Written by Webmaster
The Stuyvesant High School Black Alumni Diversity Initiative: Alumni Working for a Diverse Stuy
By Pamela Davis-Clarke, Esq., '80
Founding Member and Steering Committee Chair,
Stuyvesant High School Black Alumni Diversity Initiative
Like many things these days, the Stuyvesant High School Black Alumni Diversity Initiative began with a Facebook post. Concerned about the disturbing decline in the number of Black and Hispanic students at Stuyvesant, Teri Graham, a member of the class of '77, posted a call to action to the members of the Stuyvesant Black Alumni Facebook group on September 26, 2009. Other members of the group echoed her concern after a February 2010 New York Times article on Black and Hispanic admissions at the City's specialized high schools, and we soon began to organize in order to address the issue.
The first meeting of what would become the Stuyvesant High School Black Alumni Diversity Initiative was a conference call in March 2010, attended by Michael R. Clarke, '79, Sonia Cole and Pamela Davis-Clarke, '80, Carole Brown-Kelly, '81, and Linda Gadsby, '84. We subsequently met with representatives of the Alumni Association, Principal Teitel, and Elizabeth Sciabarra, of the Department of Education and all expressed a concern about enrollment trends and a willingness to partner with us in our efforts. Shortly thereafter, the Alumni Association created a Diversity Committee, led by Board Member Shephathiah Townsend, '94. The Alumni Association agreed to accept donations on our behalf, and along with Principal Teitel, have offered considerable support for our efforts, for which we are grateful.
The mission of the Diversity Initiative is simple: to increase the number of Black and Hispanic students who attend Stuyvesant and the city's other specialized high schools through outreach to middle school students and their parents, support of efforts to ensure that talented applicants are adequately prepared for admission, and the support and mentorship of current students. Though this group was formed by Black alumni, we welcome partnerships with anyone who is concerned and willing to work with us to implement strategies to ensure that Black and Hispanic students continue to access to these schools, and believes that this goal can be achieved without sacrificing academic quality.
Since March 2010, representatives of the Diversity Initiative have attended numerous high school recruitment events where we have spoken to parents and children about the benefits of attending Stuyvesant or other specialized high schools and the need to prepare for the Specialized High School Admission Test (SHSAT). We have also met with current students to discuss their concerns, and identify ways we could mentor and assist them in the wake of a well-publicized, racially charged incident at the school in 2011.
As part of our "Why Stuy?" series, we have hosted several open house events at the school targeted to prospective applicants who are Black and Hispanic. At these popular programs, alumni who share the students' backgrounds discuss how their Stuyvesant education has positively impacted their lives and career paths. These "Why Stuy" sessions include tours of the school by led current students, tips from test prep professionals on the SHSAT, and the opportunity for prospective applicants to meet and interact with alumni and faculty from diverse backgrounds.
In May 2011, we also sponsored a fundraiser and panel discussion for alumni. The panel featured a diverse group of educators and researchers who outlined various theories for the decline in the number of Black and Hispanic students attending Stuyvesant and the other specialized high schools, and in some cases offered strategies to reverse the trend.
While the idea of preparing for the SHSAT is foreign to most alumni who took the test before the '90s, professional test prep is now standard for children seeking admission to Stuyvesant and other specialized high schools. For some children, standardized test preparation, in the form of rigorous Saturday and summer classes (sometimes taught by Stuy teachers hired by these private test prep programs), begins as early as third grade. Other families send their children to tutors who charge fees which rival the cost of private school tuition.
Even the Department of Education recognizes that mastery of what is taught in school is not enough to ensure success on the SHSAT. For many years, it has offered its own Specialized High School Institute to help prepare students for the test. Although the original program was targeted to high achieving students from groups underrepresented in the student bodies of the specialized high schools, the most recent incarnation of this program is open to low income students of all backgrounds. Unfortunately, this program was not particularly effective in terms of helping Black and Hispanic students secure seats in specialized high schools, and the Department of Education recently introduced another prep program for low income students.
