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When report cards arrive, vigilant parents turn immediately to what could be a confounding and heart-stopping grade in a subject with no bearing on academic averages: Gym.
That's right, gym, also known as physical education or PE. At least a dozen high school seniors I know are either failing it, coming close or getting lackluster marks like 70. And some of these are terrific students, headed to top colleges.
Can schools please stop giving out grades in gym?
I agree that if students repeatedly don't show up to gym class, they shouldn't pass. I also understand the frustration gym teachers must have when kids show up for gym in impossibly tight skinny jeans or skimpy dresses and platform shoes.
Fourteen-year-old Marc Brandon Gross, is what's called a “2E,” or twice-exceptional, child: he is a talented singer, dancer and actor who can memorize a script in two days that would take most people two weeks to learn, says his mother Maria Gross. But Marc has trouble communicating and socializing because he is on the autism spectrum.
Marc is thriving as a freshman Talent Unlimited High School -- a sign that children with special needs can be successfully integrated into the city's selective high schools. “They bend over backwards to make sure his needs are met,” says Gross.
While Marc should be a poster child for the Department of Education's new push to enroll more special needs children at the city's selective high schools, his mother is angry that the city is bending the rules for admission to schools like his. Marc passed the demanding audition for the musical theater program last year, but some of the students admitted this year did not.
“That's not right. It's not fair, especially not fair to my kid” who played by the rules, Gross says. At Talent Unlimited, more than 45 students (including 13 special needs students) were admitted who either did not audition or didn't meet the school's audition standards.
Gross contacted Insideschools to tell Marc's story after hearing that the city placed more than 1,300 students in 71 of the city’s selective high schools as part of a double-pronged effort to match more students to their round one high school picks and to ensure that schools meet the city’s new special education quotas.
Marc has speech and language disabilities as well as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The school offers intensive support: he is in team-teaching classes with two teachers, one of whom is certified in special education. He gets extra help in math and English. The school also provides after-school academic tutoring. The guidance counselor arranged a special peer support group to help Marc work on his socializing skills.
Marc's family expected him to attend high school at School for Language and Communication Development (SLCD), the school for special needs children where he went from kindergarten through 8th grade. But a guidance counselor at SLCD suggested he try out for a public performing arts high schools.
Just like thousands of other aspiring performing artists, Marc practiced for weeks and attended rounds of auditions to try out for four of the city’s audition schools: Talent Unlimited, Frank Sinatra, Professional Performing Arts School and LaGuardia. All four schools require auditions for entrance but do not have academic screens. Yet, this year DOE officials said the city assigned students to both Talent Unlimited and Frank Sinatra based on test scores, rather than artistic ability.
Competition at the city's performing arts schools is fierce; 1,500 students typically audition for 125 seats at Talent Unlimited.
Gross is proud to say her son went through the “appropriate channels of auditioning,” and was awarded a seat. And now Gross is concerned that the admission of dozens of students who did not meet Talent Unlimited’s audition standards – or did not even try out – will compromise the integrity of the program.
Because of his IEP, Marc still struggles academically, Gross says, but he is excited to get up and go to school everyday. "My kid loves the school because everyone is at his level. They can sing, they can dance, and they can act."
Watch video of Marc performing at Talent Unlimited, courtesy of his sister Lauren Gross:
The Department of Education is forcing most of the city’s selective high schools to accept a certain percentage of special needs students, even, in some cases, if they don't meet the eligibility requirements. Both general and special education students were assigned to top performing arts programs even though they didn't audition, infuriating some parents whose children did.
Beacon High School, Eleanor Roosevelt High School, Professional Performing Arts are among the selective schools that have been assigned special needs students outside the regular admissions process, school officials said; Frank Sinatra High School and Talented Unlimited were among the selective schools that have been assigned general education students as well.
In all, the Department of Education has assigned students not chosen by the schools to about 70 different screened programs for the 2013-14 academic year, said Marc Sternberg, senior deputy chancellor for strategy and policy. Sternberg said most of these programs were assigned special needs children; a few schools with unfilled seats were also assigned general education students. In a follow-up story, the New York Post reported: "about 960 general-ed kids and 300 special-ed students were assigned," to 71 schools.
This policy is part of an effort to give children with disabilities more access to demanding academic and arts programs and to ensure that screened schools get the "right number" of students, said Sternberg.
“This is about equity and access,” Sternberg said in a telephone interview. “We want to make sure that all students across the spectrum have access to these very fine schools.”
Dear Judy: My son was accepted to Beacon High School. He is very happy and is already making plans as to what he will do at the new school. I don't come from the U.S. and my question is: Is it a good school? How can I help him prepare for his first year? He doesn't know yet what profession he wants to pursue when he goes to college.
