fair school finding

Above the fray, students in foster care get high school fair help

Foster care families gather in a gymnasium on the eighth floor at Brooklyn Tech on Saturday to learn more about the high school application process.

Most of the roughly 30,000 students and family members who passed through Brooklyn Technical High School last weekend had to traverse the Citywide High School Fair on their own.

But high above the fair’s hustle and bustle, a small group of at-risk middle school students got a helping hand.

For the second year, the Department of Education partnered with the Administration for Children’s Services and private donors to host the New York Goal Weekend at the fair. The event gives seventh- and eighth-grade students who are in foster care extra assistance as their search for a high school gets underway.

ACS officials started of the program in 2010 — and merged it with the education department last year — because they saw students in foster care struggle to navigate the labyrinthine process of selecting, ranking, and applying for high school placement.

“It’s already confusing for a regular kid, but if you can imagine what this is like for a foster child, they have a lot already going on in their lives,” said Suzanne Sousa, ACS’s director of development and special programs, who oversaw the event on Saturday.

Sousa said ACS has been encouraged by the program’s early results. In 2011, 70 percent of the 119 eighth-graders in foster care who met with enrollment counselors got into one of their top three high school choices. Two students were admitted into highly selective specialized high schools.

In the 2011-2012 school year, there were 1,367 middle school students living in foster care, including 454 in eighth grade, according to city data. Sousa said 347 students had signed up to attend this year’s high school fair workshop.

The weekend-long event is held on Brooklyn Tech’s eighth (and top) floor, isolated from the hectic and crowded fair on the floors below. The students are given their own entrance to the building and treated to meals, snacks, and gift bags.

Most importantly, officials said, they receive the kind of one-on-one service that isn’t generally available at the general fair. Volunteers were on hand to escort students and their foster parents through the seven floors of students and educators hawking their high schools.

“The goal is to have a less crazy environment,” said Eduardo Contreras, chief operating officer of the Department of Education’s Division of Portfolio Planning. He was one of dozens of volunteers who worked during the weekend event, which was sponsored by Himan Brown Charitable Trust.

In one room, students received one-on-one counseling on how to get started with picking a high school once they headed downstairs. In another room, parents learned about the differences among specialized, screened, and zoned schools and small schools, small learning communities, and comprehensive schools.

In the auditorium at the other end of the eighth floor at a general information session, Kathleen Hoskins conducted a lesson on how to decipher the 500-page high school directory.

“Is everyone on page 429?” asked Hoskins, Director of the Administration for Children’s Services’ Education Unit.  “I wanted to point this school out to you because it’s what the Department of Education calls a career and technical school.”

Students who attend the school, Aviation Career and Technical Education High School, can go to work right after graduating, the speaker noted.

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said visiting the Goal Weekend floor was a highlight of his fair experience. When two students interested in law there asked him for advice about navigating the fair, Walcott said he told them to keep an eye out for high schools that offered special law programs.

The extra service, Walcott said, “provides a jumping off point that [students] might not otherwise get.”

Volunteer Melodie Ampuero, a project associate at Advocates for Children, spent most of the day with one eighth-grade girl from Brooklyn, sitting with her in a counseling session that Ampuero said could have been more helpful. The counselor was more familiar with Manhattan schools and when they asked about one school in particular he wasn’t able to find it in the high school directory, she said.

“They had laptops, but no internet,” Ampuero said. “It would have been helpful to just Google it and look it up right there.”

Ampuero said her student had her heart set on attending a school in Queens, where most of her friends lived and where her sister had gone to school. She said she did her best to steer the girl toward schools in Brooklyn that would be more practical to attend, but afterwards she worried whether the message had gotten through.

Ampuero praised the program and thought it could be expanded. She said she worried that the one-time service wasn’t enough. Volunteers were not instructed to follow up with the students they met to make sure the students actually applied to schools and made all of their deadlines.

“Applications aren’t due until December and a lot can happen between now and then,” said Ampuero. “A lot of [the students in foster care] can fall through the cracks and if no one is there to follow up on them, then we have no idea of knowing if they still need assistance.”

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.