On July 16, the Education Department held the first in a series of summer high school workshops for rising 8th graders and their families. The DOE hosts these workshops every summer to help 8th graders and their families prepare for the complicated high school admissions process.

Hundreds of parents, guardians and students attended the 90-minute session at Prospect Heights Educational Campus; many left saying they felt better prepared for the high school search. The workshop "gives you a starting point to look at the madness and see what you need to be doing," said Khen P. Brady, the parent of an 8th grader.

The DOE's Maurice Frumkin led the presentation, walking students through the phone book-sized high school directory and highlighting a few key recommendations for choosing a high school.

"Location is everything," said Frumkin. He reminded the audience that students have to make the trip to school daily, so 8th grarders should only apply to schools that are within a reasonable distance from their homes and do not require too many different modes of transportation. "Before you apply to any school," Frumkin said, make sure that, "you've visited, know where it is and preferably have gone to an open house."

Frumkin encouraged the audience to get comfortable with the directory and reassured them that the 567-page tome is less intimidating than it looks. He stressed two important sections of every high school's page in the directory: "admissions priorities" and "admissions method."

Many schools give admissions priority to certain categories of students, Frumkin explained, such as students who attended the school's lower grades, residents of specific neighborhoods, or 8th graders who attend information sessions. Students waste the opportunity to take advantage of their prioritized status if they are unaware that it exists, he said.

Understanding admissions methods is the most confusing part of the handbook for most high school applicants, Frumkin said. They are: auditions, screened, educational option, language, test, limited unscreened, unscreened and zoned. (Information on the different types of admissions methods can be found on the DOE's website.)

Frumkin gave 8th grade students a couple of "summer assignments." First, he recommended they start to think about their talents and interests and narrow down a list of potential schools. "Think about what kind of schools you want and what kind of schools you don't want," he said.

He also asked students to make a list of 20 or more potential schools and to visit their booths at the DOE's citywide high school fair on September 28 and 29 at Brooklyn Tech. The fair is enormous, Frumkin warned, and to attend without any direction is overwhelming.

Any student even remotely interested in specialized high schools should take the specialized high school exam, Frumkin advised. The exam is the only admission criteria for eight schools and since no other schools will see the score, applicants have nothing to lose. (A ninth specialized high school, LaGuardia, requires an audition for its arts programs.)

Frumkin stressed that the most important task for 8th grade families is to find a school that is a good match. A school should be a "good fit not for anyone else," he said, "for you." 

Parents we spoke to on the way out of the session felt like the DOE handled the workshop well, and has improved the high school search process. "In past years, I was hearing stuff by ear. I wouldn't get mail. There is a lot more communication with parents now," said Rosalyn Inman, mother to an 8th grader.

"This is my second time going through this process and I wish I had this information last year," said Shari Hyman.

Information session continue this week in Bronx and Queens: Lehman High School on Tuesday, July 23 and Forest Hills High Schoolon Wednesday, July 24.

Workshops about New York’s nine specialized high schools, which admit students based on an exam or audition, also begin this week. The first session is at Staten Island Techon Wednesday, July 24, followed by Brooklyn, at Prospect Heights, on Thursday, July 25. The following week, the specialized workshops will be at Fashion Industries on Tuesday, July 30; Francis Lewis in Queens on July 31 and the final one at Lehman High School on Thursday, Aug. 1.