Further complicating the admissions process is the fact that access to gifted education programs has become much more competitive, as school-based programs have been replaced by district level programs. A handful of "feeder schools" with enriched and accelerated programs send hundreds of students to specialized high schools every year, while many public middle schools send none. This is a change from when IGC (Intellectually Gifted Classes) and accelerated "SP" classes, existed in every middle school, and sent many of their graduates to specialized high schools. If one believes that talent of the type which could benefit from a Stuy education exists in every neighborhood, the fact that every public middle school is not considered a "feeder" for specialized high schools is cause for concern.
In September 2011, in an effort to do something concrete to help students who would be taking the SHSAT in October, we offered a "SHSAT Boot Camp" at Stuyvesant. Although we were expecting 80 students from a handful of targeted schools, over 100 students and parents greeted us on the first day of this free program, which met for five Saturdays in September and October. Unlike other prep programs that limit admission to children who fit a certain demographic and academic profile, we turned no child away.
Our boot camp program was very well received by both parents and students, and a few of the participants reported they were admitted to one of the Specialized High Schools. The program underscored the need for professional preparation, however, and so in April of 2012, we launched a fundraising campaign, led by Michelle Wilson Bell, '00, to expand our test prep efforts by offering promising students scholarships for professional test prep this year.
It is conventional wisdom that the decline in Black and Hispanic enrollment at Stuyvesant and the other specialized high schools has something to do with the elimination of Affirmative Action, as well as the belief that Black and Hispanic families don't place enough emphasis on education. Reality is somewhat different, however.
The Discovery Program, a summer program authorized by New York State law to permit admission to specialized high schools for "disadvantaged" students who score within a few points of the cutoff for each school, is not a race-based program. While the precise racial breakdown of the program certainly varied from year to year, and from school to school, what is true is that this program served as a point of entry for more White students than other groups.
Although my graduating class, the class of 1980, was about 10% Black, only one of my Black classmates gained entry to Stuy through the Discovery Program. He reports that the program was largely White, with some Asians and one Hispanic, and that he, the sole Black student, had to utilize political connections to secure admission. While the Discovery Program could be used to aid the admission of underrepresented groups, this account indicates its disuse is not the sole reason for the decline in the numbers of Black and Hispanic students at Stuyvesant.
Our 2011 boot camp experience as well as the conversations we’ve had with Black and Hispanic parents at various recruitment events provide at least anecdotal evidence that disproves the idea that Black and Hispanic parents do not value education. Far too many of the parents we spoke to told us about not being provided information about the specialized high school admissions process by their children's middle schools, and in some cases, being discouraged from pursuing these options by middle school administrators and faculty. The parents' participation and enthusiasm for our boot camp, which attracted families from every borough except for Staten Island, was not what you would expect from parents who didn't care. While their children may not have fully understood why they were traveling to Lower Manhattan on Saturday mornings to take practice tests, their parents made sure they were on time for every session with completed boot camp homework assignments. They expressed pure gratitude for what we were trying to do for their children, as well as a willingness to do whatever they could to help. What was clear from talking to them was that many of these parents had faced tremendous obstacles in terms of getting information and quality education for their children, even though these things should be available to all.
As Stuyvesant alumni who happen to be Black, the members of our group know, to paraphrase Principal Teitel, how Stuy changes lives. In a world that too often doubts our competence and abilities — using our appearance as their only evidence —being able to say "I went to Stuy" is a powerful weapon. For these reasons, we resist special admissions programs and believe that the best process is one that is the same for all based on merit. But it is impossible not to ask whether it is "merit" that is being measured when students cannot rely on their public school education alone to prepare them for success on the exam.
