As part of the after school program for 8th graders, I've been trying to get the kids (and parents) to take the high school application process seriously since September. I've had a couple of workshops, taken trips to local high schools and have spent a lot time talking about it with individual kids, but it wasn't until this week (applications are due this Friday) that everyone seemed to find the high school book. So it's been crazy this week talking to dozens of kids that want to go to a good high school but really have no idea what they're doing. The process of choosing a high school is incredibly complicated for a good student, and most of my kids are LEP or have really bad grades and test scores from 7th grade (which is what the high schools look at).
So instead of telling my kids that they can go to the really nice high schools, I'm forced to find ones that take students with lower test scores. New York seems to provide options to kids like this because of all the small schools that are opening up, but it feels terrible to dissuade them from applying to wonderful schools like Townsend Harris (I do have one girl who might get in, which would be really great). I just finished reading Kozol's "Ordinary Resurrections" about the South Bronx and he discusses the problems he has with the more realistic expectations held by educators and social workers that he respects. He feels like even though many kids in poor neighborhoods won't make it to college, it's wrong to limit their opportunities by assuming that they can't be doctors and lawyers (for example). I agree with him, even as I find myself succumbing to the same pressures. I know that going to a neighborhood school isn't the worst thing in the world for my 8th graders, and I'm getting ready to take them on college visits to show them that I expect them to be serious in high school. But I also know that going to college from some of these high schools will be tough for them. It's a tough battle, but hopefully some of these kids will find their way in whatever high school they get into.