A Washington Heights politician who has been trying to get local parents talking about college readiness might have bitten off more than he can chew.
City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez has adopted a novel response to the daunting statistic that only about 13 percent of the city’s African American and Latino students are graduating from high school prepared for college: He has put together a working group of principals to get families talking about the path to college starting in kindergarten.
But at a forum Wednesday evening at I.S. 143, the first public event to come out of the working group’s suggestions, parents among the audience of 60 families, educators, and elected officials spoke mostly about more immediate concerns.
Most of the parents who spoke during the question and answer session prefaced their questions about college readiness with complaints about high class sizes and administrative problems at their schools, which drew the meeting off topic.
“There are 35 kids in our classroom and only one teacher,” one mother said. “What are the things we can do about that?”
Still, many of the parents at the meeting, which was held in Spanish, told me they wanted to begin learning about the college admissions process early, even though their children attend elementary schools in Districts 5 and 6.
Last month Rodriguez held a preliminary meeting with eight principals and a handful of parent coordinators and Parent Teacher Association representatives from local schools to outline the collaboration and discuss how workshops could benefit these parents. At this week’s parent meeting, he emphasized the urgency of the problem, highlighted by the city’s new college readiness measurements and Common Core Standards, that few students graduate prepared for the rigor of college level courses, if they have the resources to apply to college at all.
College readiness was the subject of a City Council hearing last month that focused on the persistent disjuncture between what city high schools require for graduation and what the City University of New York expects from new students.
Dionicio Rodriguez, a parent who is applying to kindergarten for his daughter this year, said he came to the meeting when he heard about it from a friend because he believes parents should start informing themselves about the path to college as early as possible. But he is also worried that the school choice options in District 6, his district, would be subpar, so he has applied to a dozen charter schools with kindergarten admissions.
“I want my daughter to get the best in her future, and a good school is the way to be successful in college,” he told me. “The school she is supposed to go to, if you go online the percentages on tests are low, so I don’t want her to go to that school. I want the best for her.”
Cecilia Angelero, a parent coordinator at I.S. 143, said she attended the meeting to stress the importance of parents’ role in preparing students for high school graduation and college.
“The schools give some information, but we really have to do our own research,” she told the group. “This [college readiness push] should have been done years ago — the communities need to be informed.”
Angelero said her son’s high school, Urban Assembly School for Media Studies, could be doing more to prepare him for college. He has already received some materials related to the college process in 10th grade, but she said she would still like to see the support increase further.
Jacqueline Jones cautioned the elected officials to remember that they are speaking to only the most involved parents who can make it to evening meetings.
“This plan needs to help and include parents who want to participate, but don’t know how,” said Jones, who sends two children to Amistad Dual Language school in Inwood. She recalled how her mother could not help her study for the SATs when she was in high school because she had never heard of them: “I truly believe this has to be early — it took my mom way too long to learn this.”
Two principals who attended the meeting told me afterward they have increased their emphasis on the pathway to college this year and hope to share best practices with other school leaders in meetings Rodriguez may hold in the future.
“These parents who come to these meetings are part of our active PTA, and they want to feel reassured that they’re getting support from the leadership in the community. It has to be a collaborative effort,” said Wanda Soto, the principal of P.S. 5. “We’ve always had standards, but now we’re looking at how we have to start from an early age if we want our children to succeed.”
“We have a very hardworking PA, we have parent coordinators, we have workshops. But I came here to get more information, to hear how to get parents more involved,” said Cindy Arndt, principal of the Mott Hall School, a middle school. She also touted a new, mandatory college readiness class that is tied in with new curriculum standards, known as the Common Core.
“There’s no cookie cutter. The college readiness classes that we have can’t be done the exact same way in another school, but they can get the concepts,” she said.