Student Voices

In their own words: Voices of high school admissions, round two

PHOTO: Cassandra Giraldo
From left, Lordes Lliguichiuzhca, her daughter Elizabeth Cuzco, 13, Sonia Bucur, 13, and her mother Dina Bucur, sit in front of Martin Luther King High School after attending the Round 2 high school fair.

Victoria Ramirez thought she had done everything right.

The eighth-grader wants to be a pediatrician, and with help from a teacher at P.S./I.S. 78, she picked schools that seemed to offer good programs in science and health for her high school application. But when students across the city received their admissions matches, she was told she would need to try again.

“I was kind of sad at first, but there are still good schools left,” she said.

When New York City students don’t get matched to a high school in the first round, or they’re unhappy with their match, they can try again in round two, though the pool of potential seats is more limited. Last weekend, schools with seats to fill set up in the Martin Luther King, Jr. campus, hoping to convince students like Ramirez that they were the right choice.

Here are a few of their stories.

Tsunami Ubiera

Tsunami Ubiera wants to become an anesthesiologist. So after she didn’t make the cut for specialized high schools, she was on the hunt for schools that offer honors classes in the sciences.

“I want a school that is going to teach me the things that will help me to get there,” said Ubiera, an eighth grader from Inwood.

Ubiera said her guidance counselor and teachers at Inwood Academy helped her navigate the admissions process. But she felt unprepared for the specialized high school admissions test last fall.

“I heard about it this year for the first time, and I tried studying for it the best I can but I didn’t get accepted,” she said.

Ubiera’s next move: Applying to A. Philip Randolph High School in Harlem.
—Anjali Tsui

“I think it was unfair everybody got their top choice and I didn’t,” said Joshua Pierre, a student at Eagle Academy for Young Men III.
“I think it was unfair everybody got their top choice and I didn’t,” said Joshua Pierre, a student at Eagle Academy for Young Men III. —Cassandra Giraldo
David Mizhquiri

David Mizhquiri, an eighth grader from Sunset Park, was nervous as he entered the fair. But he soon worked up the courage to talk to high school students and teachers.

“It’s basically my future in my hands, so I have to speak to them about how the school is, what they can give me, and how they can prepare me for college,” he said.

Mizhquiri, who attends J.H.S. 220 John J. Pershing, didn’t receive any offers during the first round. He says he made the mistake of only applying to three schools. Although eighth graders can list up to 12 schools on their applications, Mizhquiri prioritized schools that were in his neighborhood.

At the fair, Mizhquiri sensed the magnitude of the decision he was about to make.

“If I make a wrong decision, my future could go black, it could go dark, I could lose everything,” he said. —Anjali Tsui

“It’s different when you’ve been looking at a school in a book. It helps to meet people who can give you info,” said 14-year-old Bianca Watts (left), with her sister Alexis. Their mother, Xiomara Samuels: “I just want this to be over with so they can excel and achieve what they need."
“It’s different when you’ve been looking at a school in a book. It helps to meet people who can give you info,” said 14-year-old Bianca Watts (left), with her sister Alexis. Their mother, Xiomara Samuels: “I just want this to be over with so they can excel and achieve what they need.”  —Cassandra Giraldo

As she prepared her high school application, Maisa Alvarado went to 12 schools’ open houses.

So she was disappointed when it didn’t turn out the way she’d hoped: She was matched to Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem instead of Pace, her top choice.

“We didn’t know the application process well enough,” her mother, Maira Alvarado, said through a sign-language interpreter.

But Maisa still knows what she’s looking for. “For me, the school should be close to home, or a short commute,” she said. “I also want the school to motivate me.” —Ilgin Yorulmaz

Fraternal twins Chanel and Stedman Abban, 13, want to attend the same school, but only Chanel got a seat at Central Park East. “Some of the schools seem pretty interesting but not all I would rank as my first,” she said.
Fraternal twins Chanel and Stedman Abban, 13, want to attend the same school, but only Chanel got a seat at Central Park East. “Some of the schools seem pretty interesting but not all I would rank as my first,” she said. —Cassandra Giraldo
Marco Vargas

The guidance counselors at the Computer School on the Upper West Side offered plenty of help to Marco Vargas as he put together his high school application, he said.

“They told me not to put down just a couple of schools, but to list more than that,” he said. In the end, when he wasn’t matched with his first-choice school, “Even the assistant principal in my school was surprised.”

Vargas lives in the Bronx, but listed only the schools in Manhattan. It probably hurt his chances, his mother, Jodi Morales, said.

“How they match people is a mystery and not fair,” she said. —Ilgin Yorulmaz

Dominique Torres, 13, said opening her admission letter in front of her friends at school was devastating. Her advice: “Look more into the schools before you put them on your application." —Cassandra Giraldo
Dominique Torres, 13, said opening her admission letter in front of her friends at school was devastating. Her advice: “Look more into the schools before you put them on your application.” —Cassandra Giraldo
Tejas Wini

To Tejas Wini and her family, the number and variety of schools at the fair seemed overwhelming.

Tejas trailed behind her father, Sudhakar, a banker, who had relocated his family from Mumbai to New York just a month ago. Together, they listened as teachers and cheerleaders explained why they should consider their schools.

“I need to go to a school specialized in science and math,” Wini explained. “In India, almost everyone goes to the same school from kindergarten to 12th grade. This is all very new to me.”

She took notice how friends at her current school, I.S. 237, took the news when they opened their admission letters last week.

