Selenia Velez flipped through the pages again, scouring the data, unable to commit.

The 25-year-old nurse's aide was nearly sweating. She had anticipated making this decision for months, and based on her anxiety, one might think she was about to sign mortgage papers.

No — Velez had to pick a city school for her son, Christian, 4, who will be a kindergartner this fall.

"It's a big choice. He's your baby," Lourdes Fonseca, the community programs coordinator for Achieve Hartford!, said soothingly. "It's your first experience with Hartford schools, and it's a big step. Before, you didn't have any choice. You just go to the school that is closest to you, and that was it. Now you get to choose."

But there is a deadline. Throughout Hartford, parents have until Thursday at midnight to list the top four school choices for their children entering kindergarten or ninth grade, or who are enrolling in the school system from another town.

Having already convened about 80 information sessions over the past few months, parent advisers from Achieve Hartford!, a nonprofit education reform group, will hold a final one from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday at Blackwell Memorial AME Zion Church on Blue Hills Avenue.

The citywide choice lottery is scheduled for next month, and families are expected to be notified of their children's placement by early May.

The city schools' initiative, in its third year, is different from the Greater Hartford Region Open Choice program run by the Capitol Region Education Council, in which suburban students can attend Hartford public schools, or vice versa, as part of the Sheff desegregation agreement. It is also separate from the regional interdistrict magnet program.

It means that a parent in Hartford faces a labyrinth of options. Velez, for example, had about two dozen city elementary schools within a few miles of her home on Norwich Street from which to choose for Christian.

"To me, the most important piece is the educational piece," said Fonseca, who late last week spent much of her time rushing from school to school to offer help before the deadline. "Not only about choice… but learning about the school system, the difference in schools, what they have to give your child, and the difference that can make in their lives."

Velez grew up in East Hartford. Christian, who attends preschool at the Travelers Early Childhood Learning Center at the Village for Families & Children on Albany Avenue, is the eldest of her three young children and would be the first in the family to attend Hartford schools. Christian's grandmother is "worried," Velez acknowledged.

In a one-on-one session with Fonseca at the Village, Velez inquired about the Dwight-Bellizzi Asian Studies Academy on Wethersfield Avenue.

"This is the one where they teach Asian culture, verdad?" Right?

"They teach everything," Fonseca replied. "English, grammar, literacy, science, math — everything, like a regular school. But they're also a themed school, so they focus on Asian studies."

Many minutes passed. Velez again pored through the school system's booklet of choices, mentally recalling schools' scores on the Connecticut Mastery Test, which she had researched. She sought an environment where her son, who learns best with interactive exercises rather than simply "sitting in front of a book," could thrive.

"This is so hard, because you're not picking for yourself — you're picking for him," said Velez, who is studying to become a registered nurse. She put a hand over her mouth and sucked in a deep breath. Fonseca pretended to fan her.

Velez ultimately listed her top four picks on a sheet of paper: Naylor School, Burr Elementary School, Dwight-Bellizzi and Parkville Community School. Under the city's choice program, Christian is guaranteed to attend one of those schools.

"This is my baby, this is a big deal," Velez said. On the first day of school, there is always the mother who stands outside, tearfully waving her child off. Even when the students go inside their classroom, "she's still standing there, llorando."

That crying mom, said Velez, "is "going to be me."

Parents who need help with the city's choice application can call Achieve Hartford! at 860-244-3333.