a thousand words

New Visions awards college scholarships to seven city students

Sharmin Mollick, 18, pores over an Advanced Place Physics assignment at Marble Hill High School for International Studies.
Sharmin Mollick pores over an Advanced Placement Physics assignment at Marble Hill High School for International Studies.

I spent the day today with a couple of students with amazing stories — Karina Melendez and Sharmin Mollick. Mollick came to New York as a ninth-grader who spoke no English and hid her love of biology and genetics from her disapproving family. Melendez fought bone cancer at age 10, later lived in shelters and foster homes and is now second-ranked in her junior class.

The two are among seven city high school students selected for college scholarships by the school support organization New Visions for Public Schools. Quick bios of the students are below the jump. But stay tuned over the next few days as we post text and audio profiles of Melendez, Mollick and Luis Ng Tong.

“All of this happened for a reason,” Melendez told me today. “I have a story; I might as well tell it.”

Annenberg, Blackrock Scholarships Awarded to Exceptional New Visions Students
Overcoming the Odds, Seven Students Will See Their College Dreams Come True

NEW YORK, April 29, 2010 – The two major college tuition funds administered by New Visions for Public Schools have awarded their 2010 scholarships. One New Visions student was selected as the recipient of the 2010 Leonore Annenberg College Scholarship, and six seniors at New Visions schools have been named recipients of the 2010 BlackRock-Schlosstein Scholarships.

Karina Melendez has been waiting a long time for things to go her way, and finally, they are. In January, she got to move into a good home when the parent coordinator at her high school became her foster mom. Then this month, the 17-year-old was selected as the recipient of the 2010 Leonore Annenberg College Scholarship. No longer will she have to worry about the prospect of tuition she can’t afford. She’ll be covered anywhere she wants to go.

The Annenberg scholarship will provide Karina with the full, four-year cost of attendance at an academically rigorous college, including travel expenses to visit New York if she leaves the area. She was selected from among 65 applicants, all nominated by principals at New Visions schools, based on her academic achievements, integrity, commitment to service, financial need and ability to overcome adversity.

Karina, an aspiring lawyer who is ranked second in her junior class of 100 students at Bronx School of Law and Finance, stands out for her extraordinary resilience and determination. At 10, she was diagnosed with bone cancer, and for three years, her schooling consisted of tutoring at home or in the hospital. She beat cancer and performed so well on state tests that she was able to rejoin classmates her age without repeating a year. But at 14, her family was evicted from her childhood apartment, and she had to live with her aunt, in homeless shelters and then go into foster care. Through it all, she put her energy into learning.

“A part of me always saw school as the one thing in my life I could control,” she said in a recent interview. “Everything else in my life could fall apart, but no one could take that away from me.”

Six seniors at New Visions schools have been named recipients of the BlackRock-Schlosstein Scholarships, which provide up to $20,000 over four years, with a maximum of $5,000 per year, toward the cost of full-time undergraduate study. The scholarship amount is determined by tuition costs and financial need. The winners are:
Dieynabou “Dee” Barry, Bronx Center for Science and Math. Human rights abuses in Dee’s home country of Guinea have inspired her to become “a bettering force in this world,” as she wrote in an application essay for the scholarship. On track to be her class’s valedictorian, Dee has been admitted to Dartmouth College, where she wants to major in international studies. Her goal is to become a member of the United Nations and address human rights issues.

Joanna Mei Juan Luo, High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology. Joanna, who plans to attend New York University, wants to become a nurse and is passionate about public health issues. She will be the first in her family to graduate from high school. “My father was never given a chance to go to high school, let alone college,” Joanna wrote in her scholarship application essay. “From the stories he tells us, I call up a vivid mental picture of him as a barefooted child walking on the dirt road, with two buckets dangling from each end of a stick placed on his shoulder, as he makes his third trip to the village’s only water well. I have always known that if I ever wanted to honor my father with the chance to say, ‘My children all went to college,’ I would first need to set the example.”

Oi Yee Liu, High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology. Oi Yee is extremely passionate about math. After she moved to the United States from Hong Kong four years ago, “My new life in this country was overwhelming and constantly tortured me because everything required English.” Except math. She became known at school as “math girl.” Classmates began to ask her for help in math, and a teacher nominated her for the Math Honor Society, enabling her to make friends and improve her communication skills in English. Oi Yee will attend Lehigh University, where she plans to major in finance.

Sharmin Shompa “Sini” Mollick, Marble Hill High School for International Studies. Sharmin grew up in Bangladesh in a conservative Muslim family that did not encourage her to go to school and disapproved of her desire to study biology. After coming to the United States, she had to keep secret her study of science and goal of becoming a genetic researcher. “Because science contradicted with my parents’ beliefs, I studied for science classes when no one was around, usually in the bathroom,” she wrote in her scholarship application essay. “I wanted to prove to my parents that studying science would not corrupt my mind but would allow me to have a positive impact on the world.” Sharmin is secretary of the school math club, a member of the National Honor Society, and a tutor in algebra and calculus. She will attend Cornell University.

