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

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.