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At second-chance school fair, students hope for better luck

This weekend, thousands of eighth-graders and their families descended on the Upper West Side’s Martin Luther King Campus to confront the bad news they received just days earlier: Unlike the majority of their classmates across the city, they still didn’t have a high school to attend next year.

That’s because these students — about 7,700 in all, according to city data — weren’t matched to any of their top high school choices through the Department of Education’s main admissions process. To help them find a school, the city recruited 270 high schools that are still trying to fill seats to a “Round 2 High School Fair.”

About 4,500 people attended on Saturday, according to officials in the Office of Student Enrollment, which organized the event. GothamSchools attended as well and spoke to dozens of families about their plight. We found there were a variety of reasons for why students ended up without a matched school. Some applied to only the most competitive schools; others didn’t fill out the applications properly; and some families suspected that schools turned away students with special needs. Other students were just unlucky.

Jaqueline Benitez’s son Joshua wasn’t matched to any of his twelve choices, which included top schools like Manhattan Village Academy and Museum High School. Jaqueline said she specifically singled out programs that a guidance counselor told her would have been able to accommodate her son’s Individualized Education Program and his need for Integrated Co-Teaching, speech therapy, and testing modifications.

“The thing that got me upset is that some of the same schools we chose are here for Round 2,” she said pointing to Museum High School and Baruch, which are among the many selective schools that are opening their doors only for students with special needs.

She said she remained confident about finding other options but had grown frustrated to hear representatives of some of the new schools at the fair say they might not have the special education services Joshua will need.

Tremaine Baker, an eighth-grader at the Academy for Arts & Letters, blamed a one-year lapse on his state standardized test scores as the reason he wasn’t accepted into some of the selective high schools he applied to. He’s been a solid student throughout elementary and middle school, earning proficient scores on each exam, but he said a pair of level 2s in 7th grade hurt his chances.

“I was kind of upset because I tried to work my hardest, but last year hurt,” Baker said.

His father agreed. “It’s a learning lesson for him,” said Clyde Gabriel. “He’s always got to be on.”

Angela Linary and her father Angelo had high hopes for Round 1. Angelo said that his daughter is a top student at I.S. 313 in the Bronx and was confident in their top choices, such as Millennium High School or Beacon High School.

So he was surprised to learn last week that Angela was not accepted into any of the schools.

At the Round 2 fair, the pair was looking for schools with high graduation and college enrollment rates and a safe environment. They said they weren’t impressed with the options at the fair.

“I really thought there would be a lot more schools and it’s mostly new schools,” Angelo said. “I’m just winging it right now. I’m nervous, but I’m pretty confident everything will be fine.”

Jazmine Vega and her mom, Jackleine Guaraizo, came to the fair hoping to find a school that would cater to Vega’s love of music. During Round 1, she applied to six schools, four of which require auditions. Frank Sinatra High School was her top choice, and she was heartbroken when she didn’t see it listed on her notification letter last week.

“The first time I ever went to visit that school I felt that I fit in, but when I did the audition I knew there was competition,” Vega said.

Although the fair was organized for unmatched students, it also provided an opportunity for students who didn’t like their original matches to consider whether to submit a new application. That was the case for Bethany Jhugdeo and Jennifer Caldeira, eighth graders at Brooklyn’s M.S. 113. Both were accepted to their top selections — Judgeo to her third choice, S.T.A.R. Early College School at Erasmus, and Caldeira to her first choice, Abraham Lincoln High School — but were back on the hunt to see if they had missed any schools the first time around. Submitting a second-round application carries risk: Students who are admitted to a new school must forfeit their first-round acceptances.

Three friends from J.H.S. 194 in Queens were accepted to elite schools: Stuyvesant High School, Bard High School Early College, and Cardozo High School. They still trekked to the fair to gather intel on Round 2 possibilities. They said that they might even track down the top schools that rejected them during Round 1 and inquire about reapplying.

Adasia Santos took a lethargic approach to applying to high schools. As an eighth-grader at Hyde Leadership, a charter school in the Bronx, Adasia is guaranteed a seat in its high school and didn’t apply to any schools. The aspiring actress signed up to audition at LaGuardia High School for Music & Art and the Performing Arts but withdrew once she realized she wasn’t prepared. She also wanted to explore other options, however, and was hoping that there would be some schools to fit her interest in fashion design.

One of the booths caught her eye. It displayed a colorful poster featuring student work that showed off the kind of curriculum that will be offered next year. They included glamorous photo spreads, glossy magazine covers, and artsy photo shoots. At the top left was a list of what the school would offer: Small Learning Communities, digital learning, sports and career and technical education programs.

The booth was missing one crucial element: a school name. Currently, the school is known as the High School for Graphic Communication Arts, but that would change if the city moves forward on plans to close it and reopen it next year with a new staff, using a process called “turnaround.”

“It looks like it would be a fun place to go do, but I’m not really sure,” Santos said.

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