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Go Ask Mom

Stepping Up: Preparing for elementary school

Posted November 1, 2015
Updated November 2, 2015

Pre-K classroom, pre-kindergarten

Kindergarten is a big step for any family as kids leave the preschool world and enter big kid school for that very first time.

The experts say there are plenty of easy ways to get kids ready for this milestone - teaching them to share, work together, listen. Just the simple act of reading daily to a preschooler will get them ready to learn.

But what about us parents? In Wake County, the step is especially daunting as we consider all of the options just in the public schools system. Wake County has more than 100 elementary schools. Families typically have a base school, year-round options and multiple magnet schools to choose from.

I posed some questions that I frequently get from parents about this entire process to Tamani Anderson Powell, director of Wake County Public School System's magnet and curriculum enhancement programs. Powell shared some great information, tips and dates to get you started.

She'll also be answering your questions this Wednesday during a live web chat. Join me, WRAL anchor Kathryn Brown and Powell at 10 a.m., Wednesday. If you have questions, be sure to share them here on Go Ask Mom, @GoAskMom on Twitter (use #SteppingUp) or on Go Ask Mom's Facebook page.

When do I need to make my decision?

If you'd like your child to attend a magnet school, you'll need to make that decision by January. The online magnet application period runs Jan. 7 to Jan. 22. Families are welcome to fill out the application, ranking their top picks, at any time during this period (no preference is given to those who, for instance, filled it out Jan. 7 compared to those who completed it on Jan. 20). Families will learn on Feb. 5 if they've been selected to attend a school.

If you are new to the system - either a rising kindergartner or new to Wake County schools - you will need to register your child at her base school before you can apply for a magnet seat. Kindergarten registration and new student registration begins Jan. 7.

For year-round options, families may apply for their calendar option school. That happens during the Early Transfer online application process, which is Feb. 8 to Feb. 12. During that time, families also can apply for Hilburn Academy, a kindergarten through eighth grade school. (Indeed. It is overwhelming!).

ow can I learn about all of my options?

Schools are offering tours of their facilities now. These are great opportunities for you to meet with administration and teachers, take a look at the school grounds and even meet some other parents and kids who might be at the school with your child. Visit a school's website to sign up.

If you're considering your magnet options, the best place to start is the upcoming Magnet School Fair, which is 9 a.m. to noon, Nov. 7, at Southeast Raleigh Magnet High School. Representatives from every single magnet school in the county will be there to answer your questions.

Aren't there other special dates, like open houses?

Indeed, Wake magnet schools roll out the red carpet for parents in the fall and early winter to recruit new families. In addition to weekly tours and the magnet fair, there are some other events for parents of rising elementary school kids.

Mark these in your calendar:

  • Nov. 10: Magnet elementary schools hold open houses. Parents can visit any magnet elementary school campus. No registration is required. Contact the individual school for open house times.
  • Dec. 2, Jan. 6 and Jan. 12: From 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m., the system will hold magnet mini-fairs for rising kindergarten families. You'll have a chance to talk with both parents and staff. The event takes place at Poe Magnet Elementary School on Dec. 2; Farmington Woods Magnet on Jan. 6; and Millbrook Magnet on Jan. 12.

I'd still recommend touring the schools individually as well.

Why are school tours so important?

Even if you plan to stick with your base school, I still recommend going on a school tour. Tours give you a view inside the school; a chance to see a kindergarten classroom and meet the teachers; and an opportunity to chat with the principal and even current parents. A PTA representative might be on hand for your questions about school fundraisers or to get you signed up for the email list so you can be notified about any special events for families of rising kindergartners. For kids, it's a great way to introduce them to the place where they are going to spend a lot of time. If you're lucky, you might just meet another child on the tour who will become fast friends with yours.

What should I ask on these tours?

For parents, the school tours offer a chance to really understand the culture of the school. At the grade school level, some common questions might include more information about the before or after-school program; what types of differentiation is offered for children who are excelling or need a little bit more help; what kind of training is available for the teachers; details about the daily schedule; and, a popular questions for parents of rising kindergartners, is there a nap time?

Parents also can ask to get connected to the school's PTA to learn more about any annual fundraising efforts and events such as a fall festival. Especially if you plan on having your child attend his base school, it might be fun to attend any public school events planned during the rest of the year.

Can I do this a year in advance?

I've had parents of toddlers ask me when to start the school process in the past. That might be a little early, but I wouldn't dissuade parents from exploring their options a year before their child heads to kindergarten. If your child will start kindergarten in 2017 and you're anxious about the process, you are welcome to attend Wake school's upcoming magnet fair on Nov. 7 and mini-magnet fairs (see above for exact details). You can also sign up for school tours now as well, though I do know of at least one middle school that limits its tours to rising middle schoolers and seventh graders.

What are my kid's chances of actually getting into a magnet school?

I'm not going to even attempt to answer that one! (I'd love that answer for my own rising middle schooler!). There's a formula involved that depends on your neighborhood, whether your base school is crowded and other categories. Wake County schools breaks it down on its website.

More information ...

Wake schools' website has a lot more information. Here are some pages that you'll want to bookmark through this process.

Address Lookup and School Maps: Determine the base assignment and optional schools, including year-round and magnet options, for your exact address.

Magnet schools: An overview of the program and options.

Magnet school events: A calendar of upcoming fairs and other information. (Contact individual schools to schedule tours).

Kindergarten: Information about who can attend kindergarten and the registration process.

Elementary overview: A sample schedule and more information about elementary school academics.

Elementary schools: List of all elementary schools in Wake County with links to their sites.

Finally, don't forget our live web chat at 10 a.m., Wednesday!

Live Q&A Stepping Up: Questions for parents


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