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Two Partnership Alums on the High School They Love and the Opportunities They Now Have

In a few short weeks, twelfth-graders Raven Williams and Savannah Ortiz will graduate from Notre Dame School of Manhattan. The excitement that the two convey about what’s coming next—and the options available to both of them—can go a long way to explaining why the Partnership Schools network exists, and what makes all our efforts worthwhile.

Savannah, who graduated from the Partnership’s St. Athanasius elementary school, is passionate about writing—and she’ll head to Emerson College in Boston this fall to pursue it. “I am the first one in my family to move out for college,” she explains. Her older sister, who is finishing Hunter College, encouraged her to “do what I didn’t get to do—” and go away to school.

Savannah was accepted at four colleges and has received $64,000 to date in merit scholarships.

Raven, a Mt. Carmel-Holy Rosary alum, plans to be a journalist, and she received $900,000 in merit-based scholarships to 11 schools. She is headed to Northwestern University outside Chicago this fall.

“I’m first-generation,” she explains, “and it’s a big deal for me to be going off to college. I don’t think my dad will ever admit this out loud, but he is probably more scared than anyone for me to move to Illinois.”

This is not the first time both of them have taken a risk to try a new educational adventure. When Raven was in middle school at MCHR, one of her teachers facilitated her participation in a summer program at Notre Dame—a school Raven’s family knew little about then—so that by the time Partnership counselor Stephanie Read was helping her family with the high school application process, “Notre Dame felt like home already.”

Savannah, who used to enjoy a five-minute walk to St. Athanasius, was introduced to Notre Dame as well by a middle school teacher. Brian Rooney taught her English and “really saw potential in my writing and would always encourage me”; he also urged her to attend Notre Dame’s open house, where she “fell in love with how welcoming all the staff and students were”—enough so that she was willing to take on an hour-plus subway commute every day to the school, which is located in Greenwich Village.

Savannah at her St. Athanasius graduation in 2018.

Both girls felt well-prepared for the coursework and the “different kind of diversity,” as Raven calls it, that they found at Notre Dame. That preparation they received at their Partnership Schools goes beyond the content knowledge that made a rigorous college-prep program like Notre Dame’s accessible to them. Savannah explains that her middle school math teacher at St. Athanasius—Jessica Aybar, now the school’s principal—taught her strategies that she has applied well beyond math. “She always tried to show us multiple methods for doing problems, and I was able to analyze things, find a format that would best work for me. So I learned outside the box thinking from her.”

And that gutsy approach to problem-solving only grew in the all-girls environment at Notre Dame. As Raven explains, “Notre Dame has exposed me to a lot of different things—going to different places, meeting different people. If you had asked me eight months ago if I was going to Northwestern, I would have laughed in your face. But I’ve learned to take risks.”

Raven in her 2018 MCHR yearbook.

We are gratified by what our Partnership elementary schools accomplish. But as our network’s name implies, partnerships are vital to our students’ full flourishing, and the work our educators do to help students access high-quality high schools like Notre Dame is indispensible for fulfilling the aspirations we have for them. And when we see our hopes for students like Raven and Savannah begin to come to fruition thanks to schools like Notre Dame—that they equip our alumni not only with college options, but with a sense of themselves and the world that gives them the curiosity, courage, and openness to grasp such opportunities—it means more to us than we can say.