We didn't get into language immersion. Specifically, we didn't get KIP at Claire Lilienthal, the program I'd been preparing for since before my child was out of newborn diapers.
I hired a bilingual nanny when I went back to work. Only TV shows and movies in Korean were allowed in our home. We read a book in Korean every night. I chose a language immersion daycare and stayed there, opting out of preschool, with the goal of passing the SFUSD language proficiency test. It worked. My child passed the SFUSD proficiency test with flying colors, scoring in the advanced proficient range.
And we didn't get in.
This year, an unprecedented number of kindergarten applicants took the Korean proficiency test. I heard that over 50 children took the test, many of them native speakers. So we didn't get a spot, which is as it should be. I agree that when there are more language-proficient applicants than spots, the spots should go to the native speakers the program was designed for.
Meanwhile, I was touring private schools as "backup" and seeing the kind of education that $25k buys you. My experience is a lesson in not going by tour impressions. When I toured Friends, I was turned off by how few Asian children I saw compared to the public schools. A parent told an anecdote about kindergarteners learning responsibility by bringing their milk cups to the playground, and I thought of the epic battles that have raged in our home trying to get my Asian child to drink milk. Then the admissions director talked about not having grades and not releasing students' ERB scores to parents, and I thought "You're going to deny me cold, hard data on my child?"
I left not planning to apply. Then I thought, I can't write off this school; it's the one that on paper reflects my values the most. Learning more about the Friends Community Scholars, after first hearing about it in a K-Files review of Friends (thanks, 1+1+1!) reinforced this. So I went through the process, and surprisingly, Friends turned into one of my top choices. A great parent interview alleviated my concerns around the number of Asian students and diversity overall and confirmed that this was the place that shared my values, but the clincher was the kindergarten playdate.
After most kindergarten playdates, I'd heard, "That was not fun." At this one, I watched my child come in from the playground with the other kids, unself-consciously skipping in line. Even from 10 yards away, I could see how happy my child was. Afterward, I heard, "I liked that place," "I liked the boy teacher," and "I built a big rocket there. If I go back, I'm going to build an even bigger one!"
Academically, Friends seemed to balance not being bored and being overly stressed, hitting the sweet spot where learning would stay fun, and my child stay motivated to learn. I wanted my child to be challenged, but not to be overly stressed about grades or burn out in middle school. At another school, a parent had hired a tutor for their child in kindergarten before any problems showed up, and advised prospective parents to do the same. The admissions director there had a tutor for their own child. I didn't want that kind of pressure for my child.
Socially, I hoped that being with a group of families who bought into Quaker values might temper any envy of the "lifestyles of the rich and famous" and reduce social stratification by income. The school professed a commitment to including a broader socioeconomic segment. Since budgets reflect organizational priorities, I checked out the financial data in the IRS Form 990s for Friends and several other schools to confirm this.
I thought about my experience coming from an unknown daycare and applying for private kindergartens. I didn't know what schools were most prestigious or coveted. I didn't have a preschool director calling schools, nor a session to explain the application process, how to prepare your child, what to emphasize or what not to say at the parent interview. My child never knew any of the other children at the kindergarten playdates. How much harder would it be to do it blindly for high school? There's no SFHighSchoolFiles; I don't even know what the private high schools are.
All this to say, even before the SFUSD letter arrived, I was thinking that Friends would be a better match for my child than KIP. Still, the teacher at our language immersion program brought tears to my eyes the next morning as she expressed her disappointment. I didn't understand a lot of the words, but the gist was clear: "After speaking so well and doing so well on the test, they didn't get in, what a shame."
In an ideal world, I'd like my child to go to KIP for K-3 while I save up for a few years, then to Friends starting in 4th or 5th grade. That would be the best blend of language, culture, academics and finances. But that's not one of my choices. If I turn this down now, I don't know if we'll get in again later on. Plus, I'm aware of how difficult it is to break into the social scene after the first few years, especially if you're not one of the rich kids.
So we are trading in one dream for another, and heading to Friends. Thinking of giving up KIP still sometimes brings tears to my eyes, but in the end, I feel very, very fortunate in this crazy search for a kindergarten that we San Francisco parents go through, with its unexpected happy endings.
An 2015 update is here.