I am glad to hear that your son is pleased with his high school placement. Beacon is a very good school and it will prepare him well for university studies. Universities in the United States do not require students to choose what they will focus on until they are well into the second year of the four years they will spend there. High school years can be used for exploring many subjects and possible careers. That's why, to graduate, students must earn 44 credits for academic courses in math, science, social studies, English, a non-English language, art, music and physical education. Beacon is a member of the New York Performance Standards Consortium, and, as such students are exempt from taking most state exams called Regents. Instead, course credits are based on detailed projects called portfolios which students present to their teachers and peers.
Beacon graduation requirements are online. You can compare these to the city's Department of Education requirements listed on the website. And, when the time comes, there is a very helpful guide to preparing your child for college: Your Children Can Go to College...Yes They Can!" [PDF] which was developed by the New York Immigration Coalition. It's available in English and Spanish.
But, right now, turn your attention to helping your child prepare for entering 9th grade in September. Like many city high schools, Beacon will have a summer orientation, where your son will visit the school, get any summer assignments and suggestions as to how to prepare for 9th grade. There may be a reading or writing assignment. There he will also meet other 9th graders. If your son is to travel to school via public transportation, help him learn the route and practice the trip. He should time the door to door travel during early morning --when getting there on time is so important. The school may be able to help you get in touch with other students traveling from your neighborhood.
Finally, as summer winds down, try encourage him to follow a sleep schedule that he will need to arrive at school ready to learn.
Good luck to your son for a great high school experience.
My inbox has been flooded with questions about high school acceptances since 8th graders must decide by April 12 what high school offer to accept, or which school to apply to in Round 2. I've received several questions from families of students who were accepted by specialized high schools in addition to another school; others from parents who wonder why their children did not make the cut. This week I'll answer three of them.
Q: We have a dilemma, my daughter is now in Hunter and can continue there for high school. But she also got into Stuyvesant. Hunter is a long commute, Stuy is close to home; Hunter is smaller, less competitive and she has friends there. Stuy is stronger in Science, which is her strength. It also has a range of extra curricular activities that Hunter cannot match. Would it be folly to leave Hunter for a larger, less personal school?
You have a happy dilemma, and you have certainly laid out the pros and cons. It is really up to you and your daughter to make the decision. Have you been to see Stuyvesant? Did you get a good feeling about the atmosphere , kids, and teachers there? Are there any other kids your daughter knows going too? Keep in mind that students at large schools -- such as Stuyvesant -- often find their own community of frends and supportive faculty that make it seem smaller-- whether in sports, the math club, or SING. Yet, many families in 6-12 schools find it's easier just to stay put!
Parents can submit an application to serve on one of the city's 32 district community education councils or the citywide high school, special education, District 75 and English LanguageLearners councils, through March 27.
Here's the information from the Department of Education.
"APPLY TO SERVE ON AN EDUCATION COUNCIL
Education Councils are education policy advisory bodies responsible for reviewing and evaluating schools’ instructional programs, in some cases approving zoning lines, and advising the Chancellor. Education Councils play an essential role in shaping education policies for the New York City public schools. Each council consists of nine elected parent volunteers who provide hands-on leadership and support for their community's public schools. Council members hold meetings at least every month with the superintendent and public at-large to discuss the current state of the schools in the district.
Community councils represent students in grades K-8 in 32 education districts. The four Citywide councils include the Citywide Council on High Schools, Citywide Council on English Language Learners, Citywide Council on Special Education, and the District 75 Citywide Council. The chance to run for a seat on one of the 36 Community or Citywide Education Councils only happens once every two years and parents are encouraged to take advantage of this opportunity to support their schools. For more information on the roles and responsibilities of Councils and to learn how to apply for a Council seat, visit NYCParentLeaders.org. The Frequently Asked Questions section provides brief answers to common questions. Parents can also call the Division of Family and Community Engagement at 212-374-4118.
The application period, which began on February 13, has been extended! The new deadline is March 27, 2013. Parents interested in applying to serve on a Citywide or Community Education Council can apply online or submit a paper application:
Apply online at www.NYCParentLeaders.org now until 11:59 p.m. on March 27.
- Download paper applications at the DOE’s website or www.NYCParentLeaders.org and postmark by 11:59 p.m. on March 27.
