What does it mean to have a child with special needs?

For us, it means that while mainstream educational environments engage a wide array of students, special needs schools emphasize individualized instruction and support. Most importantly, if your child is struggling or being challenged in a particular area of their development, special needs schools will customize your child’s educational program to meet their very specific learning needs.

Special education is a broad term used to describe the educational system for children with disabilities. In 1975, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was developed to ensure that children with special education needs have access to the same public school education as every other child. In 1997, IDEA was revised to include laws to promote that children with special needs have the same access to the general curriculum.

Jane is here to support the parent through the process from identification to placement. She will make referrals for evaluation, provide resources for services, review all documentation, speak with all stakeholders, develop a list of appropriate programs and supports and create a strategic plan. Our consultants will assess and observe the student, attend school and IEP meetings and interface with evaluators and special education attorneys.

Reach out now to find out how we can help you!

Jane Gertler, Ed.D.

Special Education Consultant

Dr. Jane Gertler joins Smart City Kids as an Educational Consultant concentrating in advising families whose children are in need of special education services. Jane understands the unique needs and requirements of every child with special needs. She approaches the challenge of finding a fitting environment in which her clients’ children will thrive with sensitivity, knowledge, and experience.

As the former Director of The Office of Teaching and Learning at The Churchill School and Center, a K – 12 school for students with learning differences in New York City, Jane knows that finding the right school program is a complex task. She also knows the immeasurable joy parents feel when their child comes home from school with a smile, feeling good about themself, and looking forward to the next day. This knowledge is what guides her mission.

Before arriving at The Churchill School and Center, Dr. Gertler spent more than 20 years as a school administrator in Westchester, serving as Director of Special Education in Irvington. She also served as the Director of Special Education and Director of Curriculum, Assessment and Professional Development in Edgemont. She holds a B.S. from Cornell University, a Master’s in Education from New York University, and a Doctorate in School Leadership from Fordham University. She is here to help.

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Smart City Kids College Division supports students in meeting their post-secondary educational goals by providing individualized guidance through the college admission process. Our aim is not just to help students gain acceptance to their top-choice colleges, we also hope that through this process we can help students self-actualize on their path to becoming lifelong learners.

Our consultants come with significant experience in the field of highly selective college admissions and bring a warm but honest approach in helping families strategize about the best options for college. Choose among our essay advising, 10-hour or unlimited packages to get the support that best fits your needs.

Mariel Kessel, MA

College Division


Mariel Kessel has worked in the education field for over fifteen years. She began her career working in MBA admissions at Columbia Business School. After several years there, she moved on to become Associate Dean for undergraduate admissions at Princeton University, where she worked to identify the right candidates for admissions. It was at Princeton that Mariel discovered her passion for working with adolescents. She used her vast knowledge of the admission process to help students apply to colleges and universities with a focus on best fit.

Mariel understands the stress and pressures around the college admissions process. Building strong relationships with her clients at Smart City Kids, Mariel works closely with them to identify goals and create plans and structure so they can achieve the goals they set for themselves. One of her favorite things about her job is to help students find their voice in the process. Working with Mariel, students come to understand that the process is as much about them choosing a school as being admitted to one. Mariel has worked with students who attend competitive schools from around the world. She has a solid grasp of a wide variety of curriculums available to students, and she is well-equipped to help students face the unique challenges ahead of them. Mariel holds a B.A. from Smith College and a M.A. from Columbia University. Mother to two small children, Mariel enjoys hiking and reading In her spare time.

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Lorelle Babwah Brennen

College Division


Lorelle Babwah brings over a decade of experience in higher education and has a passion for helping young people navigate their educational journeys. She has invaluable knowledge of the application process, having worked at Duke University and the University of North Carolina. At Duke, Lorelle started out as Assistant Director of Student Services, working in both admissions and recruitment, and is currently active as a senior career coach. At UNC she oversaw a college preparatory and mentoring program and advised scholars for the prestigious Morehead-Cain Scholarship Foundation, which is the oldest merit scholarship at the country’s first public university, with a 3% acceptance rate. Lorelle also spent years as a college counselor, guiding students at independent schools across the world to places at select US universities.

