New York

How eight city students are approaching the high school search

Middle school students and parents waited in lines that stretched for blocks to enter the Citywide High School Fair on Saturday afternoon.
On Saturday, middle school students and parents waited in lines that stretched for blocks to enter the city’s annual high school fair inside Brooklyn Technical High School. City students must choose from among nearly 600 options.

Finding a high school in New York City is like searching for an apartment: It’s hard to find a place that’s just right, and students know that even if they find a school that meets all their criteria — academics, sports, location, community, and more — there’s no guarantee that they’ll get in.

So they start early. By 10 a.m. Saturday, the line outside the annual high school fair at Brooklyn Technical High school had wrapped around the building. Over the next two days, middle schoolers streamed through Brooklyn Tech’s seven floors with parents, siblings, and teachers in search of the perfect school. The Department of Education estimated that 36,000 people visited the fair, making it the best-attended high school fair in the past five years.

Inside the building, attendees grabbed telephone-book-sized high school directories, then spread out among floors divided by borough. Students and teachers serving as ambassadors for their schools had spent the morning setting up shop, arranging elaborate displays of posters, pamphlets, and banners. Some of the seventh- and eighth-graders looked pleased with all the attention; others brushed past hundreds of booths vying for their attention and headed straight for the schools they already had in mind.

What students said they look for in schools varied widely, as do the schools themselves.

1. Narrowing the choices

Anthony Ureña
Anthony Ureña on his way into the fair.

Choosing among the 600 choices as part of the high school enrollment process can be overwhelming to many parents and students. But not everyone.

“It’s an easy process when you think about it,” said Anthony Ureña, an eighth grader who attends I.S. 215 in the Bronx. “You just look at the book and find the schools you’re interested in.”

Ureña said he found his top choice, the High School for Arts and Business in Queens, by flipping through the high school directory. He said he looked out for any schools that highlighted their business programs.

“I actually want to start a business when I grow up,” Ureña said Sunday morning outside Brooklyn Tech as he waited for his father before heading inside. “I just want to be in charge of something.”

Once Ureña identified the schools with business programs, he said it was fairly easy to whittle down his choices even more using the city-issued school report cards.

“You just look at the grades and get rid of everything lower than a D average.”

2. Asking questions

Kymora Rogers on the seventh floor.
Kymora Rogers on the seventh floor.

Kymora Rogers, an eighth grader at I.S. 302 in Brooklyn, said her school “has this room for helping children figure out about high school.” Rogers said she goes there after school to flip through books about high school and talk to her guidance counselor. What makes a school a good fit? “It’s based on your academic level and what school will help you go to college,” she said.

In December, eighth graders across the city, as well as ninth graders looking to transfer schools, will submit lists of up to 12 top choices. Then an award-winning algorithm will match students to schools, placing about 90 percent of applicants into one of their choices. (The remaining 10 percent will have to apply again in a second round.)

Rogers said she was supposed to spend the day with her grandmother, but when her school announced a chaperoned trip to the high school fair, she begged her mom to let her go. “When I walked in I was so excited, there were so many questions rumbling in my head.”

Rogers said she had one main question in mind when she approached each school’s booth: “Why do you think I should go to your school?”

3. Listing priorities

Maureen Charles, Joseph Charles, Chyenne Tiller and Tracy Huggins at the fair.
Maureen Charles, Joseph Charles, Chyenne Tiller and Tracy Huggins at the fair.

Though Joseph Charles’s mother said she was overwhelmed by the rush of information that confronted them at the fair, her son retained a laser-like focus on his priorities.

Asked to name the preferences for his future high school, Joseph, an eighth grader at P.S. 235, didn’t hesitate: strong academics, high graduation rates, high college enrollment, and good business and economics programs.

Nearby, his cousin Chyenne Tiller had a broader list: performing arts, engineering and sports.

Joseph said a good sports programs would be nice, but not essential.

“It’s mostly the academics,” he said. “The sports is secondary.”

4. Learning from experience

Kayla Herron with her brother Jami.
Kayla Herron with her brother Jami.

A lot of students came with their parents or teachers to guide them through the first step of their high school selection, but others had help from people with more personal experience.

