Monday, August 24, 2009

Elite Preschool Takes Fundraising Cue from Selective Colleges

NEW YORK, NEW YORK -- Statewide unemployment may be inching close to 10 percent but you'd never be able to tell by visiting the exclusive 92nd Street Y preschool, which has co-opted some fundraising strategies more commonly associated with elite universities.

With a higher per capita endowment than Harvard University, the $24,300 annual tuition might be expected to cover the cost of five hours of instruction a day.

But the tuition combined with the endowment money is only enough to cover regular operating costs. When it came to paying for the new 400 square feet sandbox with silky white sand imported from the Bahamas, the preschool sought a sponsor. Seven parents offered to foot the $1.5 million cost, which included the additional floor space. But ultimately one parent offered to create a separate $200,000 fund to pay for the weekly service of cleaning and sifting through the sand in order to minimize germs. Now children as young as 2 years old can play in the Jack Grubman Sandbox.

The school also has created special positions -- commonly referred to as endowed professorships or chairs at universities -- in order to pay for such extras as organic snacks prepared by Alice Waters and music appreciation with Yo-Yo Ma.

The four and five year olds are able to choose between exercise electives of yoga, pilates and mini-golf; children as young as three can take a building blocks class with Frank Gehry or enjoy storytelling with J.K. Rowling. Suze Orman -- whose speaking fee is typically around $60,000 -- recently stopped by to guest lecture for a class entitled "how to grow your piggybank."

The artistically inclined can enjoy finger painting with Banksy, while aspiring thespians have enjoyed workshops with actress Dakota Fanning.

Some parents have attempted to attend the classes under the guise of their children having separation anxiety, but administrators typically discourage such involvement.

For parents without millions of dollars to donate for a sandbox or jungle gym, they can still get their name on a plaque. A $30,000 donation will let a parent sponsor the Tiffany lamps used to light one classroom; and Persian rugs range from $10,000 for a welcome mat to to $80,000 for a large one.

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