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Preparing for Success: Partnership’s Approach to High School Placement

As we wind down the school year, we could not be more proud of our eighth grade class. Not only have they met the challenges of COVID in stride; they have worked hard for years and have positioned themselves to make the best of high school.

To date, the Partnership Schools Class of 2020 have been admitted to 48 different high schools, including Catholic, independent and selective public schools. Three quarters of all students are heading to high-performing high schools next year. And to help them get there, students have earned over $3 million in scholarships–more than any other Partnership Schools’ graduating class thus far.

They have achieved admission to schools of their choice–schools like Cristo Rey, Regis, Marymount, Notre Dame, St. Vincent Ferrer, Xavier, Fordham Prep, Dominican Academy, Brooklyn Tech, University Heights and more–through their own hard work; with the help of a rigorous curriculum that prepares them to access wide options for their next steps; and, crucially, with the assistance of Partnership Schools’ High School Placement Program. The structure and impact of that program isn’t just a testament to the complicated process of navigating school admissions in the Big Apple; it suggests some of the deepest aspirations Partnership Schools has for our students.

For the last few years, Stephanie Read, our High School Placement Manager, has been leading school teams, students, and parents through a process of reflection, planning, and preparation that starts early. Stephanie and our school teams begin working with students as early as sixth grade, along with their parents. Thus, by the time our students reach eighth grade, they can hit the ground running, equipped with the steps for applying to schools, studying for and taking placement tests, finding scholarships, and completing financial aid applications. Our school teams and the HSP program help our eighth graders be ready to find the best fit–the high school where they can “be who they are and be that well,” as St. Francis de Sales says.

Stephanie has a full plate every fall, and many parents have her number on speed dial. The process in which they are so engaged is individualized to each student and has three core aims: finding the best fit, increasing financial support, and preparing for successful admission.

Best Fit 

Many of our students will be leaving the school they have called home for the last nine years. And each student is looking for a specific place they can call home for the next four years of their school career. Best fit is determined by a combination of student factors, including each young person’s academic record, learning style, and interests. Stephanie and our school teams get to know every child and family, and those relationships are integral to providing suggestions to help our families winnow down the massive amount of high school options in NYC.

Our conception of “Best Fit” also takes into account each high school’s success in four year graduation rates, average Regent and SAT scores, college placement results, and financial support. We do have some cut off numbers we encourage. As an example, we do not recommend any applications to public schools with a four year graduation rate below 80%. In essence, we want to make sure that our students will receive the rigorous classroom teaching they have become so accustomed to in our schools across the South Bronx and Harlem.

Increasing Financial Aid and Scholarships 

The unprecedented $3 million our graduating cohort has been awarded so far to attend high school next year isn’t an anomaly; the awards numbers have been increasing each of the last several years. And we know they must continue to do so. For so many of our families, affording the high school of their choice can be a significant drain on resources. In the time of this unexpected global health and economic crisis brought just a few short weeks ago, this financial help has never been more welcome.

Stephanie establishes robust communications with high school admissions officers to ensure our families know the deadlines and the materials needed to access all of a school’s channels of aid; she helps parents apply for independent scholarships; she translates submissions from Spanish, and she helps parents navigate the daunting paperwork involved in receiving scholarship aid.

Preparing for Success

On April 15–almost to the day that COVID was peaking in New York, even as our parents who are essential workers were facing unprecedented challenges of managing work and their children’s distance learning–over thirty Immaculate Conception parents and students in the South Bronx joined Stephanie Read and ICS’s own Eileen Pagan for a sixth and seventh grade high school placement introduction seminar.

ICS families prep for high school admissions this April.

Clearly, Stephanie, Eileen and our other school team members have not let the pandemic get in the way of the crucial months and even years of planning each family must do to ensure access to the high school options they seek, and our families are embracing the process.

Preparing students for success means offering them many of the supports that families with access to independent high school placement counseling seek out: individualized counseling about options, test preparation, and mock interviews, for example.

Stephanie is doing this work even as she connects with high schools about how the process may change and how we must therefore adjust our support going next year. In some cases, her questions are coming before the high schools themselves have thought about how applications will be different.

The Students

While the data about high school admissions in our network continue to validate much in our approach, it is the individual students who motivate us. Supporting their ambitions and helping their hard work pay off is among the most rewarding work we do. Here are just a few examples:

Rosa Lakouetene 

Rosa is a Sacred Heart student who joined the school in the 6th grade. When anyone speaks of Rosa, her humility and grace are always among the first qualities mentioned. A transplant from the war-torn Central African Republic, she currently lives in a refugee shelter with her family.

      Rosa at SHS this fall.

However, Rosa has never made her circumstances an excuse and always faces every challenge head on. In addition to being an academically strong student, she is truly well-rounded. Rosa is a student ambassador, in the choir and girls volleyball team, as well as an Oliver Scholar, a participant in a highly sought-after program that can provide up to ten years of one-on-one support for students. As a result of Rosa’s grit, humility, and grace, she will be attending St. Vincent Ferrer High School this upcoming school year.

Kaya and Kera Beckles

Twins Kaya and Kera Beckles have attended Mt. Carmel-Holy Rosary since the second grade. Student ambassadors, student council members, Girl Scout Cadettes and more, together they received a total over $100,500 per year in scholarships from Convent of the Sacred Heart, Marymount, Notre Dame, St. Vincent Ferrer and Bishop Loughlin.

As Principal Molly Smith notes, “Kera and Kaya really embody the values of MCHR. They are unbelievably humble. They have committed to service through the student council, volunteering to help with younger children at MCHR, and through their church. And what is really special about them and their younger brother Carter is that they bring a real sense of humor–a commitment to enjoying life and each other as they work hard.”

Nicholas Marronaro

Nicholas Marronaro has attended Our Lady Queen of Angels since second grade. A member of OLQA’s Drama Club and a student ambassador, Nicholas was accepted as a fifth grader into REACH, an enrichment program at Regis High School that accepts only 160 middle school students from all five boroughs and asks for a three-year commitment from participants. Of those 160, only 15 are offered admission to Regis–and this year, Nicholas is one of them.

These four students, each extraordinary in his or her own way, are just handful of over two hundred graduating Partnership students this year. Together, a robust group of partners–Stephanie Read, tireless school teams, engaged parents, and committed supporters–have united forces to help these students’ daily hard work become life-changing high school admissions.

And as we see news of Partnership Schools alumni like this from last week…

…high school admissions success is just the beginning.

Kathleen Quirk is the Chief of Staff of Partnership Schools.