Lorelle holds both her BA and JD from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and a graduate certification in Counselor Education from North Carolina State University. She is also a certified mindfulness and meditation coach, specializing in emerging adults. She brings a mindful approach to her work with students, focusing on self-awareness, curiosity, and intentionality in selecting a best-fit university. When not working with students, Lorelle loves playing pickle-ball, cycling, and learning in general. She has tried her hand at metalsmithing, Mandarin, and break-dancing so far, and is always on the hunt for new pursuits.

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There are many diverse curricular options available in the country for families navigating public or private schools. The challenge for many families is finding the most ideal match in a system that is complex and competitive not by design, but because of the volume of students applying and the few spaces available. Families should take the time to explore all of their options in making a considered decision, keeping in mind that the “right” school is the one that reflects your families’ needs and is the best suited for your child’s learning needs.

At Smart City Kids, we believe that with direction and information, parents can navigate the school application process. Toward that end, we:
  • Offer personal sessions that provide you with a detailed, inside look at school admissions
  • Meet your child to provide our educational assessment of your child’s academic skills and presentation
  • Help you focus on the schools that will best meet your child’s needs
  • Tell you what to look for during the tour, provide critical tips for student interviews and test preparation
  • Cover what schools will be looking for when they meet your child

If your child needs tutoring prior to testing, we also provide tutors with excellent track records preparing children for these tests. For families who are relocating, students in public schools, or in K-12th grade schools, we interact directly with the ongoing schools.

Get started now by scheduling a free, 15 minute service call with Jackie or Adriana!

Jackie Sirgo, MA

K-12 Education Consultant, Lead Boarding School Consultant


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Jackie has spent her entire professional career focused on access and equity to K-12 schools, colleges, and universities. She has a particular interest in the history of educational institutions as it pertains to the students each serves. Over the years, she has developed the skill set to fully understand the complexities of a student’s academic profile, which greatly informs her recommendations. Schools she suggests to clients are both academically and emotionally appropriate, a balance she feels is critical in allowing every student to reach their fullest potential.

Prior to joining Smart City Kids, Jackie served as the Director of Admissions and Financial Aid at the Speyer School. Before that, she served as the Associate Director of Admissions and Secondary School Placement Director, also at Speyer. Her roles required her to identify gifted and accelerated learners using non-verbal assessments and academic achievement tools. She led the financial aid committee, managing a budget of over three million dollars. She collaborated with the school’s marketing team to identify the best forms of outreach to attract families to Speyer. She also supported the Placement Office by establishing relationships with Admissions Directors nationally, both at Day and Boarding Schools. Jackie served as the Secondary School Placement Director at The School of Columbia, and she held the Junior and Senior academic and admissions counselor position for the Higher Education Opportunity Program at Barnard College.

Jackie earned her Bachelor of Art degree in Philosophy from Buffalo State College and her Masters in Higher Postsecondary Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. She sits on the selection committee for the Caroline D. Bradley Scholarship, which offers one of the only merit-based, need-blind high school scholarships to highly gifted students across the United States.

When she is not thinking about access and placement, Jackie enjoys the outdoors, the history of the Americas, and gardening. She lives in New Jersey , where she co-parents three children.

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Adriana Payne

Boarding School Consultant, K-12 Education Consultant, Managing Director


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Adriana Payne is an Educational Consultant specializing in K-12 advisory. She is passionate about demystifying the school process for families. In helping students and families navigate the complexities of school options and problem solve with good humor, she is committed to finding the environment where each child will flourish. Adriana is warm, curious, and deeply intuitive. She brings thoughtfulness and care to the process of finding a school.

Adriana was the Director of Admission and Associate Head of School at The Mandell School in New York, overseeing all admissions, enrollment, communications, and marketing. Prior to Mandell, Adriana ran her own independent communications consultancy in New York and London.

