Waiting for Philly charter school lotteries and hoping for a kindergarten slot

Listen

For many Philadelphia parents with kids about to enter kindergarten or first grade, March is a very stressful time.

Moms and dads ― hoping their children will be selected to attend charter schools ― worry about how this one month could hold the key to their kid’s future.

Wanda Thomas is one of them.  It’s around 9 a.m. at Thomas’ house near Erie and Broad in North Philly. Her 5-year old daughter Madeline sits on her lap fidgeting. Thomas, a photographer, is waiting to find out whether her young daughter got into a charter school.

“Pins and needles” is how she describes the wait until the Wissahickon Charter School lottery. She said she’s hoping her daughter gets in, but she has to wait until the lottery numbers are announced at 3:30 p.m. in the school lunchroom on Thursday.

Thomas said her stomach’s been in knots — she just wants the lottery to hurry up and happen.

“They said we don’t have to go to the school to have our number announced — they’ll just send us a letter and I’m sitting here thinking, ‘No you’re absolutely crazy! I have to be there and I’m going to have my paper in hand waiting for my number to be called,” she said.

Thomas said she likes Wissahickon’s well-rounded curriculum and its flexible learning environment. Her daughter also applied to another charter school.  Both are just a few minutes from home on Erie Ave.

Thomas said some parents she’s talked to admitted they don’t plan to attend the lottery because they can’t handle the stress.

Philadelphia School Partnership’s Executive Director Mark Gleason said across the city parents are waiting for similar lottery results.

“You have dozens and dozens of charter schools that are holding lotteries this month, you also have probably two dozen school district high schools that are either sending letters out after a selective admission process, as well as some citywide admission high schools that are run by lottery as well,” Gleason said. “So you have anxious parents all over the city waiting for answers.”

Gleason’s group gives grants to Philadelphia schools of all kinds, public and private.  He says the crunch underscores the city’s need for more high-performing classrooms.

“You hear some of the numbers — you know a charter school that was having a lottery last night: Global Leadership Academy — has 1,000 applications for about 100 spots,” Gleason said.

Back in North Philly, Wanda Thomas says if neither charter school works out she’ll opt for a Catholic or private school, not a traditional public school.

“We wanted to expose our children to other cultures and just for well-roundedness is another reason we didn’t want them in the neighborhood [school]. And my sister is a Philadelphia school teacher and I hear her stories. They were just horrendous.”

For now, her mom has a mini-classroom set-up in the next room where she’s helping 5-year-old Madeline learn to write.

Thomas’ husband Frederick, who just finished a night shift at Sunoco, chimes in agreeing the wait hasn’t been easy.

“I’m trying to show a stoic face of course and actually it is very very nerve-wracking,” he said.

Thomas said he spends a lot of time thinking about his daughter’s future.

“We come from not having a lot.” Thomas said, describing how hard he and Wanda are working to move the family forward. He laughs and explains his daughter dreams of becoming a vet.

“She loves animals of course, cats especially. I don’t know what I want her to do. I just want her to have the opportunity to pick what she wants to be. I don’t want her to have to be something.”

Once the lottery results are in, Thomas said he’ll have more to say on the schooling subject.

“If you see me jumping up and down or you see me with my head down, I’m gonna have a comment then.”

The Thomases said if they have to resort to parochial or private school, it would be tough to afford.  They think they could cover it “with financial help.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.