By Diallo Hall
Summer is in full swing, and it won’t be long until Brooklyn’s 300,000 students return to the classroom. Two high school students, in particular, will be among the fortunate few who have the unique opportunity to attend Stuyvesant High School, one of New York City’s most competitive high schools. Not only is their accomplishment noteworthy for what they’ve been able to accomplish, they represent the small minority of Black and Latinos who gain access to New York City’s specialized high schools.
The New York Times recently published an article, Stuyvesant High School Admitted 762 New Students. Only 7 Are Black. By some accounts, Stuyvesant High School’s student body is approximately 1% and 4% Black and Latino, respectively.
But these two young ladies from Brooklyn are hoping to change that.
Jada Halsey and Mariela Garcia-Ramirez both attended Bedford Stuyvesant New Beginnings Charter School. During the seventh grade, both Jada and Mariela enrolled in an innovative, free test prep program, Navigate the Maze to Achievement, which is specifically designed to help motivated Black and Latino seventh graders who are interested in attending one of the city’s specialized high schools.
Jada, who lives in East New York and one day hopes to become a surgeon, describes her journey: “My mom and teacher both encouraged me to challenge myself, and I just saw this whole process as an opportunity to attend a really great school.”
Mariela lives in Bushwick and also has dreams of becoming a surgeon or possibly discovering a cure to a life-threatening disease. As she reflects on her own decision to apply to Stuyvesant, she recalls, "I wanted to show that Black, Brown and Latino kids are capable of doing what other kids are doing. Also, my family is originally from Mexico, and I’m the first one to attend such a unique high school. I want to make them proud, and I’m just so grateful.”
Their achievements are remarkable not only because they are bright, talented young ladies. This dream may not have become a reality had it not been for their families and the adults in their corner who were encouraging them every step of the way.
Allison Shillingford, executive director of Navigate the Maze to Achievement and fellow Brooklynite, explains that kids like Jada and Mariela have the deck stacked against them. For starters, admission to schools like Stuyvesant is based solely on the three-hour Specialized High Schools Admissions Test.
The schools don’t consider other factors, such as grades, attendance, or extracurricular activities. This may sound like a level playing field. But there have been concerns that this test doesn’t reflect what New York City students are actually learning in the classroom. Instead, many of the applicants take expensive test prep classes.
“Over the years, I’ve seen a lack of representation at Stuyvesant,” says Shillingford. Most students are not prepared for the test, but it’s through no fault of their own. They simply don’t have access to the concepts in their schools. However, when students are provided with access, they are better prepared to compete – much like Jada and Mariela.
When describing their experience preparing for the test, both Jada and Mariela spoke about the importance of determination, and the adults in their lives agreed.
“It’s a lot of work,” says Shillingford. “I tell the kids all the time, it’s not easy to learn two years’ worth of math in a matter of months. Their parents really support them, but only the students can do the work.”
For families that may be interested, beginning this September, Navigate the Maze is accepting applications here for seventh graders who are interested in attending one of New York’s specialized high schools.
Diallo Hall is a Brooklyn-based editor and content strategist.