The Phillips family

Olayemi (left) and Nia Phillips.
Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff
Olayemi (left) and Nia Phillips.

Updated: Oct. 2, 2011 -- Nia Phillips is over the moon because she is now officially a pre-kindergartener. She’s made friends, likes going to computer class, and loves her principal.

Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff
Olayemi Phillips takes a photo of her daughter Nia and husband Charles on Nia’s first day of school at Chittick Elementary School in Mattapan.

She walked into her pre-kindergarten class at Chittick Elementary School in Mattapan with no fuss. Her mother, however, can’t say the same.

“I went to tears,” Olyamei Phillips said about a week into the school year. “I was absolutely fine until I saw her run off to the playground. She seemed to be having fun already and that made me teary.”


And when Nia turned around and saw Mom with tears in her eyes? “She said: ‘Stop!’ So, how can you not laugh?” Phillips asked with a giggle.

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Because of Nia’s enthusiasm, her mom is withholding judgment about the school, which was far down on her list of nine schools. Phillips also is not anxious to hear from one of the three schools where Nia has been placed on the wait-list.

“In my mind, I’m like, ‘Well, this is her school,’ ” Phillips said. “And we don’t hate it by any stretch of the imagination. It’s perfectly good.”

Updated: March 28, 2011 -- She got in. Nia Phillips was assigned a spot in a pre-kindergarten classroom at Chittick Elementary School in Mattapan. No. It was not one of her mother’s top three choices -- or top six choices, for that matter.

But, she got in.


“That was the goal, and we’re definitely psyched about it,” her mother, Olayemi Phillips, said. “I keep hearing all these stories now about all these kids who didn’t get assigned. A friend of mine didn’t. I think she put around 14 or 15 choices. And to get nothing? It’s crazy. So, I’m very, very excited that she got assigned.”

Chittick is one of the two schools on the Phillips’ list of nine that she didn’t visit, something she plans to rectify as soon as she can. And if something comes of one of the schools where Nia is wait-listed, “I would take her out in a heartbeat.”

March 13, 2011 -- There are a lot of uncertainties surrounding next year, but this much is clear: Nia Phillips’s school schedule will change. It has to.

The Mattapan preschooler attends the YMCA’s Small Fry Nursery School program twice a week. But her parents fear the three-hour sessions are not enough to hold the academic attention of an energetic 3-year-old (soon-to-be 4) who’s already reading.

So, they’ve entered their only child into the Boston Public School lottery, hoping for a pre-kindergarten slot.


“She’s ready,” said Olayemi Phillips, 43, a stay-at-home mother who affectionately calls her daughter NiNi. “I feel like she needs more.’’

Phillips’s husband, Charles, a 20-year MBTA employee, left most of the pre-kindergarten decision-making to his wife. His one stipulation: The neighborhood must be safe. With that, Olayemi Phillips started the dizzying—and completely foreign—process of trying to register Nia for school.

“I had no idea that we would have to go through this. I wasn’t born here,” said the native of England who immigrated to Boston in 1995. “I worked as a nanny for a few years, and the families didn’t have to go through that. They just go off to a private school.”

She visited seven schools (some twice), applied to nine, and based her decisions on a mixture of research and intuition. Her second choice, Haley Elementary School in Roslindale, was a school she thought of as an eyesore but decided to check it out anyway.

“I just kind of passed by and didn’t like the look of it until I went to the school presentation,” she said. “I loved it! There was just a warm feeling when I walked in the door.”

But in the end, she knows all visits and research could be for naught. Four-year-olds aren’t guaranteed a spot in a Boston pre-kindergarten classroom. And so, they also applied to two charter schools, which also have lotteries.

Phillips is optimistic that something will come of a school waiting list that Nia inevitably will be put on or the preference given to students within a school’s walk-zone. But, she knows there’s a chance that Nia won’t be accepted at school.

And if that happens? “I don’t know just yet,” she said. Leaving Boston is not an option, and Phillips worries that another year of attending preschool for half a day won’t be rigorous enough.

But for now Phillips tries to push worry aside and focus on hope.