Stephanie George, Collegiate Institute for Math and Science. Stephanie loves history, and she has been on a quest to learn about her family’s past in Jamaica to help define her identity as an Afro-Caribbean American. She enjoys learning about the similarities in folklore and beliefs around the world. “I get goose bumps when I think of how all our lives are linked together through history,” she wrote in her scholarship application essay. At CIMS, she is president of the student government, vice president of the National Honor Society, an editor on the student newspaper, and a representative on the school leadership team, a decision-making body that meets with the principal, staff and parents. She will attend Vassar College.

Shi Giang “Luis” Ng Tong, East-West School of International Studies. Luis was raised in Colombia, where he was the only Chinese person at his school. From the time he was a young boy, he wanted to contribute to solving humanity’s problems, such as finding a cure for cancer; however, he stopped school in seventh grade. Luis resumed his education when he arrived in the United States but was ashamed of his language barrier and the fact that he was older than his peers. But his determination remained, and since his sophomore year, he has been the top student in his grade and taking college courses through the College Now program at Queens College. He is now fluent in English, Chinese and Spanish and studying Korean. His science teacher Gloria Nicodemi says he’s the first student she’s ever taught who scored a 100 on the earth science Regents, then got another perfect score the next year on the chemistry exam. “I strive to become an engineer who solves the people’s challenges of today and tomorrow, to struggle side by side with humanity’s problems,” he wrote in his scholarship application essay. “I do not want to be just anyone, I want to be someone that leaves a mark in the world before my existence extinguishes.”

money matters

Report: Trump education budget would create a Race to the Top for school choice

PHOTO: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead
President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos participate in a tour of Saint Andrews Catholic in Orlando, Florida.

The Trump administration appears to be going ahead with a $1 billion effort to push districts to allow school choice, according to a report in the Washington Post.

The newspaper obtained what appears to be an advance version of the administration’s education budget, set for release May 23. The budget documents reflect more than $10 billion in cuts, many of which were included in the budget proposal that came out in March, according to the Post’s report. They include cuts to after-school programs for poor students, teacher training, and more:

… a $15 million program that provides child care for low-income parents in college; a $27 million arts education program; two programs targeting Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students, totaling $65 million; two international education and foreign language programs, $72 million; a $12 million program for gifted students; and $12 million for Special Olympics education programs.

Other programs would not be eliminated entirely, but would be cut significantly. Those include grants to states for career and technical education, which would lose $168 million, down 15 percent compared to current funding; adult basic literacy instruction, which would lose $96 million (down 16 percent); and Promise Neighborhoods, an Obama-era initiative meant to build networks of support for children in needy communities, which would lose $13 million (down 18 percent).

The documents also shed some light on how the administration plans to encourage school choice. The March proposal said the administration would spend $1 billion to encourage districts to switch to “student-based budgeting,” or letting funds flow to students rather than schools.

The approach is considered essential for school choice to thrive. Yet the mechanics of the Trump administration making it happen are far from obvious, as we reported in March:

There’s a hitch in the budget proposal: Federal law spells out exactly how Title I funds must be distributed, through funding formulas that sends money to schools with many poor students.

“I do not see a legal way to spend a billion dollars on an incentive for weighted student funding through Title I,” said Nora Gordon, an associate professor of public policy at Georgetown University. “I think that would have to be a new competitive program.”

There are good reasons for the Trump administration not to rush into creating a program in which states compete for new federal funds, though. … Creating a new program would open the administration to criticism of overreach — which the Obama administration faced when it used the Race to the Top competition to get states to adopt its priorities.

It’s unclear from the Post’s report how the Trump administration is handling Gordon’s concerns. But the Post reports that the administration wants to use a competitive grant program — which it’s calling Furthering Options for Children to Unlock Success, or FOCUS — to redistribute $1 billion in Title I funds for poor students. That means the administration decided that an Obama-style incentive program is worth the potential risks.

The administration’s budget request would have to be fulfilled by Congress, so whether any of the cuts or new programs come to pass is anyone’s guess. Things are not proceeding normally in Washington, D.C., right now.

By the numbers

After reshaping itself to combat declining interest, Teach For America reports a rise in applications

PHOTO: Kayleigh Skinner
Memphis corps members of Teach For America participate in a leadership summit in last August.

Teach for America says its application numbers jumped by a significant number this year, reversing a three-year trend of declining interest in the program.

The organization’s CEO said in a blog post this week that nearly 49,000 people applied for the 2017 program, which places college graduates in low-income schools across the country after summer training — up from just 37,000 applicants last year.

“After three years of declining recruitment, our application numbers spiked this year, and we’re in a good position to meet our goals for corps size, maintaining the same high bar for admission that we always have,” Elisa Villanueva Beard wrote. The post was reported by Politico on Wednesday.

The news comes after significant shake-ups at the organization. One of TFA’s leaders left in late 2015, and the organization slashed its national staff by 15 percent last year. As applications fell over the last several years, it downsized in places like New York City and Memphis, decentralized its operations, and shifted its focus to attracting a more diverse corps with deeper ties to the locations where the program places new teachers. 

This year’s application numbers are still down from 2013, when 57,000 people applied for a position. But Villanueva Beard said the changes were working, and that “slightly more than half of 2017 applicants identify as a person of color.”