Raised in Chicago, Adriana attended an independent school, and then set her sights further east to earn a bachelor’s degree in religion from Hamilton College. She enjoyed living in the UK and France, broadening her experience and her knowledge of education. She is an active volunteer for the JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation), and at Hamilton College, where she is the Vice Chair of the Alumni Association. She also volunteers at Hamilton’s career center. An avid reader, writer, and lover of books, she also volunteered at the New York Public Library for many years.

Adriana has raised her two children in New York City navigating each stage of the school process from preschool to college as a parent. When not advising families, she enjoys traveling, cooking, contemporary art and architecture, music, hiking, skiing, and theatre.

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One of the truly exciting aspects of raising children is that we have countless possibilities for education. The challenge is navigating all of those options, particularly at the nursery school level when your child is just beginning to walk and talk. How do you decide on the “right” educational environment to begin schooling? Most nursery schools are independent early childhood programs whose philosophies vary significantly, from play-based to traditional, Montessori to Reggio Emilia, with many combining a number of approaches into their curriculum. Families should take the time to explore and understand all of their options in order to make a thoughtful and well-informed decision, keeping in mind that the “right” school at the nursery level is the one that matches your priorities for your child’s first school experience.

Erica Papir, SCK’s Nursery School Advisor, offers parenting sessions to discuss whatever is on your mind as it relates to caring for your child. Topics include: preparing for a new baby, how to handle a move, and strategies for improving separation anxiety. Parenting can be very tricky – each time you master a stage or phase in your child’s development, it quickly changes. You may be left with the feeling that it is impossible to keep up.

Learn how we can help by scheduling a free, 15 minute service call with Erica!

Erica Papir

Corporate Specialist, Nursery Education Consultant


Erica is an Early Childhood Education Consultant and Corporate Specialist. Her focus is on the nursery school admissions process, and on educational advising in Westchester, NY. Bringing a sense of calm and sensitivity to her work with families, Erica works in a systematic, organized way to guide parents through the overwhelming aspects of the admission process. As a parent herself, she understands the demands parents face, including those involved in taking control of their child’s educational journey.

In addition to her consulting work, Erica offers parenting sessions to support parents through transitions or challenges with their children. She understands that parenting is complicated and is ready to help with compassion backed by personal and professional knowledge and experience. The support she offers covers a range of topics relevant to young families, from how to handle a move or welcome a new baby to easing separation anxiety. Erica also coordinates workshops for both corporations and schools on the topics of education, parenting, and public and private school admissions.

For 17 years, Erica was the Director of Admissions at The Caedmon School. As a member of the school’s senior administrative team, she was responsible for enrollment management, for the school’s marketing and communication, and for Co-Chairing the Financial Aid Committee. Erica managed all aspects of the admissions process, from tours to parent interviews and applicant playgroups. She was responsible for admissions decisions for applicants to all levels of the school. She designed a highly personalized admissions process for families and created various programs and events for applicant and current families.

Erica frequently spoke on admissions panels for the Parents League of New York, New York Family Magazine, and Early Steps. She is an alum of New York City Independent Schools, and she received a B.A. in Sociology from Brandeis University. While at Brandeis, the Admissions Office was her second home, where she worked closely with the Director on various student volunteer initiatives. Erica lives in Westchester and has a thirteen-year-old daughter and a nine-year-old son. She is an active member of the school’s PTA, volunteers in the classroom, and Chairs numerous events for the school. She formerly Chaired a junior committee of Friends of Karen, a charity for children with terminal illnesses, and she currently participates on Brandeis’ Alumni Admissions Counsel. Erica is totally dedicated to supporting families, making sure the decisions they make are ideal for their child's education journey.

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For the past twenty years, Smart City Kids advisors have successfully guided parents and children though the admissions process for entrance into Independent and Public Schools. We support families at all stages of their children’s educational journey, from nursery school through college and also including special education. We are here to support all of your needs – from admissions timelines to nuances and strategies for the complicated process of applying to schools for your child.

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