Kayla Herron, an eighth grader at M.S. 267, brought along her older brother Jani, a junior at Edward R. Murrow High School. Jani learned the hard way what happens when you pick the wrong school.

Murrow was originally Jani’s top choice, but he switched to Freedom Academy “because my friend was going there.” That school shuttered last year due to poor performance and low enrollment, and Jani was transferred to his original top choice, Murrow.

So after hearing Kayla say she wanted to audition for LaGuardia High School for Music and Art & the Performing Arts, the city’s flagship arts school, “because I want to study the arts,” Jani offered some advice.

“She’s into music, but she’s got to be into more stuff,” he said.

5. Taking stock

Jonathan Cromartie with his mom, Virginia Cromartie.
Jonathan Cromartie with his mom, Virginia Cromartie.

Jonathan Cromartie goes to St. Paul’s school, a Catholic school on 118th Street — and his mother, Virginia Cromartie, hasn’t been convinced yet to send him to public school, even after the fair. But they took lots of brochures anyway, and they’re working planning to make a final decision with help from the Harlem Children’s Zone, a nonprofit that works with families living in a 60-block area of Harlem. They traveled to the fair with other families participating in a weekend program at the Children’s Zone.

Jonathan and Virginia both said they were looking for a school with a sports program and high graduation rates. Jonathan said he can’t imagine four years without baseball and basketball.

6. Fitting in

Divine Jones with her mom, Danimaris Fonseca.
Divine Jones with her mom, Danimaris Fonseca.

Divine Jones wants to be an archeologist, mineralogist, or a veterinarian, and she said she’s looking for the most academically challenging school to help her get there. She’s been at Leadership Prep Charter School since first grade, but the school only goes through eighth grade. A former Leadership Prep staff member has stayed in touch with families at the school and gave them a short list of high schools to consider, which they checked out at the fair on Saturday.

“In the beginning, it was hard,” Danimaris Fonseca said of her daughter’s first years at Leadership Prep, which is part of the Uncommon Schools network. “It was very strict, and there was a lot of turnover. But lately teachers have been sticking around.” The school prepared Divine to say hello to representatives of the Brooklyn Latin School, one of the city’s eight specialized high schools, in Latin. “You’ll fit right in,” they told her.

7. Trying again

Sharae Corbin (right) with her sister Shakira.
Sharae Corbin (right) with her sister Shakira.

Sharae Corbin is currently in ninth grade at the Urban Assembly School for Green Careers, but she’s now looking to transfer to a new school. Green Careers wasn’t expansive enough for what she wanted for high school — especially after moving from Texas, where she was involved in track, cheerleading, yearbook, and art.

Corbin came to the fair on Saturday looking for a school where she could get involved in performing arts again. On her short list: ultra-selective schools including LaGuardia, Bard High School Early College, and Beacon High School, as well as two highly regarded small schools in Manhattan, East Side Community High School and Pace High School, which she was excited to hear lets students start their own clubs. “I want a high school where they help you graduate — and I want to graduate with top honors,” she said.

Her sister Shakira said the two of them would make the final decision about where to apply together after attending open houses. “I have to make sure she enjoys herself. It’s her decision, but I have some influence,” she said.

8. Looking ahead

Angela Gonzalez, Tiffany Mejara, Angely Ogando, and  Jessica Escolah discuss their high school choices.
Angela Gonzalez, Tiffany Mejara, Angely Ogando, and Jessica Escolah discuss their high school choices.

Ray Nazario teaches social studies at J.H.S. 145, a neighborhood middle school in the Bronx, and accompanied students to the fair. “The kids are inspired just by doing this,” he said. “Their world is opening. Just the fact that they have the freedom to choose where they can go.”

Eighth graders Angela Gonzalez, Tiffany Mejara, and Angely Ogando all want to attend Food and Finance High School in Manhattan because they’re interested in food. “I want to learn to be a chef,” Gonzalez said. “I want to graduate, get that diploma, and get a good job.”

Their classmate Jessica Escolah said she’s looking for a school focused on theater and music. But, she said, she can’t know for sure that she’ll be happy with that decision for the next four years.

“It’s really hard [to choose] because you might change what you want to be,” she said. 

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

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.”