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City charter networks celebrate sending first seniors to college

As Lamont Sadler moonwalked up to the microphone, his classmates clapped and cheered for their senior class president.

“When I say hee hee, you say ow!” Sadler yelled to the auditorium full of students and teachers who chanted in reply.

The exuberant display was part of Uncommon Charter High School’s “signing day” on Thursday to celebrate the college acceptances that its first graduating class of 28 students nabbed. The students were individually recognized for their achievements, walked across the stage to a song of their choice, and then announced what college they would attend in the fall. While on stage, students also signed a contract that promised they would succeed in and graduate from college.

The ritual was one of the last for the students who formed Uncommon’s first ninth-grade class when the school opened in 2009, bringing together graduates of the charter network’s multiple Brooklyn schools. Another charter network, Achievement First, opened a high school for the graduates of its middle schools the same year in the same building — and held a similar ceremony for its 31 graduating seniors on Wednesday. (A third network, KIPP, also opened its high school in 2009, in Harlem. It held a stepping up ceremony on Tuesday.)

Both schools originally started with more students. Of Uncommon’s 39 original ninth-graders, eight moved or transferred out of the school, and another three will remain enrolled next year. At Achievement First, student attrition was steeper: The school went from 61 ninth-graders to 32 graduating seniors. A spokeswoman for the network, whose New York City schools have drawn criticism for having overly harsh rules, said attrition had been highest in the school’s first year, when it lacked many of the programs and activities it now has.

For the students who are graduating, the payoff is significant. All of the students in both schools were accepted to college and plan to attend this fall. Many will be members of the first generation in their family to attend college.

Achievement First made getting into college a graduation requirement, and the 32 seniors were accepted to 216 colleges and universities, including Williams College, Howard University, Syracuse University, Lafayette College, and several schools in the SUNY and CUNY networks. Sabrina Dawson, the school’s college counselor, helped students schools that offer financial aid and support for first-generation college students, then coached them through the application process and a senior-year “College Readiness Seminar.”

Uncommon’s 28 seniors submitted 429 applications to 138 different colleges. During the ceremony, the 12th grade team lead Nour Goda introduced each of the students. She said when Nicollete Francisco was asked to give 100 percent, she gives 110 – Francisco announced she would attend the University of Bridgeport. Kinyanna Evans walked to “Stronger” by Kelly Clarkson and announced she would be attending DePaw University. Ashley Heard, who started the first fashion show at UCHS, walked to “Thrift Shop” and announced she’d be attending York College.

Senior Justin Colon received a full ride to Vanderbilt University while Kevin Ozoria, who was accepted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, also received a full scholarship, to Dartmouth College, which is in the Ivy League.

“I never thought that I would be worthy of going to high institutions like these,” Ozorio said.

Sadler, who announced he would attend State University of New York at Oswego, said he wouldn’t be where he is today without his high school.

“I was so used to not being in a classroom at my old school, I used to run around hallways and do whatever I wanted to,” said Sadler, who started at an Uncommon school in the fifth grade.

He admitted that it took him a while to adjust to Uncommon’s strict rules, but he said he likes the school now because he’s been able to “make it his own.”

“It’s surreal that everyone here is going to college,” he said. “You always hear about college since fifth grade … since the first day of school until now. And now that you’re actually going to college and that it’s not a question in your mind … that’s the best part.”