decisions decisions

Four of 80,000 likely high school applicants share early thoughts

Families lined up outside Brooklyn Technical High School on Saturday to enter the city's annual high school fair.

The city’s high school admissions process definitely seems more complex and competitive since Sergio Coria went through it 20 years ago.

Corio made the observation after spending more than four hours at the Citywide High School Fair at Brooklyn Technical High School on Sunday with his 13-year-old sister, Nicole.

“It’s a good eye-opener to see how many students you are competing with,” Sergio said about the fair, which more than 30,000 people attended over two days. “It’s a wake-up call on what you need to do and how you need to do it — you definitely can’t wait until the last minute.”

Nicole had already identified about a dozen schools in the city’s high school directory that seemed to speak to her interests in art, math, and science. But she said narrowing down her choices hadn’t yet given her much piece of mind.

“It’s scary: You don’t know if you’re going to get accepted, and then once you get there you don’t know if you’ll like the teachers,” she said.

Plus, Nicole said, she was nervous about heading off to high school without her best friends, who unlike her were shooting for specialized schools and selective music schools. “It’s kind of sad because I’ve been with them so long,” she said.

One consideration that Nicole won’t have to make, according to Sergio, is about her commute. Any good school is an option, even if it means a lot of travel time, he said.

“Some families like to be nearby to where they live, but I think a commute is a good idea,” Sergio said.  “That’s the way you’re going to get mature – by traveling on your own and developing city smarts.”

For Karida Ali, on the other hand, the entire high school search might come down to commute time.

The Richmond Hill eighth-grader currently attends York Early College Academy in Queens, which goes through high school, but is considering schools in other boroughs. Her mom, Zabeida Ali, thinks that’s an ill-advised plan.

“In terms of travel time, is it really worth it?” to make the move, asked Zabeida Ali, who said older daughter, now in college, skipped the citywide fair in favor of a Queens-only high school fair. The city does not allow students to transfer high schools because of travel time unless their commute is longer than 90 minutes each way.

Karida has a guaranteed spot to stay at York Early College Academy if she ranks it as her first choice. But she wants to try her luck at the city’s most selective schools, the specialized high schools that include Stuyvesant High Schools and Bronx High School of Science.

Karida’s ambition has started a bit of an argument with her mom, who would rather she stay at York, where she can earn college credits and graduate with a two-year associates degree.

But Karida said she was not deterred and would be sitting for the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test next month. “I just want to experience taking the specialized high school test and see where it goes from there,” she said, adding that she is focused now on studying for the test.

Attending the high school fair was a way to gather backup options for Anthony Rivera, as well. The eighth-grader currently attends a Catholic school, but he’s also seeking scholarships to private high schools and looking at science-themed public schools, too.

But along with his mother, Anabelle, and his younger sister Nicole, Anthony said he found the fair overwhelming and hard to navigate.

“It’s kind of a mob in there,” he said.

So the family opted just to puck up materials from science and engineering schools and listen to the principals’ and students’ pitches, but not ask any of their questions. That will happen at the individual schools’ open houses, they said.

“I hope the open house will be more calm, less people, and that we’ll have more of a chance to talk,” Anabelle said.

But she said she was glad the family had made it out to the fair nonetheless, because now they’ll have a head start when Nicole goes through the process in two years. “We’re here looking for him, but at the same time we’re keeping an eye out for her too,” she said.

The Mendez family from Far Rockaway, Queens, was also laying groundwork for a future high school search. Father Marvin brought 10-year-old Jadon along with Zakiyah, who is in eighth-grade now.

Zakiyah said she wants to go to a school close to home that has a strong writing program. She focused on talking to current students while her father took down hard details about each school, including their progress report scores and student-to-teacher ratios.

After checking out a bunch of schools, Zakiya identified the Academy of Finance and and Enterprise as an early favorite. “They’ll help us create our own business and they do community service,” she said. “I would start a fashion business.”

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”