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HS admissions: Best bets for the "B" student

Written by Insideschools staff Thursday, 13 October 2016 00:02

We all hear about the highly selective schools that only take ace testers and "A" students. But what happens to solid students who don’t make the cut?

The InsideSchools staff compiled a list of our picks for the “B” student. These schools offer solid instruction as well as accelerated, college level and elective classes—many are great picks for the "A" student too. Included are programs in large neighborhood schools, arts and Career and Technical Education (CTE) schools and even a few highly selective ones such as s NEST +M and NYC iSchool.

by Jared Roebuck

Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration recently announced that a number of charter and district schools will become partners this school year in exchanging ideas and best practices. The subject of school discipline offers fertile territory—what we do when things go wrong. While suspension numbers may go down, it's also likely that school culture and safety will continue to be a challenge and an opportunity to get beyond the reductive charter-vs-district-school conflicts of recent years. Specifically, it's a chance for some district schools to learn from the charter experience about the importance of purposefully executing a vision for school culture. At the same time, it's also an opportunity for certain charters to move beyond their reliance on "no excuses" disciplinary practices (of the kind captured in the memorable viral video of a 1st grade Success Academy teacher) that don't equip students to become considerate, independent adolescents and adults.

The most hopeful outcome would be to expand on the current impetus for "restorative justice" in schools in ways that create "intentionally restorative" school cultures. My experience in both charter and district schools tells me that restorative practices aren't just useful for remedying student misbehavior; they also help students become empathetic, connected, and community-oriented citizens.

New York City has been called one of the most segregated school systems in the country, but some schools buck the trend and enroll a mix of children of different races and income levels.

InsideSchools visited more than 80 racially and economically integrated elementary schools in the past year. On October 26, we will present our findings about what makes these schools successful, the challenges they face, and the lessons they offer for the rest of the city. A panel of school leaders will discuss their experiences with successful integration.

Q: This is my senior year. I moved to the US from Vietnam in the second semester of my sophomore year. I attend a large, pretty crowded public high school and my parents knew nothing about schooling in the U.S. So my classes are not the strongest in the school and I haven't done ANY activities yet. That's because I spent time learning English and helping my family. We didn't have clubs in Vietnam, and I didn't get information about them here, because I was working after school.

But now that I have to apply to college, will this hurt me? Can I explain why I wasn't on any teams or in clubs? And I only earned about AP classes when I was researching colleges online, by myself. When I arrived here from Vietnam, the school just looked at my records and assigned me to random classes. Last year I had one honors course, in math; I aced it, so my teacher recommended me for AP Calculus, which I am taking this year.

I am worried that it will look like I have avoided challenging courses and activities. I'm just stuck hopelessly! Should I explain about my special circumstances?

A: Yes, absolutely! First of all, you cannot be blamed for not taking what was not available. It's not your fault that you didn't take the most challenging courses. You arrived not knowing English, coming from a different educational system, and having to spend your extra time helping your family. And what your high school did at the time was probably what they thought best. However, college admissions staff cannot expect your application to look like that of someone who has grown up in the U.S. and has been strategizing for years how to get into U.S. colleges. Don't worry: all applicants are looked at in the context of what was available to them.

One thing I noticed during my ten-month long career as a 5th-grader is that parents often get confused with the definition of a “good school.”

Parents, there is no such thing as a “good school.” There may be a good school for your child, but there is no all-around exemplary school. Even the most elite gifted and talented schools have downsides. When choosing a school for your child, you need to make sure that your child will be getting both the services they need and that they’ll be happy at that school. For example, a school may boast that they have the highest test scores, but they don’t have after-school clubs.

If your child receives special services, such as counseling or speech therapy, you have to make sure the school offers those services. Schools are supposed to do that, but that doesn’t always happen.

Tours really help you get a sense of how a school works. Tours usually run from early October to late November and middle school applications are due Dec. 1. You can usually sign up for a tour by looking on a school’s website or calling the school. District CEC pages sometimes list tours too. You can find contact information for schools through the InsideSchools search tool, and for a list of middle school fairs, visit the DOE Middle School events page

Tours at popular schools fill up quickly so be proactive! October becomes a very busy month.

In November, you receive your application. Now, the application is one of the most complicated documents you will ever see in your lifetime. I’ll be doing a whole post about how to navigate the application.

