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New Options and Worthy Challenges: Partnership Students on their High School Choices

When you ask Diem Jennings what classes she’s excited to take next year when she starts high school at the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Manhattan, she answers quickly, “Mandarin.” Why Mandarin, among the multiple languages the high school offers? “It seems the most challenging to me,” she says simply.

What’s her favorite subject at the Partnership’s Sacred Heart? Math—”because it always gets more challenging.”

“She has that competitiveness in everything she does,” her parents explain.

Just two miles away at Immaculate Conception, Julio Tapia shares a similar eagerness about attending Regis High School next year. He opted for Regis among the schools where he was accepted because, he explains, “I choose to be challenged.” His fellow ICS student Joseph Mora, also headed to Regis in the fall, agrees: “I’m looking forward to learning at an accelerated rate.”

This spring, as we talk with Partnership eighth graders about their high school trajectories, three themes stand out: that amid all the upheavals of the last few years, many students maintain a refreshing love of learning and an eagerness for new challenges; their schools and their families play integral roles in helping them go after what they want; and to a surprising degree, they have altered their high school choices based on advice or support from others outside their families—including the high school placement counseling they receive through the Partnership.

Joseph Mora and Julio Tapia, ICS 8th graders headed to Regis High School next year.

While Diem and Joseph are big fans of math (“numbers never lie,” Joseph explains), and Julio finds English Language Arts “movitating” as taught by ICS’s Mr. Ryan Bergoderi, it’s not just academics they are looking forward to in high school. Diem is eager to keep up two activities she started at Sacred Heart—playing the violin and being on the volleyball team—and both were key factors in her high school choice.

Julio is looking to continue one aspect of Regis life he has already enjoyed for three years: “a sense of community.” He began the Regis Reach program in the summer after fifth grade, an experience that offers promising middle school boys like Julio a distinctively Jesuit-flavored blend of academic, faith, and habit formation. Through Reach, he already has friends at Regis.

All three students credit both their schools and their families for helping prepare and motivate them. Diem’s parents explain that while they had the opportunity to enroll Diem in a Success Academy charter school at the start of sixth grade, which would have saved them from having to pay tuition, they opted to keep her and her two brothers at Sacred Heart for two reasons: the “well-roundedness” of the school, including aftercare activities like fencing and computer building, in addition to music; and the teachers at Sacred Heart. As her mom shares, “I have always felt like they are so invested in Diem and want her to do well. To have someone who believes in her every year means so much.”

Diem’s passions include playing volleyball for SHS.

Joseph transferred to ICS from a public school. He explains that his family switched because ICS “reinforced my Catholic values and had advanced classes like math.” All three students are on track to take the Algebra 1 Regents Exam this summer. And the pace of academics was a factor for Julio’s family as well; he transferred out of ICS in fourth grade but came back when his family found that his new school was repeating material he had learned in third grade.

Clearly, all three students have parents who take an active role in their children’s education. “My parents are really proud,” Joseph says of his father, who emigrated from Peru, and his mother, who came to New York from the Dominican Republic. Diem’s parents hail from Philadelphia and D.C.. “They want me to do well, and they don’t just want me to do well in school–they want me to be involved in other things–like Girl Scouts. They want me to have multiple things that define me.” And Julio speaks for all three students when he shares that living up to the daily expectations of his parents, who came to the U.S. from Ecuador, is a “good stress” in his life.

Diem knows her parents aspire for her to be well-rounded, along with her brothers Myles and Mason, shown here on Halloween.

Their parents have formed the students’ curiosity and ambition, but others help alter the direction it takes. A former teacher who was an alum of Regis gave Joseph the idea of applying there, and Eileen Pagan, who provides high school placement counseling at ICS, helped him manage the application process. The school nominated Julio for Reach when he was in fifth grade, and initially, he was more committed to that program than to Regis itself; his interest in the school came through the program.

As for Diem, her parents were clear about her high school trajectory—or so they thought. Her mother explains, “We started 8th grade saying ‘there’s no reason for us to pay high school tuition,’ so we never intended her to go to Catholic high school. We still have the DOE high school book with all the post-its in it about her options.”

But nudging from Sacred Heart School principal Abi Akano and high school placement counselor Stephanie Read caused them to include a few Catholic high schools among those they applied to. After personalized follow up from the Convent of the Sacred Heart and an event for prospective students in which both Diem and her father witnessed a sample math class with  “joy and love for the subject that is something you just can’t teach,” the family found that the school aligned with their values. “I can see her there,” her mother said.

“We owe Ms. Read,” Diem’s mother shares. Not only did the high school placement counselor suggest schools she thought would be a good fit for Diem; she helped Diem prep for scholarship interviews and assisted the whole family in keeping track of deadlines.

Julio aspires to a career in finance; Joseph, perhaps to one that includes math and physics, like aerospace engineering. Diem is open to a range of possibilities. Regardless of where their professonal lives take them, we know that their next steps involve high schools that fit them well—supportive communities of shared aspiration. Helping them prepare for, find, and fund their best-fit high school experience is essential to what Partnership Schools do—and like the challenges Diem, Joseph, and Julio seek at their new schools, it is one we are proud to embrace.