Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Thoughts on Entrance Exams for Specialized High Schools

There is a lot controversy, as of late, over entrance exams for schools like Bronx Science. I believe the specialized schools are roses in our unfortunate field of weed(s). Students learn and succeed without all the drama, grade inflation and false diplomas that have become commonplace. It seems like a simple and attainable goal - study and pass the exam to get in. There are however, other facets to this simple premise.

A couple of years ago, I became friendly with a freshman student inside one of the small schools at the Columbus campus. 'Sandy' was lamenting the fact that she couldn't learn anything, because of all the new teachers, constant cellphone use and 'asshole' students. The number one reason that she was so unhappy, she told me, was that she had failed herself. Sandy went to one of the better middle schools in the Bronx and almost all of her closest friends and classmates had made Bronx Science. Sandy said many of them paid for tutors. Their families made large sacrifices and it paid off. Sandy had felt that she could do it on her own - and as the only child of a Puerto Rican mother, she didn't want to burden her mom further. She studied every night and every weekend. The big day came and she took the test.  She missed by two points. Now she was stuck 'in the sewer with the sewer rats', to use her words. She told me her life was basically over. "What college will accept me from here? What will become of me? Fast food or welfare?! You have to help me get out of here!" I'll be honest, Sandy's story was compelling and I was very troubled over it. There was a program I knew called the Macy program, at Clinton HS, for students that had missed Bronx Science by a few points. I called that school and no one knew what I was talking about - everyone seemed to have just been hired there. I went to the principal at the Columbus school and explained as diplomatically as possible Sandy's circumstances. She said she would make sure that Sandy wouldn't be left behind, but that all her students were going to get an education. The principal was a terrific person, but that didn't change the fact that she really couldn't help. I knew of an excellent school I had been placed in, and tried to get her transferred. The principal there said Sandy would have to wait until the next school year to switch and that it would still be difficult. November came along and it was time for me to leave. I don't know what became of Sandy. If I had to guess I'd say she's still in that school at Columbus.

What can be done to make sure more deserving students like Sandy get to attend schools like Bronx Science? First, there needs to better middle schools, like the one Sandy attended. Second, there has to be access to extra help or tutoring for all students that want it. Thirdly. there has to be better schools or programs for those students who just missed the mark and/or a second chance at entrance for those students. Lastly, and it goes almost without saying - all schools need to be greatly improved.

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Stories herein containing unnamed or invented characters are works of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.