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A former "Baby Ivy Leager" reacts to the documentary Nursery Univeristy

The story of my acceptance into one of New York City's "Baby Ivies"— The Episcopal School 's nursery program—is one my parents never tire of telling. It goes like this:"Mrs. Lembo [then director of the institution] was down on the floor with you. We were in her office, all dressed up, and there she was sitting on the floor. And she asked you—you were two-years-old!—what your favorite color was. You said 'violet,'" my dad says, proud tears welling in his eyes. "And then," my mom chirps in, hand to her heart, "She asked you what violet looks like. And you said 'purple.'" Decades later, my parents still get wistful recalling that moment of glory, one that supposedly guaranteed my place in the privileged-tot hot spot. It thrilled them—possibly more than my acceptance to a real Ivy 16 years later did. I had gotten into nursery school without a legacy or a fancy address. After I began school there, my teachers came to visit me in my apartment once a year to make sure my environment was appropriately engaging. I attended weekly "chapel" with my mom, where I wore a fancy dress and talked eloquently about Jesus's amazing powers of healing. (Years later I learned that being Jewish meant that Jesus wasn't my savior.) Although a lot has changed in New York since I applied to nursery school, the private preschool process has largely remained the same, as the new documentary, Nursery University, which opens in Manhattan today , makes clear. Today's parents are just as obsessed (if not more so) with the admissions process as my parents' were, and just as nervous opening those envelopes. The kids are still sophisticated beyond their years, and, for the most part, the same schools continue to be prestigious. There is one big difference, however: When I applied, there was a spot—somewhere—for every child. Now, as Nursery University states in its first moments, approximately 15 kids vie for every seat, which makes the process truly harrowing. The documentary follows five families (four white, from swanky 'hoods, with $20,000 to spend on tuition annually; one black, from Harlem, in need of financial aid) as they apply to nursery school. It's a complex journey filled with busy signals, lotteries, open houses and interviews. Everyone—other than the African-American matriarch, Kim—is portrayed as a bit of a villain. And, in my opinion, the schools' staffs are just as bad. The administrators incessantly make fun of the parents who, while admittedly crazy and annoying, are also directly responsible for their livelihoods. Condescension on all sides runs rampant. If your children are through with nursery school, the doc may actually be a bit of a hoot. But if you're about to embark on the process be warned: It may make you even more jittery than you already are. Nursery University definitely has an agenda that won't make you feel like the $20,000 you're about to pony up is money well spent. Trust me: I know what I'm talking about. After all, I am "Baby Ivy" educated.
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