Personally, I gave up a scholarship at a well-regarded independent school for the diversity that Stuy offered at that time, and I have never regretted my decision. It saddens me deeply that bright city kids no longer have the benefit of the type of Stuy education that I had: one that reinforces the idea that talent and intellect are not the province of one group and surrounds intellectually curious students with peers from different backgrounds. I therefore appeal to all alumni who believe there is value in being educated in a diverse environment and believe that something is systemically wrong when the student body at the City's best public high school does not reflect the demographics of the city that it serves, to support our efforts to ensure that academically talented Black and Hispanic students continue to have access to Stuyvesant and the city's other specialized high schools.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Question 1: What is the Stuyvesant High School Black Alumni Diversity Initiative?
Answer: The Stuyvesant High School Black Alumni Diversity Initiative is an informal organization of Stuyvesant High School Alumni concerned about the declining enrollment of students of Black and Hispanic students at Stuyvesant and the city's other specialized high schools. Our goal is to reverse this trend, and increase the number of Black and Hispanic students who attend these schools through outreach to middle school students and their parents, support of efforts to ensure that talented applicants are adequately prepared for admission, and the support and mentorship of current students.
Question 2: Why are you providing scholarships? Aren't there other initiatives that provide tutoring? Are they full or subsidized scholarships?
Answer: Admission to NYC's specialized high schools is highly competitive, and some sort of professional test prep is used by most successful applicants. Some students begin preparing in special Saturday and summer classes as early as elementary school, while other families spend thousands of dollars for private tutors. Preparation is necessary for most students because the SHSAT does not necessarily test students on what they are taught as part of the public school curriculum. It contains a scrambled paragraph section with "all or nothing" scoring, a logic section similar to what is found on the Law School Admission Test, and a number of questions on algebra and geometry, subjects which are beyond the scope of the typical 7th grade math curriculum. For a number of years, the DOE has offered supplemental programs to prepare high achieving, low income students for the SHSAT. These programs are limited in terms of their enrollment, however, and their success in terms of preparing Black and Hispanic students for the SHSAT has been mixed. Our goal is to make low cost test prep available to a wider range of Black and Hispanic students who may not have other options for professional test prep available to them.
Question 3: How many scholarships do you plan to fund?
Answer: Our goal is to fund at least 10 scholarships, and associated costs, including at least 2 "Why Stuy?" information sessions, supplies, and facility costs. Funds raised above this goal will be used to support additional scholarships.
Question 4. How can I facilitate corporate matching?
Answer: All donors will receive an acknowledgment letter in the first 7-10 days of the month following the gift. Online gifts generate an automatic confirmation email that you can share with your company. Or, donors can send the matching form from their employer by mail to:
Stuyvesant High School Alumni Association
345 Chambers Street
New York, NY 1028
We would like to share news of your gift with our alumni group, to recognize your generous support of our efforts, and to encourage others to give. Please let us know if you would prefer to donate anonymously.
Question 5. How can I fund a scholarship for one student?
Answer: We are working with Kaplan and Bell Curves, Inc., two companies that generously supported our prior test prep efforts. We anticipate the average cost to enroll one student in a ten week test prep program will be approximately $500.
Question 6. Can I designate a donation for a particular student or one from my middle school alma mater? Can I make a donation that automatically renews each year (or an endowment type gift)?
Answer: We are currently reviewing these options and will provide you will more information once a process is developed.
Question 7. Are there other ways that alumni can help?
Answer: There are many ways that alumni can support our diversity initiatives:
*Attend high school recruitment events or visit a select middle school or enrichment program and speak to parents and students about the admissions process and the benefits of attending a specialized high school. Please contact Carole Brown-Kelly, '81 at mo9ernie@ aol.com for more information.
Last Updated on Monday, 20 May 2013 17:38
Written by Webmaster
LIU Brooklyn’s Scholarship and Excellence in Secondary Science Education (SESSE) is a Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program that seeks to recruit capable Biology and Biochemistry majors and prepare them to become effective science teachers committed to teaching in New York City schools.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 10 April 2013 15:14