If you’ve got preschool (or pre-preschool) kids, moving to a town with Universal Pr-eK (UPK) could be the best decision for your family.
One of the most common “must-haves” we hear? Towns with A+ public schools.
But while families tend to look at K-12, more and more free UPK – Universal Pre-K – programs are popping up in the suburbs, mimicking a long-standing city initiative. And that’s not only saving families thousands in preschool tuition, but it’s helping kids and families get acclimated to towns even faster.
“Having a great UPK program in your town is a win,” says NYC Strategist Robin Hoberman.
“Many children will have the opportunity to enter Kindergarten already knowing the building, the classrooms, school expectations, and more. Many of my clients are pleasantly surprised to hear there are incredible public pre-K options available in the suburbs, but keep in mind many are lottery based, and in order to be eligible you must be a resident of the town.”
“While there are tons of ways to make new friends in the suburbs, one of the best – and easiest – ways is through your kids’ school. You’re going to birthday parties together, sports, swim lessons, and bumping into these families at the park on the weekends. By starting school sooner, you’ll have those added opportunities to meet and mingle even earlier. It’s a very real and very positive perk.”
The perks of preK
Creating connections isn’t the only perk to enrolling your child in UPK: a high-quality preschool education increases a child’s chance of succeeding in school and in life, teaching vital verbal, social and emotional skills kids need to thrive. But these benefits can come with a pretty hefty price. The average tuition for private preschool in New Jersey is $11,774 per year. That makes moving to a town that offers UPK a win win.
Granted, not all towns offer UPK – and many don’t publicize to families outside of the district.
“If you’re able to join parents’ groups on Facebook, you can easily search for threads about UPK,” Robin adds. “You should also check in with your Suburban Jungle Strategist. She’ll be able to share towns with UPK programs, and what it takes to score a spot.” Your Strategist can also share key considerations outside the classroom – birthday or age cutoffs to consider and if the district has a lottery system for limited seats.
Strategists, Robin adds, also tend to hear early on when new UPK programs are launching or in the works.
“We’re seeing so many more popping up, which is great for families,” she says. “Half Hollow Hills, also on Long Island, recently added a full-day program. Port Washington and Glen Cove also have UPK programs. In Westchester, Yorktown Heights just announced they’re adding a program in September. If your Strategist knows UPK is important, she’ll be sure to keep you posted on any news she hears,” Robin says.
Scoring your spot in a UPK program
It’s also key to stay on top of registration, and ensure you have the right proof of residency ahead of time. UPK registration in winter or early spring and, from there, many towns have a lottery-based system to determine final enrollment – either because they have too many rising pre-K students to accommodate or because zoning doesn’t align to seats in each school.
In the North Shore School District on Long Island, for example, their inaugural UPK started mid-year – in February 2023. While in year one there were enough spaces for all interested students, the lottery determined the order families selected their school. The family chosen first had first pick of where to send their child to UPK in the district – families selected in order until all seats were filled. For fall 2023, 110 students requested a seat – 100 were assigned a UPK spot at one of the three elementary schools or the Glen Cove YMCA. Ten were waitlisted.
Other districts have much smaller programs, so UPK seats can be hard to come by. If UPK is important to your search, be sure and dig into the average number of seats versus students – again, your Strategist can help.
But if you can get a UPK spot in a town you love, it’s an incredible opportunity for you, your preschooler, and your entire family to dive in, get acclimated, and start really immersing yourself in the community and culture. What could be better?
Ready to start your search – for your new hometown and amazing new school district? Schedule a free session with a Suburban Jungle Strategist.