Parenting in a pathologically competitive, information-saturated city can make anyone crazy, even those parents lucky enough to be worried about fennel burgers in school lunches. And while Avenues offers its students every imaginable educational benefit — a 9-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio, a Harvard-designed “World Course” — it has also tapped into an even deeper, more complicated parental anxiety: the anxiety of wanting their kids to have every advantage, but ensuring that all those advantages don’t turn them into privileged jerks.
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Whether it’s snack time or a field trip to a Chelsea gallery, everything at Avenues feels designed to assuage parental anxiety. The school has distributed a handout to parents that explains what kids are learning when they are doing various things: For instance, when they are making bridges out of blocks, they are really learning to build with shapes (and honing math skills); planning ahead (which helps with study skills); and recreating structures (thereby working on geography skills). On the first day of school, Topher Collier, one of New York’s top child psychologists and head of Avenues’ student success team, gave his advisees a package with 21 items and a printout that detailed the meaning of each. It included a star streamer ball. (“With proper goal setting, effort, monitoring and reflection, your goals are in reach.”) There was also a mini-parachute. (“Make mistakes . . . you’ve got a safety net. Sometimes our greatest achievements can come from failure.”)
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The better question might be: How do you build humility at a school that costs $43,000 a year? Where students are tended to by a 10-person success team and are expected to find a passion — any passion — around which expertise, confidence and college admission may come? As the Kims spoke in their West Village town house, their son, Jackson, emerged in checkered pajamas from playing a “Star Wars” game on a Mac and broke into a number of songs in Mandarin, including “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.” His aquarium was buzzing in the background, and his scooters, strollers and bikes filled up the entryway. The Kims may be concerned with ensuring that Jackson is humble, but they are also acutely aware of the advantages that speaking Mandarin will give him. “He will have such a leg up compared to his peers,” Ella said. “He’ll be so marketable coming out of college with that language fluency. There’s enough competition domestically!”