Strange News
3:38 pm
Sun April 1, 2012

N.Y. Preschool Starts DNA Testing For Admission

Originally published on Thu March 27, 2014 9:46 am

For years, New York parents have been applying to preschools even before their youngsters are born. That's not new, but the approach one prestigious pre-school on the Upper West Side is.

At the Porsafillo Preschool Academy, all applicants must now submit a DNA analysis of their children.

The preschool is housed in a modern glass and steel building designed by IM Pei. It's situated in a leafy corner of the Upper West Side. On a recent afternoon, Headmaster Rebecca Unsinn showed off "Porsafillo Pre," as it's called.

"Over here, we have computer labs, C++ learning, which of course, as I'm sure you know, is a language of computers," she says. Wait, computer language? These preschoolers are learning C++?

"Oh, absolutely they are," Unsinn says. "And they're very good at it."

That's not the only language they're learning; all the children are also enrolled in a Mandarin Chinese immersion program.

More than 12,000 applications pour into Unsinn's office each fall. That's 12,000 hopefuls for just 32 spots a year. It makes Porsafillo Pre the most competitive preschool in the United States.

So in a bid to weed out the kids who have no chance, the school decided to require a DNA test for all applicants. Before she joined the school in 2009, Unsinn was a child neurologist. She was hired specifically to implement this new policy.

Her team is looking for genetic markers that indicate future excellence — things like intelligence, confidence and other leadership traits.

One expectant couple has gone to great lengths to get their future child a spot at Porsafillo.

At the New Amsterdam Memorial Hospital, Richard Tromper and Elizabeth Tauschen are ready for their test. Elizabeth is 24 weeks pregnant, and the couple is applying for admission to Porsafillo for the fall of 2015.

"I went to Princeton," Tromper says. "I was lucky, I mean, I got into Princeton, I worked hard. But if our child gets into this preschool, he or she IS going."

Porsafillo Pre is the express lane, the couple says, a one-way ticket to success.

From Tauschen's blood test, scientists will isolate her unborn baby's genetic makeup then pass their findings to the admissions office at Porsafillo. The school has an exclusive agreement with the hospital. Tauschen and Tromper are taken into a room beside the lab, the blood is drawn, and the vial is then escorted immediately into the lab. About a month later, results will be delivered to the school.

Some parents are already planning to take legal action against the school in the event their children are passed over for admission. A recent op-ed in the New York Times called the practice "ghoulish" and "unethical." Headmaster Unsinn dismisses the criticism.

"This is not unethical at all. If anything, it's extremely ethical. This is now no longer a subjective decision," she says. "This is a clinical test that can show us how a child will perform throughout its life."

The Porsafillo Academy will begin to accept applications under their new DNA policy today, April 1.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

GUY RAZ, HOST:

Turning now to another story we've been following, this one in Manhattan where the competition among affluent parents to get their kids into private preschools has reached a new extreme. Now, for years, New York parents have been applying to preschools even before their youngsters are born. That's not new. But what is new is an approach one prestigious preschool on the Upper West Side is taking: All applicants must now submit to DNA analysis of their children. So we went to find out more.

REBECCA UNSINN: So over here on the left, as you can see, we have an art room.

RAZ: This is the Porsafillo Preschool Academy, or Porsafillo Pre, as it's known. On a recent afternoon, headmaster Rebecca Unsinn walked me through the modern glass and steel building. It was designed by I.M. Pei, and it's located in a leafy corner of the Upper West Side.

UNSINN: Over here, we have computer lab. C++. He's learning the language of computers.

RAZ: You're telling me that the preschoolers here are learning C++?

UNSINN: Oh, absolutely, they are. And they're very good at it.

RAZ: Not only C++, but all the children are enrolled in a Mandarin Chinese immersion program. Twelve thousand applications pour into Unsinn's office each fall - 12,000 hopefuls for just 32 spots a year. It makes Porsafillo Pre the most competitive preschool in America. So in a bid to weed out the kids who have no chance, the school decided to require a DNA test for all applicants.

Unsinn's team is looking for genetic markers that indicate future excellence: things like intelligence, confidence and other leadership traits. Now, before she joined the school in 2009, Unsinn was a child neurologist. She was hired specifically to implement this new policy.

UNSINN: Well, we now know that simple DNA testing can determine whether a child will end up at Yale or at Yonkers Community College.

RAZ: And one expectant couple has gone to great lengths to get their future child a spot at Porsafillo.

RICHARD TROMPER: My name is Richard Tromper.

ELIZABETH TAUSCHEN: And I'm his wife, Elizabeth Tauschen.

RAZ: We met up with Richard and Elizabeth at the New Amsterdam Memorial Hospital. Elizabeth is 24 weeks pregnant, the couple is applying for admission to Porsafillo for the fall of 2015, and they're here at the hospital for a DNA test.

TROMPER: I went to Princeton. I was lucky. I mean, I got into Princeton, I worked hard. But if - when our child gets into this preschool, he or she is going. It's the express lane.

TAUSCHEN: The one-way ticket to success.

RAZ: Elizabeth will have a blood test. Scientists will isolate her unborn baby's DNA, analyze it, and then pass that along to the admissions office at Porsafillo.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Elizabeth Tauschen.

TROMPER: You ready?

TAUSCHEN: Mm-hmm. I guess I have to be.

RAZ: The school has an exclusive agreement with this hospital. The couple is taken into a room beside the lab and blood is drawn.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: OK. Hold steady now.

RAZ: The vial of blood is then escorted immediately into the lab. About a month later, the results will be delivered back to the school. Some parents are already planning to take legal action against the school in the event their children are passed over. And a recent op-ed in The New York Times called the practice ghoulish and unethical. Headmaster Rebecca Unsinn dismisses that criticism.

UNSINN: This is not unethical at all. If anything, it's extremely ethical. This is now no longer a subjective decision. This is a clinical test that can show us how a child will perform throughout its life.

RAZ: The Porsafillo Preschool Academy will begin to accept applications under their new DNA policy today, April 1.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RAZ: And on this April Fools' Day, you're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Related Program