- Paper applications are also available at the Division of Family and Community Engagement’s office located at:
49 Chambers St., Room 503
New York, NY 10007"
Classes won't begin until a week after Labor Day next fall, giving students a few extra days of summer vacation. According to the 2013-2014 calendar posted by the Education Departments, classes will begin on Monday, Sept. 9. Students customarily return to school during the first week of September but because Rosh Hashanah falls early this year, the start of classes is delayed until the following week.
Teachers are expected to return on Tuesday, Sept. 3 to prepare their classrooms, and to attend mandatory professional development on Sept. 4. All schools will be closed on Thursday and Friday, Sept. 5-6, for Rosh Hashanah.
The first two days will be shorter for children in pre-kindergarten.
The last day of school is June 26, 2014. See the calendar, including holidays, here.
For the third year in a row, Baruch College High School had more applicants than any other school in the city, according to the Department of Education.
Nearly 7,500 8th graders applied for 120 seats at Baruch, a selective high school in Gramercy Park that only accepts District 2 students. It had 1,000 more kids apply than in 2012. Two-thirds of Baruch students are Asian. The high school has a 100 percent graduation rate and solid college prep.
Pace High School in Chinatown and Eleanor Roosevelt High School on the Upper East Side were the second and third most popular choices.
Pace, which opened in 2004, accepts students citywide and does not screen its applicants. It had 6,040 students apply for 108 seats. About nine in 10 students graduated from Pace in 2012, and it does well with special education students. The student body is mostly African American and Hispanic. Of the top five most sought-after programs, Pace is the only unscreened school.
Eleanor Roosevelt, a selective school on the Upper East Side with a nearly perfect 2012 graduation rate, received 5,733 applicantsfor 125 seats. ELRO gives preference to students from District 2 and a majority of its students are white. It has a low poverty rate compared to other schools in the city: fewer than 1 in 5 students qualify for free lunch.
Because the DOE released a list of the top 20 high school programs, Midwood High School in Brooklyn appeared twice. Its selective humanities program was the 8th most popular, with 4,361 applicants. And 4,343 kids ranked Midwood's selective medical science institute, making that the 10th most sought-after program.
Thirteen of the city's most popular programs are selective high schools, which usually have high graduation rates because they weed out applicants who performed poorly in middle school. And five of the new small high schools opened under Mayor Bloomberg were among the 20 most popular.
One of those new small schools, the perennially popular Food and Finance barely made the "most popular" cut this year. Its unscreened culinary arts program had 1,000 fewer applicants this year than last, dropping it from the 10th most popular program to the 19th most popular with 3,600 8th graders applying for the school's 100 seats.
Download the DOE's list of top 20 schools here [PDF]. These 20 high school programs received the most applications out of all the 400-plus high schools (and countless programs) in the city excluding the nine specialized high schools. About 28,000 kids took the Specialized High School Admissions Test for a shot at the exam schools, which offered seats to 5,229 incoming freshman for the 2013-14 school year.
The top 20 list includes the number of 8th graders who listed the schools anywhere on their applications – it doesn't indicate how many students ranked the schools first. The DOE did not release the number of applicants for any other school.
Here are some recommendations for high schools that still have room—either new schools opening in the fall or established schools that haven’t filled their 9th grade seats, according to the Department of Education "Round 2 program list."
Westchester Square Academy, housed in Lehman High School, has seats in its new honors program. Founded in 2011 by the former assistant principal of Brooklyn Latin, Westchester Square has lots of good word of mouth.
For strong students, the Macy’s honors program at Dewitt Clinton High School still has seats. Although there are some concerns about safety and discipline in the building, the smaller honors program has challenging academics.
Bronx Design and Construction Academy is a new school that's off to a good start.
Bronx Latin has high expectations and a classical education.
Bronx Collaborative High School, a new school housed in Dewitt Clinton High School, is modeled after the popular Institute for Collaborative Education (ICE) in Manhattan. Brett Schneider, former ICE assistant principal, is the new principal.
Abraham Lincoln High School has a good photography program that still has seats. Overall, the school is better than its reputation and a good place for kids who can handle the huge size.
These not-quite-spring days of March can be terribly anxious ones for eighth-graders and their parents, waiting to hear where and if they are matched for a New York City public high school.
Now’s a good time to spin a few fantasies before harsh realities kick in.
Anyone who has already dragged through the full-time job that touring schools entails already knows the first reality: There’s a real supply and demand crisis in this city’s public school system. There simply aren’t enough high quality high schools, leaving kids vying to get into about a dozen top institutions that don’t have enough spots.
And even these very top, highly coveted schools all are beset by budget problems, large class sizes and an inability to provide sufficient guidance counselors, sports, arts and individual attention.
I’ve concluded that the high school I would love to send my two teenagers to in New York City simply does not exist – yet.