“Some of them were very upset,” she said. “Some got in only their sixth or seventh choice.” —Ilgin Yorulmaz

Deshearra Irby, 15, and her friend Jasmyn Kentish, 15, were there to represent Urban Assembly School for Global Commerce. Kentish's advice: “Don’t just pick a school because it’s the school your parents like."
Deshearra Irby, 15, and her friend Jasmyn Kentish, 15, were there to represent Urban Assembly School for Global Commerce. Kentish’s advice: “Don’t just pick a school because it’s the school your parents like.” —Cassandra Giraldo

This story was produced in conjunction with the Covering Education course at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

diversity plan

Advocates call on Chancellor Fariña to take ‘morally necessary’ steps to end school segregation

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Chancellor Fariña spoke about school diversity at a town hall in District 3 in 2015. She is seated next to Superintendent Ilene Altschul, second from right.

The deadline is fast approaching for New York City officials to release their “bigger vision” plan to promote school diversity, and advocates are once again demanding more input on the final proposal.

In a draft letter obtained by Chalkbeat, a self-described group of “parents, students, educators, advocates and elected officials” pushes the education department to declare integration a priority, include the community in any plans that will be put forward, and to adopt “systemic” approaches to desegregate city schools.

“We do not pretend that it will be easy,” states the letter, which is addressed to Chancellor Carmen Fariña. “But we insist that it is logistically possible, educationally sound, and morally necessary.”

In April, Councilman Brad Lander presented a similar letter to members of the “New York City Alliance for School Integration and Desegregation,” or ASID — a relatively new group of desegregation advocates from across the city.

Councilman Lander’s office declined to comment.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and the education department have said they will release a plan to address school segregation by June. The state has one of the most segregated school systems in the country, driven in large part by New York City, and advocates have been pushing for years for a large-scale remedy.

In 2015, advocates sent a similar letter to the department that included some of the same requests, including the adoption of a formal policy statement making integration a priority. When asked about that in an August 2016 interview, Fariña told Chalkbeat: “Proclamations, without a plan of action, are proclamations.”

A new element of the advocate’s proposal calls for integration efforts to start in pre-K. Parents can apply to any of the city’s universal pre-K sites, but pre-K classrooms are more segregated than kindergartens, according to a recent report. The letter also calls for the education department to set “measureable goals” towards desegregation.

In recent years, the education department has moved forward with some plans to increase diversity in schools, such as allowing schools to set aside a certain percentage of seats for students who are low-income, learning English, or meet other criteria. But advocates have criticized that approach as piecemeal and are eagerly awaiting the city’s broader diversity plan.

See full letter below:



Revised Letter to DOE 5 5 17 (Text)

By the numbers

NYC middle schools, pre-Ks meet diversity targets — and more high schools join initiative to spur integration

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos

New York City middle schools participating in an admissions program designed to encourage integration met their targets in making offers to incoming students, Chalkbeat has learned.

Additionally, two more high schools will join the Diversity in Admissions pilot, bringing the total to 21 participating schools — still a tiny fraction of the roughly 1,800 schools across the city.

This is the third school year that principals could apply to the program, which allows schools to set aside a percentage of seats for students who meet certain criteria, such as qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch, which is often used as a measure of poverty. In some schools, only a sliver of seats are set aside; at others, it’s more than half.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña have come under increasing pressure to spur integration in city schools, which are some of the most segregated in the country. While the education department has been eager to tout the Diversity in Admissions program, many activists have criticized the approach as piecemeal, calling instead for wider-scale approaches. The city has promised a broader plan by June, and the chancellor recently hinted that changes to high school admissions could be a part of the proposal.

The four middle schools in the diversity program all met — or surpassed — their set-aside targets in making offers to incoming students, according to data provided by the education department. However, it’s not guaranteed that all students who are offered admission will actually enroll.

Two of the participating middle schools are in Brooklyn’s District 15, where parents and Councilman Brad Lander have called for enrollment changes. At M.S. 839, 42 percent of offers went to students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. At the Math & Science Exploratory School, 30 percent of offers did.

Two high schools will join the Diversity in Admissions program for the 2017-18 enrollment cycle: Williamsburg High School for Architecture and Design in Brooklyn, and Academy for Careers in Television and Film in Queens. Both will set aside 63 percent of seats for students who qualify for free lunch — a higher threshold of need. Currently, 83 percent of students at Williamsburg High School qualify for free or reduced-price lunch (rates for only free lunch were not immediately available). Only about 50 percent of students at Academy for Careers in Television and Film qualify for free lunch, according to Principal Edgar Rodriguez.

Rodriguez said he has seen the school’s population slowly change since it opened almost a decade ago. Television and Film was a Title I school when it launched, meaning enough students were poor to qualify for additional federal funding. The school has since lost that status, and Rodriguez said joining the Diversity in Admission pilot will help preserve economic diversity.

“We work very hard, in the four years we have students with us, to provide them a space that gives them a sense of the real world,” he said. “The school is already diverse as it is, and I think ensuring the diversity continues, and that it’s sustained over time and deepened, just enhances that experience overall.”

The education department also shared offer information for nine pre-K sites in the Diversity in Admissions program.

Most pre-Ks in the diversity program met their offer targets, except for the Castle Bridge School in Washington Heights. The school aimed to make 10 percent of offers to students who have incarcerated parents, but the school wasn’t able to make any offers based on the students who applied and priority status given to other students.

A recent report by The Century Foundation found that the city’s pre-Ks are more segregated than kindergarten classrooms. Testifying recently at a state budget hearing, Fariña seemed to chalk that up to parent choice.

“I, as a parent, am not going to be running to another part [of the city]. So it’s a matter [of] applying,” she said. “This is parent choice — the same way you can go to private school, parochial school, charter school, you can go to any pre-K.”