For parents in divorce, these can be some of the most complicated challenges to foresee and address.
One of the many benefits of the mediation process is the ability to chart various courses of action. When creating an educational plan for a five year old, it is nearly impossible for parents to predict the growth and merit that the child may or may not achieve. While it is becoming increasingly common for parents to think towards college as they plan for the division of financial responsibilities, the private vs. public school dilemma becomes more complicated when the child is in the New York City school system.
What happens when a high achieving child is an unsuccessful test-taker and is forced to attend a requisite zoned high school with depleted resources, overcrowded classrooms, and few academic challenges?
What happens when a high achieving child doesn’t take the prep courses offered to “game” the admissions test, losing an often necessary advantage?
Who pays for that prep program? Who pays for private school if the child doesn’t get into a good public high school?
How does that affect future payment expectations for college?
Many parents prioritize education, but simply do not have endless resources. These realities are often best addressed in advance.
In mediation, parents have the ability to plan according to their financial realities while still prioritizing education. Parents can create adjustable plans that accommodate their respective interests.
If Sally has a 90 average, then we’ll pay for a prep program and hope she gets into a top school.
If Sally gets into Stuyvesant High School, we’re off the hook for high school and might be able to pay more of her college expenses.
If Sally has to go to private school or have expensive extracurricular enrichment during high school, perhaps we can only commit to paying for a State University and agree that she will take on student loans if she wishes to go elsewhere.
An artful mediator can present these various scenarios in a manner that equips the parents to create a variety of strategies from which they can choose as the course of life unfolds.
While navigating the secondary school system in New York City may be a struggle, parental communication doesn’t have to be. By planning for various scenarios in advance, parents can be better equipped to approach an otherwise stressful time in a child’s life with balance and options.
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