Past Features

May 1, 2007 (Vol. 5, No. 7)

Students in 'Sci Hi' Program 'Say Hi' to City's Top-Tier High Schools

Pencil and Calculator
Students from some of the most economically challenged neighborhoods in New York City are being accepted in record numbers to the city's specialized high schools—a gateway to the nation's top colleges—after completing a free preparation course and workshop offered by the Bronx Institute.

In 2006, 150 eighth-grade students enrolled in the Institute's GEAR UP Network Specialized High School ("Sci Hi") Prep and Workshop Program. After taking the qualifying exam, sixty-two—more than 40 percent—were accepted in 2007 into at least one of these prestigious public high schools. This acceptance rate is higher than that achieved by most of the city's middle schools.

"Students and their families who are new to this city," said Dr. Herminio Martinez, director of the Bronx Institute, "are often unaware of the variety of school choice for high school and the dramatic impact this choice will have on their future academic lives.

"Part of our responsibility at the Bronx Institute," he continued, "is to bring the unfamiliar but wonderful opportunities for college and work that exist in our country, into the lives of these students and their families. This way, they can feel comfortable and confident to enter what for many of them are uncharted waters. I anticipate that not only will these 62 students flourish at their specialized high schools, but their younger brothers and sisters and neighbors will follow in their footsteps."

Students are admitted through competitive exam to eight of the city's nine specialized high schools—Bronx HS of Science, Brooklyn Latin School, Brooklyn Technical HS, HS of American Studies at Lehman College, HS for Mathematics, Science and Engineering at City College, Queens HS for the Sciences at York College, Staten Island Technical HS, and Stuyvesant HS. (Admission to the ninth, Fiorello LaGuardia HS of Music, Art and the Performing Arts, is by audition and academic review.)

The Institute began its program in 2004 as a pilot project to counter the declining enrollment of African American and Hispanic students, especially from the Bronx, in these schools. Twenty eighth-graders in the Institute's ENLACE program from schools neighboring Lehman College were invited to participate in the very intensive preparation course and workshop. There was no charge, and the only requirement was that students complete the course and take the qualifying exam. With few exceptions, students from these schools had not taken the exam in the past. Of the 20 students, eight were accepted into at least one of the specialized schools.

The following year, 2005, 44 ENLACE students from two Bronx schools completed the program; 28 were accepted into one of the specialized schools. During a subsequent focus group, students said they had high educational expectations for themselves and had decided to pursue the course to improve their skills. They judged the program to be effective preparation for the test. One student noted that the course had helped to increase his confidence "because the practice tests had been more difficult than the actual test."

Naomi Barber, deputy director of the Bronx Institute, attributes the program's success to the combination of test preparation, workshops, and family involvement. "Although test prep programs for these schools are becoming more prevalent in the middle schools," she said, "we believe it is the combination of the test prep component along with the workshops, in which students and their families learn about what these specialized high schools offer, that contributes to the high success rate."

The Bronx Institute is part of Lehman's Division of Education.