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Stressful admissions process ends with sigh of relief for some students

Divine Jones with her mom, Danimaris Fonseca.
Divine Jones with her mom, Danimaris Fonseca.
Sarah Darville

Leaving the citywide high school fair in September, Tiffany Mejia, an eighth grader in the Bronx, had her heart set on Food and Finance High School in Manhattan.

By December, when she had to submit a list of up to 12 high school choices to her guidance counselor, she had pushed Food and Finance to second place in favor of Humanities Preparatory Academy, a small school in Chelsea that enrolls both traditional ninth-graders and students who have previously struggled in other high schools.

And by Tuesday, when her school gave students the high school admissions letters the city had released the day before, Mejia said she just wanted the waiting to end. She was one of several students Chalkbeat met during the process and followed up with this week.

“I was scared, I was excited, I was nervous, I was just crazy,” Mejia said.

Mejia got her third choice, Wadleigh Secondary School for Performing and Visual Arts in Harlem — a small school that has repeatedly landed on the city’s list of lowest-performing schools in recent years. She said she was happy because she had heard good things about the school and because a close friend who also had her sights set on Food and Finance back in September was also matched with Wadleigh.

“That was one of the most exciting things about it, because I wanted to go to the same high school as at least one of my friends,” Mejia said. She said she didn’t have much sympathy for friends who weren’t matched with their top choices, because other students didn’t get matched at all.

Ten percent of students citywide weren’t matched with schools during the first round and will have to reapply for unfilled seats and seats in new schools during a second round this month.

Jose Vilson, who teaches math at I.S. 52 in Washington Heights, said the number of students at his school who weren’t matched with any high school had declined from last year. But he said other students were just unhappy with their matches and might decide to appeal and try their luck in the second round.

Vilson said he and his colleagues knew from experience that it would be hard to get students’ attention after releasing the letters. So they gathered the eighth graders in the auditorium during the last period of the day on Tuesday.

“There’s either a ton of excitement or a lot of sadness going on,” he said. “There’s very little in between.”

Divine Jones, an eighth grader who got her first choice, said she and her classmates felt the high stakes of the admissions process even though they could opt to attend their charter network’s high school.

“If we don’t get our top choice we don’t feel smart even though we are,” said Jones, who attends Bedford Stuyvesant Collegiate Charter School, part of the Uncommon Schools charter network. “One of my classmates didn’t get any of her choices. I felt bad because I know how smart she is but the high schools didn’t get to see that.”

Jones decided to apply to a district high school rather than staying at Uncommon for high school. She got into her first choice, Medgar Evers College Preparatory School in Brooklyn, a selective school of about 1,200 students.

“It feels awesome,” she said. “I”m going to be in a new environment with different people who are like me and ready to learn. I don’t have to hide my nerdiness and stuff.” Jones said she had hoped to get into a specialized high school but now felt that Medgar Evers would be “a little more me-ish.”

Jones said she wasn’t the only one at her school to look beyond Uncommon’s high school, which combines students from several middle schools run by the network.

“We go to a charter school [and] we have to stay in our seats,” she said. But when high school acceptance letters were distributed, “people were literally jumping out of their seats they were so nervous and excited.”

Her mother, Danimaris Fonseca, said she visited Medgar Evers during the application process with her daughter, and found that the environment there reminded her of the Brooklyn school she attended as a child, the Philippa Schuyler Middle School for the Gifted and Talented.

“One of my main things was like a nurturing family-like community environment. Because I know high school can be very intimidating, and I didn’t want her to come from a charter school which is really small and go to a huge high school where she felt intimidated by kids and teachers,” Fonseca said.

Another Brooklyn charter school, Explore, reported that nearly half of the 54 eighth graders were accepted to selective high schools, and one was among the seven black students accepted to the ultra-elite Stuyvesant High School. Just one student who had aimed for a public high school had not been matched, according to a spokeswoman for the network.

Some students, including Anthony Ureña, still haven’t received their letters.

As of Tuesday evening, Ureña, who attends eighth grade at I.S. 215 in the Bronx, still hadn’t heard where he would attend high school. His first choice is the High School for Arts and Business in Queens. He said teachers told him he’d find out on Friday, and that he and his friends don’t mind the wait.

“You know, you’ve got to wait for a long time to see if you got accepted or not,” he said. “So we mostly stopped talking about it.”

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