By the way, just know, this can be a very stressful time. It's hard to take off time from work to do tours and not really knowing if a school is going to be a good fit for your child. One time, when we were touring the school, it was raining, the school was a bit hard to get to, my mom’s coffee spilled everywhere and her umbrella broke. But, we learned from that tour that it was simply not the right school for me.

Please share information on each school’s profile page. I know the NYC school system very well, so if you need some personalized advice, comment below.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for my next installment!

Can "learning as play" make a kindergarten comeback?

Written by Lydie Raschka Wednesday, 21 September 2016 13:08

One day last school year, a girl in Fanny Roman's kindergarten class at PS 244 in Flushing, Queens arrived bubbling with excitement about her new shoes. With Roman's encouragement, she began tracing classmates' feet on paper and constructing "shoes," using pipe cleaners for laces. Her enthusiasm proved contagious; in response, Roman read poetry and picture books about shoes and students set up a play shoe store of their own, with different-size shoes in boxes, labeled "Jellies" or "Sneakers," as they categorized by size and even priced their wares. In their writing, they started using words such as "Velcro," buckles" and "shoelaces."

Welcome to "choice time." In a number of New York City elementary school kindergarten classes, it revives, in modified fashion, the once-common play-as-learning "free time" that's been driven almost to extinction in favor of whole-class instruction, textbooks, worksheets, and other elements of more rigorous education in the Common Core era.

Biggest adjustment in middle school? Lockers!

Written by Nathaniel Cain Tuesday, 20 September 2016 17:34

Our 6th-grade blogger Nathaniel Cain checks in with a report after his first full week of middle school in Brooklyn.

On Thursday, the first day of school, I was VERY, VERY nervous. I didn't know anyone—except one friend, who was in a different class. It turned out great—all my teachers are amazing. They're super nice and I can tell that they will be teaching me a lot. I can tell this year is going to be great!

It definitely took some small adjustments, though. In elementary school, they have the learning materials. In middle school, especially a large one like mine, they expect you to have everything in your bag, in the moment. Also, going from class to class took some adjusting, too. The 8th-graders tend to dominate the hallways and it's very, very crowded.

Got an 8th-grader at home? Then you must be gearing up for high school admissions. Our advice: Check out our tips and handy action plan for making the most of your high school search and register for our fall high school admissions workshops!

Insider tips on specialized high schools: September 27, 6 pm

Are you auditioning for LaGuardia? Taking the SHSAT and wondering how to rank the specialized high schools? Got questions about the academics or homework load? Join the InsideSchools staff along with specialized high school students and parents on Sept. 27 for a panel discussion moderated by Clara Hemphill, followed by a Q&A session. RSVP on Eventbrite.

Best Bets for the “B” Student: October 5, 6 pm

Everybody hears about the tip-top schools, the ones that accept only “A” students and ace testers. But what about the average student? What are some good high school options for the "B" student? Join Clara Hemphill and the InsideSchools staff for a panel discussion designed to help you sort out your options. Got other high school admissions questions? We’ll tackle those too. RSVP on Eventbrite.

Q: In high school, I was sure I wanted to enter the police force, so I attended a police academy for two years. But then I realized this was not the right career for me, and I left the academy. Now I want to apply to a regular college, but am really worried about this. Will my chances of admission be less because I went to the police academy? I want to get into a top school, but will they consider me good enough for their programs? I am concerned that I might not get in at all, and that my earlier choice might affect my future. What should I do?

A: Don't be so harsh with yourself! A lot of young people make a choice they think is appropriate for them AT THE TIME, but which turns out not to be the right choice. Do you think you're the only one? What about the student who spends a year or two in nursing school, and then realizes her heart isn't in it? Or the one who studies engineering and then discovers it's really math that he wanted?

High School Hustle: Let LaGuardia be LaGuardia

Written by Liz Willen Monday, 22 August 2016 11:22

The call to our home came a few months into my older son's freshman year at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, the performing arts public high now under fire for prioritizing academics over talent.

"This is Dr. Barbara Rowes, and I have something to tell you.''

My heart caught in my throat as I waited to hear from this feared but highly respected English teacher, notorious for setting seemingly impossibly high standards at the school made iconic in the 1980 movie “Fame”.

"Now, I know that your son wants to be a rock star,'' she told me. "But I just finished grading his paper. I think he has a future as a scholar."

I knew he'd been struggling. And now, here was one teacher in this sprawling school of the arts who cared enough about his writing progress to let me know—a measure of how seriously the school takes its dual mission of both college and conservatory arts preparation.