Top-scoring, low-income 6th graders may be eligible for the Education Department's DREAM - Specialized High School Institute (SHSI), a nearly two-year-long course which prepares middle school students to take the specialized high school exam in 8th grade. The application process begins this month.
Eligible students should hear now from their principals about whether they qualify for the course beginning in January 2013. To be considered for the SHSI, students must meet income guidelines based on free lunch status, have scored at a Level 3 or 4 on 5th grade state reading and math exams and have at least 90 percent attendance in the 5th grade. The 22-month-long course includes after-school and Saturday classes which begin in the second semester of 6th grade and last until the date of the test, in October of 8th grade. There are summer sessions as well.
The Education Department sent a list of qualified students to public schools enrolled in the Universal School Meals (pdf) last week. Principals must distribute income verification forms to eligible students, along with a letter to parents introducing the program. Other public schools will get a list of eligible 6th-graders in November.
The program takes place in 18 districts around the city and is free. All participants get a metrocard for travel to classes, meals and course materials. In areas where there are more applicants than spaces available, a lottery will be held.
The specialized high school exam has come under increasing scrutiny this fall, after the NAACP filed a complaint last month with the federal government charging that the test effectively discriminated against black and Hispanic students who are under-represented at the schools. A Times editorial today pointed out that many middle schools fail to prepare students adequately for material covered on the exam and that students who gain admission to specialized schools come from families who provide them with prep courses and tutors. Last spring, the DOE said it newly expanded the DREAM program to help bridge that gap.
(updated with new information, Oct. 17)