Lessons from EdFEST: Post-School Fair Notes


Well, I survived EdFEST. It was informative, busy, and crowded, and I’m glad I went. EdFEST is the District of Columbia’s annual public school fair, where families can talk to representatives of public and charter schools in one spot. Each school had its own table, and staff—and sometimes parents and students—answered questions about their school.

Bringing Kids to EdFEST

I debated if I should bring my 2-year-old and the spouse along to check out the Pre-K3 options. I asked the Twittersphere, other bloggers, and my co-workers for advice. One of my co-workers is a mom who loves her kid’s charter school. She has also volunteered at a previous EdFEST. After speaking with her, I decided that it would be better for me to go on my own. I hate crowds. I do not do well in crowded situations. My spouse is better with crowds but can get easily flustered when trying to manage a crowd with our son. Looking back, I think I made the right decision for our family.

Strollers at EdFest 2019
There were lots of strollers at EdFEST!

I do not fault the organizers. There were all sorts of great things there for kids and families. The local PBS WETA station had a booth in the middle of EDFEST with characters promoting reading. For adults, there were charging stations. DC Central Kitchen provided free boxed lunches for kids. There was an area off to the side for little kids to unwind with coloring and games. It also served as a place to park strollers.

My Top 3 Questions at EdFEST

Before heading to EdFEST, I decided on the top 3 questions I would ask the six or seven schools I sought out. They were:

  • Do you have before and aftercare?
  • How much does before and aftercare cost?
  • What is your potty-training policy?

I figured it would be easier to compare the schools in our neighborhood offering Pre-K3 classes if they answered the same questions. These questions were the most important to our family. I had been warned that EdFEST was a little crazy, so depending on the popularity of the school, I might be lucky to get those few questions answered. And yes, for the super popular schools, it was hard to push my way to the table and get someone’s attention.

It is a simple reality of our lives that I and my husband work full-time and schools tend to operate between 8:45 and 3:15pm, so aftercare is a must. Before care is not so much a must, but it allows more wiggle room for my husband’s drop-off routine and morning commute. 

A co-worker warned me about potty-training. She advised me to avoid schools where the Pre-K teachers weren’t forgiving of accidents. The last question about potty-training policies showed a huge difference between public (DCPS) and charter schools. A majority of the charter schools I spoke with have a strict policy, and students were required to be potty-trained. One went as far as to mention that they cannot even touch the children to help them when they have an accident. The lone exception was the neighborhood Friendship charter school, which seemed more flexible. The DCPS school staff were way more positive and encouraging on the topic of potty-training. There were Pre-K teachers at several of the DCPS EdFEST tables who expressed their willingness to help with the potty-training journey.

Monkeywrench in the Rankings

The whole potty-training problem has thrown a monkey wrench in our DC school lottery ranking plan. Junior’s teachers at daycare have told us that he uses the potty. At home, it is a different story. Sometimes he’ll use the potty, with or without a fight. His progress isn’t consistent. Who knows where he’ll be when the lottery closes on March 2nd or in 9 months when school starts. I’ve been told boys take longer to potty-train and Junior will be one of the younger kids in his class as he ‘just’ on the edge of qualifying age-wise. I’m not 100% or even 90% confident Junior would be completely potty-trained when school starts.

Our previous school ranking plan, pre-EdFEST, had charter schools as our top 3 choices. Because one of those charters historically has had low waitlists, it would more than likely knock out any school we listed below it. The charter requires kids to be potty-trained.

So, for now, our rankings have the neighborhood charter we have very little chance of getting into followed by the neighborhood DCPS schools. I know I am gambling, but I have a card up my sleeve, and that’s his Community-Based Organization (CBO) daycare. Junior is currently enrolled in a CBO child development center, which offers Pre-K 3 and 4 classes. There was a section for CBOs at EdFEST, but I was so harried I completely missed it.

Other Lessons Learned

While at EdFEST I found out about an open house for one of the neighborhood schools. The staff encouraged me to come on one date because it was spirit week. I am glad I went, I learned more about the school at the school and see the students. I learned more from the open house than what I could gather from the on-line sources I’d used.

Different schools have different programming and things going on. Friendship staff mentioned the Reggio program, which was completely new to me. The neighborhood dual language program school staff explained how the dual language and the English only tracks were different and where they came together.

As I mentioned before, I’m glad I went to EdFEST, even if it did mess up my initial ranking plans. But that’s the whole point of EdFEST—to learn about the variety of programs and to find one that’s going to work for your family before you apply.