summer jitters

‘I’m just a little bit angsty’: New York City students talk about what makes them nervous about high school

PHOTO: Julia Donheiser
Students from Breakthrough New York visited the Chalkbeat offices.

For many students across the country, switching from middle to high school requires little more than a new bus route.

But for New York City’s eighth-grade students, it means navigating a maze of tests, interviews and applications — otherwise known as New York City’s notoriously difficult high school admissions process.

Last week, a group of rising eighth- and ninth-graders from Breakthrough New York, a program that helps high-achieving, low-income students get to and through college, visited Chalkbeat’s office. Over pizza, we did our best to explain journalism, and used the opportunity to ask these students about school next year.

In response, we heard a lot of nerves — about applications, writing samples, and starting over in a new place. Here is what these students had to say. Their responses have been lightly edited for clarity.


Oreoluwa Ojo, rising eighth-grader at the Talented and Gifted School for Young Scholars

Something that I’m most afraid of is the whole application process for high school, because I know that there’s a lot of tests that you have to take. One high school that I want to go to is Bard, Bard Manhattan, and I know that there’s a test for that school. And I’m afraid that I may not pass the test. I feel like I’m going to forget to look at my email one day and it’s going to have something important — one thing that I forget.

Frangel Soriano-Fabian, rising eighth-grader at the New School for Leadership and the Arts

What I’m most nervous for is the application. The biggest thing I think is the SSAT [Secondary School Admission Test, used for private schools]. Cause I’m trying to go to an independent boarding school that has to do with medicine so I can do what I want and become a doctor.

Yeah, I’m very scared for the essay part of the SSAT. I heard it’s pretty difficult. We already took at least two practice parts of it.

What was difficult was the time that they give us. Cause I heard it’s like 25 minutes for the essay, so I’ve got to time it all. I think it was three minutes for intro, four minutes for the body paragraphs, and same thing for the conclusion. And I have two minutes to revise everything, edit everything. I think I’m well-prepared for it. I’m just a little bit angsty about it.

Madeline Garcia, rising ninth-grader at Cardinal Spellman High School

One thing that I’m nervous about, not nervous about, but like scared for it to happen is that I might like not focus or I might get off track or something like that. Which, hopefully I won’t do. But [maybe] I will not be as focused as I should be or something will happen where I’ll have to take time off school. I want to focus on another scholarship because I have to pay for tuition. Also, I want to go to Columbia University, so I’m just afraid that something might get in the way of that.

Janet Hernandez-Romero, rising eighth-grader at the American Dream School

What I’m most nervous about this fall is the interview part of the high school process, because I feel like that’s the moment they meet you and I feel worried about what I’m going to say.

It’s my first impression and I want to make a good impression. And I’m afraid of making a bad impression. And also, the whole [process of] visiting schools because I want to go to a boarding school. And I’m not sure my parents are going to agree on that.

I want to go to a boarding school because I live with three sisters and it’s always a little noisy, like I don’t have a lot of time to concentrate. And also, I feel like I want to explore more places alone even though I love my family a lot. I just feel like I’m a more independent person. I want to learn how to be more organized without my mom. Because I want to see how I live without anybody telling me what to do. I want to take control of my life.

Hillary Matos, rising 9th grader at Columbia Secondary School

One thing I’m really nervous about is being the new kid in my school. Because at Columbia Secondary School, most of the students are from the middle school so it’s hard to try to create a bond like that. Starting from sixth grade, the community there, they’re such a family and everything and I just feel like I won’t fit in.

I’m used to being the new kid, but at least I’ll [usually] have somebody, like a friend that I knew. I guess I’m going to be the new kid now.

Finding a home

Denver school board permanently co-locates charter elementary in middle school building

Students and staffers at Rocky Mountain Prep's first charter school in Denver cheer in 2012. (Photo by The Denver Post)

A Denver elementary charter school that was temporarily granted space in a shuttering district-run middle school building will now be housed there permanently.

The school board voted Thursday to permanently place Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest charter school in the Kepner Middle School building, where it is sharing space this year with three other school programs. Such co-locations can be controversial but have become more common in a district with skyrocketing real estate prices and ambitious school quality goals.

Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest is part of a homegrown charter network that has shown promising academic results. The network also has a school in Aurora and is expected to open a third Denver school next year in the northwest part of the city.

Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest was first placed at Kepner for the 2015-16 school year. The placement was supposed to be temporary. The district had decided the year before to phase out low-performing Kepner and replace it a new district-run middle school, Kepner Beacon, and a new charter middle school, STRIVE Prep Kepner, which is part of a larger network. The district also temporarily placed a third charter school there: Compass Academy.

Compass has since moved out of Kepner but the other four schools remain: Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest, Kepner Beacon, STRIVE Prep Kepner and the Kepner Legacy Middle School, which is on track to be completely phased out and closed by June 2019.

In a written recommendation to the school board, district officials acknowledged that permanently placing Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest at Kepner would create a space crunch.

The Kepner campus has the capacity to serve between 1,100 and 1,500 students, the recommendation says. Once all three schools reach full size, officials expect the schools will enroll a total of approximately 1,250 students. Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest currently serves students in preschool through third grade with a plan to add more grades.

“DPS facilities staff are currently working with all three schools to create a long‐term vision for the campus, including facility improvements that ensure all three schools have what they need to continue to excel,” says the recommendation from Chief Operating Officer David Suppes and Director of Operations and Support Services Liz Mendez.

District staff tried to find an alternate location for Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest but were unsuccessful, the recommendation says. The district does not have many available buildings, and competition for them among district-run and charter schools can be fierce. In northeast Denver, seven secondary schools are currently vying for the use of a shuttered elementary.

Future of Schools

Indianapolis needs tech workers. IPS hopes that George Washington will help fill that gap.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

Indiana companies are looking for workers with computer expertise, and Indianapolis Public Schools leaders want their students to fill that gap.

Next year, George Washington High School will launch a specialized information technology academy designed to give students the skills to pursue careers in IT — and the exposure to know what jobs even exist.

“Half of what kids aspire to be is either someone they know does it or they’ve seen it on TV,” said Karen Jung, president of Nextech, a nonprofit that works to increase computer science preparation in K-12 schools. Nextech is partnering with IPS to develop the new IT program at George Washington.

For teens who don’t know anyone working in computer science, meeting role models is essential, Jung said. When teens see women of color or artists working in computer sciences, they realize there are opportunities for people like them.

“Once we put them in front of and inside of workplaces … it clicks,” Jung said. They believe “they would belong.”

The IT program is one of three academies that will open in George Washington next year as part of a broad plan to close nearly half of the district’s high schools and add specialized focus areas at the four remaining campuses. In addition to the IT academy, George Washington will have programs in: advanced manufacturing, engineering, and logistics; and business and finance.

The district is also moving to a model without neighborhood high schools. Students will be expected to choose high schools based on focus area rather than location. This year, many current high schoolers were required to reapply in an effort to make sure they enroll in academies that fit their interests.

The district will host a showcase of schools to help parents and students with their selections. The showcase runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Indiana State Museum.

Stan Law, principal of Arlington High School now, will take over George Washington next year. (Arlington will close at the end of this year.) He said the new academies offer an opportunity for students to see what they need to master — from soft skills to knowledge — to get good jobs when they graduate.

“I want kids to really make the connection of the purpose of high school,” Law said. “It is that foundation for the rest of your life, in terms of the quality of life that you are going to live.”

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Stan Law

When the IT academy launches next year, students who select the program will be able to spend about one to two classes per year focused on information technology, said Ben Carter, who runs career and technical education for IPS.

Carter hopes the academies will reshape George Washington and other IPS campuses by connecting potential careers with the work students do everyday at school. Students who share a focus area will be in a cohort, and they will share many of the same core classes such as English, math and history, said Carter. Teachers, in turn, will be able to relate what students are studying in their history class to projects they are working on in the IT program, for example.

To show students what a career in information technology might look like, students will have the chance to tour, connect with mentors and intern at local companies.

“If I’m in one of these career classes — I’m in software development, but then I get to go to Salesforce and walk through and see the environment, to me as a student, that’s inspiring,” said Carter. “It’s like, ‘oh, this is what I can have.’ ”

He added. “It increases engagement but also gives them a true sense of what the career is.”