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High schools market themselves with information and cookies

To attract the attention of the thousands of eighth-graders and family members at this weekend’s citywide high school fair, representatives from the city’s 500-some high schools pulled out all the stops — bringing current students dressed in nurse’s scrubs or cheerleading outfits and stocking their tables with custom pens and homemade cookies.

Some administrators who staffed the tables lining the hallways of the first seven floors of Brooklyn Technical High School aimed to inspire students to consider careers in health, law enforcement, or the culinary arts.

Others faced higher stakes: To convince families to take a chance on an under-the-radar school. Because the Department of Education uses enrollment as a factor in deciding which schools to close, schools that attract few applicants could face dire consequences.

Sheepshead Bay High School

Sheepshead Bay High School’s teachers drew families to their booth with homemade chocolate chip cookies. “My sister made them. I don’t know if it’s the cookies or interest in the school, but we’re doing well,” said Geri Riley, the Advanced Placement government and economics teacher, as parents stopped to eat and learn about the school’s various specialized learning academies.

Riley said enrollment at the school, which tops 2,000, is on the decline. This year, the school is undergoing “restart,” one of four federally mandated strategies for low-performing schools, and a nonprofit partner is taking over its management.

School for International Studies
Sean Ahern, one of two culinary arts teachers at Brooklyn’s School for International Studies, turned heads in his chef’s uniform and hat as he passed out brochures. His job was twofold: to sell families on both the culinary arts and on his school, which is struggling to keep enrollment numbers up and even recruited a public relations firm this year to help convince families to send their children.

“This kitchen is so fantastic. It’s state-of-the-art,” he said to one student and pointed to a picture of the school’s newly-renovated classroom-turned-kitchen. “Write to the chancellor and ask him why this kitchen is not being used 24-7? We’re Cobble Hill, which is really hot for restaurants right now. But we’re a small school of only 500.”

Cobble Hill High School for American Studies

“Hey there, sweetie, what are you looking for in a school?” was Elizabeth Rodriguez’s warm greeting to anyone who lingers in front of the table for Cobble Hill High School for American Studies, where she works as the assistant principal of safety and security.

“Fun,” one student responds.

“Okay, so you want extracurriculars … cheerleading, chess?” Rodriguez responds, running through a list of activities at the high school, which was able to beef up its after-school offerings with funding from federal School Improvement Grants it received after landing on the state’s list of low-achieving schools. With the funds, she said the school was also able to increase professional development options for teachers and purchase a number of new computers.

“We for a long time had been building up our ELA and math scores. But with the transformation dollars, while other schools are struggling financially, Cobble Hill is at a point where it definitely helps us,” she said. Still, the school cut several teaching positions this year due to budget constraints.

A mother in the crowd wants to know about internships. “We’re a small school,” Rodriguez said. “So if there’s something you want that we don’t have, we’ll get it for you.” She also touted the classes in law and the school’s Advanced Placement and honors course offerings.

Rodriguez’s daughter Raven Lozada is applying to high schools this year, but probably won’t go to Cobble Hill. She wants to go to Telecommunications Arts and Technology High School in Queens. “It’s a block from my house,” Raven, 12, said. “They have a lot of good programs, but I’m a little disappointed because they don’t have a good visual arts program.”

Clara Barton School for Health Professions
When they arrived shortly after 11 a.m., Lisa Hardison and her daughter, Anniah, 13, made a beeline for the Brooklyn high schools, stationed on the seventh floor. Hardison was the picture of a proud mother as they approach their first booth of the day: Clara Barton School for Health Professions. “She’s never been absent from school in four years. She got the coaches award for track,” Hardison said of Anniah, who attends Urban Assembly Institute of Math and Science for Young Women. “She’s athletic. We want a school where she can play volleyball and run track.” “And no uniform,” Anniah adds.

“We’ve already ran out of brochures,” says Cassandra Simpson, 17, a Clara Barton senior dressed in green scrubs, shortly after noon.

“That’s a good sign, isn’t it? Like a doctor’s waiting room, you want to see lot’s of people there,” Keith Holgate, an assistant principal, said of the brochure shortage, which he described as a sign that the school’s reputation is spreading. “Many of our students go on to nursing school or health school,” he explained to the Hardisons and a handful of families milling around the school’s table. He said his school’s big selling point is its internships that place seniors in local hospitals. “We push our students to go on for their Registered Nurse degree,” he said. “They’re going to college.”

Pelham Academy of Academics and Community Engagement
Anthony Rivera, principal of Pelham Academy of Academics and Community Engagement in the Bronx, brought 47 students, 12 parents and four teachers to the fair. As classes 802 and 805 jammed into the elevator for a tight, sweaty ride up to the fourth floor, Rivera explained to me why he chose to arrange the trip instead of leaving it up to individual parents.

“This is our first graduating class, and we thought we’d generate more interest if we organized an event where we all went together,” he said. He also said that he wanted to see the steps of the high school application process firsthand so he could better guide families.

Flushing High School
The sixth floor, where Queens schools whose names begin with the letters A through H set up their tables, was clear of the shoulder-to-shoulder traffic present on the floors for Brooklyn and Manhattan schools. Flushing High School, which is in its second year of transformation, packed up its booth and left well before the end of the day on Sunday after running out of school brochures. Queens schools tend to put their greatest emphasis on the borough fair, to be held next month, which is easier for families to attend, said Erin Dowding, an English teacher and college counselor for Flushing International High School, a school for recent immigrants.

She explained that her school does not make the fair the centerpiece of its enrollment plan. “A lot of our students come to the U.S. for ninth grade. We get a lot of over-the-counter enrollment,” she said, after the high school application process has sorted most students into city schools.

Chelsea Career and Technical High School

“Computer Networking! Arts! Graphic Design — Come to Chelsea!” chanted Imani Norwood-King, 17, a senior and student government vice president at Chelsea Career and Technical High School, one of 11 schools to receive transformation funding from the federal government last year to boost performance.

“Chelsea is great right now. Percentage [of students] passing [exams] has gone up dramatically because we can offer more time for students to prep for the Regents exams,” said Ray Ruiz, a technology teacher. “With the funding, we’re able to do much more — Saturday classes and extended day so kids can stay until 4 or 5 p.m. And we just got new Mac labs.”

“A lot of parents told me they are afraid to send their kid to large schools because they cold get lost,” he said “But Chelsea is a small school, about 500 kids at most, so we’re able to know everyone.” The city shrunk the school’s enrollment by half over the last several years.

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