student spotlights

From the Bronx to Brooklyn, how six eighth-graders handled high school applications

Jalen Andujar, an eighth grader at M.S. 61 in Crown Heights, stands across the street from his apartment in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens.
PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder
Jalen Andujar, an eighth grader at M.S. 61 in Crown Heights, stands across the street from his apartment in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens.

Katherine Studt, who lives on the Upper East Side, has been on several high school tours with her father and wants to find a quality writing program. Bryan Abreu, from the South Bronx, talked to his friends about the admissions process and picked a school with a good basketball team.

This week, Katherine and Bryan are two of the city’s nearly 75,000 eighth-graders who faced the same deadline — to submit a list that’s likely to determine where they spend their next four years of school.

Unsurprisingly, some were scrambling to fill their final application slots on Monday night, while others had spent months touring schools and studying for admissions tests.

The complicated process is the product of the city’s choice-based high school admissions system, which allows families to rank their top school preferences then sorts students based on a citywide algorithm. Not only do students have to sift through a 649-page directory, but schools have widely varying admissions requirements, which could include tests, interviews, and essays.

This week, we asked six teenagers to tell us how they made their choices.

A puzzling list: Jalen Andujar, an eighth grader at M.S. 61 in Crown Heights, Brooklyn

Top choice: Boys and Girls High School in Brooklyn

When Jalen Andujar first laid eyes on the high school directory, his first thought was, “This is going to be really hard.”

He ended up listing schools that are extremely different, including the long-struggling Boys and Girls High School and the Beacon School in Manhattan, one of the city’s most selective high schools.

Andujar wants to play football and basketball, which pushed him toward Boys and Girls. His aunt who guided him through the application process also went to the Bedford-Stuyvesant school.

The way he ranked the schools virtually guarantees that he will end up at Boys and Girls, which has struggled to attract students and shrunk dramatically in recent years.

Also on his list: New Utrecht in Brooklyn

Dalizbeth Lopez, an eighth grader at I.S. 224 in the South Bronx, had three schools left to pick before submitting her high school application on Monday night.
PHOTO: Monica Disare
Dalizbeth Lopez, an eighth grader at I.S. 224 in the South Bronx, had three schools left to pick before submitting her high school application on Monday night.

‘It’s hard’ in the Bronx: Dalizbeth Lopez, an eighth-grader at I.S. 224 in the South Bronx

Top choice: University Heights High School, a selective, well-regarded school in the South Bronx

On Monday night, Dalizbeth Lopez still had three schools left to select for her application, but she had already overcome the biggest hurdle: deciding to apply at all.

“It was sad,” Dalizbeth said about the first time she sat down with her mom to discuss high school. “I told her I didn’t feel like going to high school.”

Once her mom convinced her to take a closer look at schools, she cracked the “big book” and consulted the list of schools suggested by her guidance counselor.

As she searched, the most important qualities to her were the school’s graduation rate and safety, she said. With those criteria, she found it difficult to settle on a school close to home, she said.

“There’s a lot of good high schools, but it’s hard to find them here in the Bronx,” Dalizbeth said.

Also on her list: Hostos-Lincoln Academy of Science

Ananya Roy, eighth-grader at East Side Middle School, is hoping to find a school with a good humanities program.
PHOTO: Monica Disare
Ananya Roy, eighth-grader at East Side Middle School, is hoping to find a school with a good humanities program.

High standards: Ananya Roy, an eighth-grader at East Side Middle School

Top choice: Bard High School Early College, a popular school on the Lower East Side that offers two years of college credit.

Ananya Roy, an eighth-grader at East Side Middle School on the Upper East Side, had the opposite problem.

“I had trouble because all these schools are really good,” Ananya said.

Ananya has spent the last few months taking tests, filling out online applications, writing essays and touring schools. She started to look at high schools during the summer after seventh grade, when she went to a seminar to help parents and students understand the high school application process. Before that, she started studying for the specialized high school tests with a tutor.

Ananya is looking for a school with a strong set of English and social studies classes. After emigrating from Bangladesh at age eight, she discovered a love for politics.

“I read the news a lot and, you know, just read in general,” she said. “Politics is always really interesting because there’s always two sides.”

Also on her list: Townsend Harris, Baruch College Campus

Searching for basketball: Bryan Abreu, eighth-grader at I.S. 224

Top choice: A. Philip Randolph High School, a large high school in Harlem

Bryan Abreu, who attends I.S. 224 in the South Bronx, said he chose high schools that “had a lot of programs.”

Mostly, he wanted a school with a good basketball program. He consulted his friends when deciding between schools and made sure his parents signed off on his choices, he said.

His favorite subject is technology, and when he leaves high school he wants to be able to “fix something,” he said.

Katherine Studt, an eighth-grader at East Side Middle School, has toured schools all over the city with her dad.
PHOTO: Monica Disare
Katherine Studt, an eighth-grader at East Side Middle School, has toured schools all over the city with her dad.

Touring the city: Katherine Studt, an eighth-grader at East Side Middle School

Top choice: The Beacon School, a sought-after school in Hell’s Kitchen

Katherine Studt traveled all around the city touring schools with her dad this year. As she left the Upper East Side, she said it felt like the whole city opened up to her.

“Since I’m older now, there’s more places I can go,” she said. “I can go to Brooklyn. I can go to the Lower East Side, down to the west side.”

Katherine, who wants to be a lawyer, said she was looking for a school with a good learning environment, one that encourages teamwork, and has a good writing program.

She sometimes found it difficult to juggle schoolwork and admissions requirements, she said. But the slog through tests and applications hasn’t dampened her spirits about high school.

“Overall, it was kind of fun,” she said.

Also on her list: NYC Lab School for Collaborative Studies, Eleanor Roosevelt

Zerina Caraballo, an eighth grader at M.S. 2 Parkside Preparatory Academy stands outside her school in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens.
PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder
Zerina Caraballo, an eighth grader at M.S. 2 Parkside Preparatory Academy stands outside her school in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens.

A fresh start: Zerina Caraballo, an eighth-grader at M.S. 2 in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn

Top choice: Preparatory Academy for Writers in Queens

As the third child in her family to go through the high school admissions process, Zerina Caraballo had a pretty good idea what was ahead of her.

Caraballo solely considered high schools in Queens, where her family lives, and prioritized schools that offered courses in forensic science, along with specific sports programs — basketball, cheerleading and gymnastics. After going to six different open houses, she rounded out her list with help from her mom, older sister, and brother.

“Most of my friends are going to be in Brooklyn, so it’s going to be a totally different start,” she said.

Also on her list: Francis Lewis, Hillcrest, and Forest Hills

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede