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Kindergarteners' parents scramble for spots in annual rite of spring

Preschool parents line-up outside Mar Vista Elementary School for a shot at selective kindergarten seat.
Annie Gilbertson/KPCC
Preschool parents line up outside Mar Vista Elementary School for a shot at limited kindergarten seats.

It’s become a yearly ritual – parents scrambling for a small number of kindergarten seats available at sought-after public schools like Mar Vista Elementary's School for Advanced Studies.

The line started forming at Mar Vista during the holiday weekend with parents camping out like Best Buy on Black Friday.

Around noon on Monday, Nikki Dyson was in line with 12 other parents eager to enter their preschoolers in the advanced program, which offers specialized teachers and a 12-year track toward early college acceptance.

“I really want my son – it brings tears to my eyes – to have a really good experience in his first proper, big school,” Dyson said.

Nikki Dyson and her youngest son snack on raisins during an overnight wait outside Mar Vista Elementary for a chance at a kindergarten seat. 

Public schools like Mar Vista offer seats to gifted students outside the neighborhood on a first come, first served basis.  Others ask parents to take their chances in a lottery.

The students are assessed for such skills as problem-solving and critical thinking before they secure seats in one of the dozens of schools that are part of the district's advanced studies program. 

Parents who couldn’t stand in line themselves paid others like Devin Miyasaki to sub in for them.

“I brought my blanket because I checked the weather and it was going to be a little nippy. Then I brought some snacks and my laptop and an extra laptop battery,” Miyasaki said.

Karen Quinn, the author of Testing for Kindergarten, said a growing number of parents are looking for kindergarten options beyond their neighborhood public school. 

"That's what we are seeing all over the country right now. Some of the general education programs tend to have larger [class] sizes and don't cover as much content or go as richly into the curriculum as the gifted and talented programs," Quinn said.

The application window for L.A. Unified's Schools for Advanced Studies opens Tuesday and closes April 30.