Photo: Mathijs Nieuwenhuijs. A child in 3-K watches a gila monster, at Learning Through Play.

3-K spots still available in the Bronx; applications due March 10

With the March 10 deadline looming for parents to apply to a 3K program for any children born in 2020, the Mott Haven Herald decided to visit one program in District 7, Learning Through Play, and report what we saw.  

Chatter, singing and laughing poured out of classrooms, and children proudly invited the guests to see what they were doing at the school’s 443 E. 162nd Street location, and to explain it to the listening adults.

Colorful artwork and constructions filled the hall and classrooms.  Most were framed, with

“signatures” of their little artists provided by teachers. Photos of children and their pets and other parts of their worlds adorned other walls, accompanied by the childrens’ descriptions.

Learning Through Play is one of over 20 3-K programs within District 7, and while it is difficult to say how representative it is without visiting all of them, parents can ask to visit any for reassurance.

In 2022, 42% of the 3-K seats available in the Bronx were not filled, leading the Department of Education to encourage applications and visits. By contrast, in affluent communities, there are 3-K waiting lists.

School administrators say that a key factor in low enrollment rates may be that in a borough that suffered disproportionate losses during the pandemic, parents may be more protective of their young ones. Getting children to different school sites may pose another challenge.

Some 3-K centers are operated by the city Department of Education, some are operated privately, with reimbursement from the city. Many also offer free pre-K programs for 4-year-olds.  

Learning through Play is a city-run model that operates in three centers in Mott Haven.  The sites “specialize in providing free full-day, high quality Pre-K and 3-K for all residents residing in NYC, but more specifically the South Bronx,” according to the website description. 

Learning Through Play has monthly activities shared by children and families in the classroom and families are invited to join the classroom any day. Every Tuesday is designated as Family Engagement night. As in most early education programs, the teachers, staff and administrators see their investment in the families and community as well as in the children. 

Assistant Principal Anthony Tucker acknowledged some parents were reluctant to have their children in an enclosed space with other young children as the pandemic winds down. But Tucker, who began working in the program eight years ago, has a hard time containing his love for the kids and his daily joy in helping both students and teachers learn and grow. 

Some parents may wonder if the diaper wearing, tantrum-prone and needy child that they see daily can handle the demands of a group setting. But Carlyn Raynes said that in her eight years as principal of all three Learning Through Play sites, she cannot recall one child who was not able to master those challenges quickly with the support and strategies of teachers and the other children. 

To put parents at ease and ensure that they are a part of the process, the Learning Through Play sites hold Saturday sessions around parental interests and allow children and families to become comfortable at the start of the school year by gradually building up time spent in the classroom, with a parent and then alone.

The Education Department website describing program options and linking to the application form can be found here.  A city hotline to ask questions about the rules and application process operates Monday-Friday, 8am-6pm at 718-935-2009.  Completing an application is not binding – a person can still decide to take action or not, even if a child is accepted.  

The Herald called the hotline to report on how long a wait parents might have to reach help.  To our delight, a friendly and knowledgeable women stayed on the phone for over 10 minutes explaining options.  Parents are able to complete applications on the phone in one of many languages. If a parent calls more than once, they may get a different person but the information on the previous contact will be available to whoever answers the phone.

Before calling, a parent can learn about the various schools available near the address of the child, so that they can request those that sound like a good fit for family and child. Those who answer the phone are trained to help a parent think through their choices.  To do this, go online at: and put in the child’s address.

If you have specific questions to ask even before you contact the Department of Education, please send these to Mott Haven Herald Facebook page. We will try to answer all questions quickly. 


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