A new documentary, 'Nursery University' looks at the cutthroat world of nursery school admissions in The Big Apple.
In case you haven’t heard, getting your kid into a "good" nursery school in Manhattan is akin to getting your 18 year old into Harvard - except the standardized tests involve crayons. It’s a cutthroat process that leaves many parents reeling… and often considerably poorer. New York’s parents have been struggling for years to figure out the key to securing admission to the top schools, and this documentary provides an inside look into that process. MainStreet recently spoke with one of the film’s directors, Marc H. Simon, about the movie and his access to this world.
MainStreet.com: What is Nursery University about?
Marc H. Simon: Nursery University is the first film to get inside nursery school admissions. We are the first cameras to be inside with the admissions director when they are making decisions, [conducting] interviews that always get a lot of hype... what in the world are the admissions directors looking at when they are conducting an interview with a two or three year old?
MS: What was the catalyst for making the film?
MHS: This is a story that has to be told… I’m also a full time attorney. And when I was at my law firm I went to speak to a colleague who was running out the door to go to a nursery school interview for his twin daughters… he was talking about paying 30 or 40 thousand dollars for two year olds and he was like, “this is just nuts,” and one of us said, this has to be the next film.
MS: The amount of money we’re talking about here is outrageous. What are people to think?
MHS: This is a microcosm, in a way, of life. It comes down to some old fashioned principals. Supply and demand. The "in" factor. People want to be with people like themselves. They want to be in places where it may help them in business or where the relationships may help. And this happens in this process and it’s just a fact of life. And rather than look at it and judge it, I wanted to examine it.
MS: The level of competition is also pretty incredible.
MHS: The truth of the matter is that the nursery school directors take absolutely no joy in saying no to hundreds of families, the majority of which the directors will acknowledge are perfectly great families. But they just don’t have the space. And even in today’s economy… there are just too many kids for too few spaces.
MS: And what about the kids who don’t get into the schools their parents want them to go to?
MHS: I’m hopeful that one of the benefits to come out of this film is that it will provide some perspective to the process and that maybe parents will not get so anxious about it. Because I think the film shows that there are alternatives in Manhattan and that if you have your heart on just three to five school, maybe that’s not the most realistic way to approach this.
MS: How do the parents deal? What are the alternatives?
MHS: The film has such a diversity. We have one family that’s underprivileged and think that to get out of Harlem they need the best education possible at the earliest age. Then there is a family that is a downtown family and not only do they not get into one of the elite school but they are almost turned off by it. They are the everyman family and they just think, ‘why can’t I just walk down the street and put my child into the local nursery school. This is just nuts. I mean, that’s how we grew up.’ And they found at the very end of the process what’s called a parent-child co-op, where parents are more involved in the school. I filmed there and I got news for you, it’s a really great environment.