Head Start

Meet the Staten Island elementary school determined to start college-readiness in kindergarten

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Zubaidah Bhello, Joselyn Quinteros and Jade Johnson attend the grand opening of P.S. 21's college center.

Zubaidah Bhello has visited colleges, decided New York University is her top pick, and plans to become a dermatologist.

And she’s only 10 years old.

Bhello is part of a bold new experiment at a Staten Island elementary school that attempts to prepare students for life after high school as soon as possible even as early as kindergarten. The school, P.S. 21, has built college preparedness into its curriculum and launched its new college and career center on Thursday.

“It helps you with college and getting ready for the next grade,” Bhello said. “And it helps you pick what you want to be when you grow up.” (Bhello determined, for instance, that dermatology is “less disgusting” than some other medical jobs.)

The new center, a first floor room adorned with college pennants and bean bag chairs, is meant to be a hub of college-related activities. Students may come to take a virtual tour of Harvard, or meet with students from nearby Wagner College.

While even the youngest learners are expected to participate in college activities, students at different ages will have different tasks, Principal Anthony Cosentino said. Kindergarteners design college pennants, while fifth graders create digital portfolios that explain their background, goals and what it will take to get there.

The purpose of the center is twofold: Energize students about their futures and use that excitement to help them stay on track academically. For instance, if a student decides she wants to become a mechanical engineer after visiting the center, she will work harder to master fractions and ratios, reasons Cosentino.

“The world is too complex and diverse of a place where a kid should just be told, ‘You just need to do it for a test.’” Cosentino said. “That’s unacceptable. Kids need to know what are they learning, why are they learning it, and how this will impact them down the road.”

The early focus on college is a new attempt to solve an old problem: By the time many students leave high school, they have often been falling off-track for years. Only about 64 percent of New York City graduates are considered “college-ready,” or are qualified to avoid remedial classes at CUNY colleges. Students at P.S. 21 may be particularly at risk for falling behind. Last year, 100 percent of students at the school were in poverty.

P.S. 21 staff work with a local middle school, high school and Wagner to make sure the program is as relevant as possible. A staff member from Wagner College visits P.S. 21 on Thursdays to coordinate college-related activities, such as a research project about the college, tours of campus, and tickets to basketball games. And students from the college, high school, and the middle school mentor the elementary school students.

“This is about helping young people see real pathways from one part of their education, to another part of their education, to their futures as adults,” said Deputy Chancellor Phil Weinberg, who attended the center’s grand opening on Thursday.

Jade Johnson, a fifth-grade student at P.S. 21, nodded vigorously when asked if she enjoyed the college field trips. Johnson, who wants to be an emergency medical technician, said they helped her picture what it will be like to attend college someday.

“We can see other kids, how they’re working hard and stuff,” Johnson said. “When I see that, I want to be just like that.”

If students change their mind about their dreams and aspirations, that is perfectly natural, Cosentino said. The idea is to give education a purpose so students will have something to strive for in school, he said.

“It’s not just about college,” Cosentino said. “It’s about kids setting goals for themselves.”

The New Chancellor

Tell us: What should the new chancellor, Richard Carranza, know about New York City schools?

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
A student at P.S. 69 Journey Prep in the Bronx paints a picture. The school uses a Reggio Emilia approach and is in the city's Showcase Schools program.

In a few short weeks, Richard Carranza will take over the nation’s largest school system as chancellor of New York City’s public schools.

Carranza, who has never before worked east of the Mississippi, will have to get up to speed quickly on a new city with unfamiliar challenges. The best people to guide him in this endeavor: New Yorkers who understand the city in its complexity.

So we want to hear from you: What does Carranza need to know about the city, its schools, and you to help him as he gets started April 2. Please fill out the survey below; we’ll collect your responses and share them with our readers and Carranza himself.

The deadline is March 23.

buses or bust?

Mayor Duggan says bus plan encourages cooperation. Detroit school board committee wants more details.

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Fourth-graders Kintan Surghani, left, and Rachel Anderson laugh out the school bus window at Mitchell Elementary School in Golden.

Detroit’s school superintendent is asking for more information about the mayor’s initiative to create a joint bus route for charter and district students after realizing the costs could be higher than the district anticipated.

District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told a school board subcommittee Friday that he thought the original cost to the district was estimated to be around $25,000 total. Instead, he said it could cost the district roughly between $75,000 and a maximum of $125,000 for their five schools on the loop.

“I think there was a misunderstanding….” Vitti said. “I think this needs a deeper review…The understanding was that it would be $25,000 for all schools. Now, there are ongoing conversations about it being $15,000 to $25,000 for each individual school.”

The bus loop connecting charter and district schools was announced earlier this month by Mayor Mike Duggan as a way to draw kids back from the suburbs.

Duggan’s bus loop proposal is based on one that operates in Denver that would travel a circuit in certain neighborhoods, picking up students on designated street corners and dropping them off at both district and charter schools.

The bus routes — which Duggan said would be funded by philanthropy, the schools and the city — could even service afterschool programs that the schools on the bus route could work together to create.

In concept, the finance committee was not opposed to the idea. But despite two-thirds of the cost being covered and splitting the remaining third with charters, they were worried enough about the increased costs that they voted not to recommend approval of the agreement to the full board.  

Vitti said when he saw the draft plan, the higher price made him question whether the loop would be worth it.

“If it was $25,000, it would be an easier decision,” he said.

To better understand the costs and benefits and to ultimately decide, Vitti said he needs more data, which will take a few weeks. 

Alexis Wiley, Duggan’s chief of staff, said the district’s hesitation was a sign they were performing their due diligence before agreeing to the plan.

“I’m not at all deterred by this,” Wiley said. She said the district, charters, and city officials have met twice, and are “working in the same direction, so that we eliminate as many barriers as we can.”

Duggan told a crowd earlier this month at the State of the City address that the bus loop was an effort to grab the city’s children – some 32,500 – back from suburban schools.

Transportation is often cited as one of the reasons children leave the city’s schools and go to other districts, and charter leaders have said they support the bus loop because they believe it will make it easier for students to attend their schools.

But some board members had doubts that the bus loop would be enough to bring those kids back, and were concerned about giving charters an advantage in their competition against the district to increase enrollment.

“I don’t know if transportation would be why these parents send their kids outside of the district,” Angelique Peterson-Mayberry said. “If we could find out some of the reasons why, it would add to the validity” of implementing the bus loop.

Board member LaMar Lemmons echoed other members’ concerns on the impact of the transportation plan, and said many parents left the district because of the poor quality of schools under emergency management, not transportation.

“All those years in emergency management, that drove parents to seek alternatives, as well as charters,” he said. “I’m hesitant to form an unholy alliance with the charters for something like this.”