This week, Morningsider is kicking off a new series we call “Harlem Pro” where we will bring you tips, inside information and professional advice from some of our local pros designed to keep us all in the know and one step ahead.  For our first installament, we’re tackling school admissions because, while summer is in full swing, let’s face it, the fall and back-to-school is fast approaching with many questions facing parents about the getting their little learners in the best schools.  We asked local school admissions specialist, Mahalia Watson, one of the founders of Let’s Talk Schools, to shed some light on the kindergarten admissions process. The organization she founded with fellow Harlem mom, Bee Animashaun, is an online educational resource that provides information to help parents and students successfully navigate the complicated educational marketplace.

Tips from Harlem Pro Mahalia Watson:

Kindergarten admissions for public schools for the 2012-2013 school year was just completed a couple of months ago.  However, did you know that if you want to apply to private schools you need to do so a year in advance?  That means in order for your child to start kindergarten at an independent school at the age of 5, you need to apply when they are 4 years old.  Hunter Elementary, a selective gifted and talented (G&T) public school, also follows the same application timeline as the city’s independent schools.

Applying to one of these schools is a multi-step process that involves completing written (or perhaps online) applications, screening tests, school tours, separate parent and child in-person interviews and financial documentation (if requesting financial assistance).

Before embanking on this journey here are some thoughts to consider:

1. Most people apply for 8-10 schools

2. Between parent tours, parent interviews and child playdates, there will be 24-30 visits to these schools during a three month period

3. Including a modest 30-minute travel time, working parents will miss 56-65 hours of work during this time (not including time to complete applications and other required paperwork)

4.  Try not to worry too much.  Even if a kindergarten spot doesn’t work out, you can try again for middle school or high school.  Additionally, spots may open in a non-entry point year, as families move out of the city or transfer schools all the time.

The process can be daunting but very rewarding in the long run.

Every child learns different and finding a school that is the right fit for your little learner is key.

The application period for the 2013-2014 school year will begin this coming September.  Let’s Talk Schools will be hosting an information session on the application process on Wednesday, August 13, 6:30 pm at Ephesus Church.  Details here . Visit Let’s Talk Schools at