How Did Getting into a Specialized High School in NYC Become a Lottery Where Almost Everyone Loses?

I was prompted to write this post in response to news I learned recently from the 14-year-old I mentor. I have mentored through Children of Promise NYC for over two years now. (On a side note please visit their site, it’s a wonderful organization and they are always looking for great people to get involved: http://www.cpnycy.org/ ) This is big year for my mentee, she is graduating from eighth grade and needs to decide which high school to attend. Her first choice was Brooklyn Technical High School, one of the specialized high schools in NYC so she took the SHSAT test in the Fall. There are nine specialized high schools in NYC total: (taken from http://www.wikipedia.org)

Entrance to any of the nine is EXTREMELY competitive, particularly for the top choices: Stuyvestant and Bronx Science. Not to mention that these top schools have become ridiculously crowded to boot! Brooklyn Tech alone has 5,000 students!

She did very well on the SHSAT but it was still not enough for a spot at any of the specialized high schools. Luckily, she was accepted to Cobble Hill High School and the High School at Pace and will be attending one of the two. I know both of these are great schools and she will flourish at either. Her experience is unfortunately by no means unique. Here is a link to a New York Times article about another eighth grade student who had the same experience: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/02/nyregion/eighth-grader-full-of-sports-knowledge-is-left-without-a-high-school.html?ref=education

At the end of the day, the total number of students applying for entry into these nine schools is 29,000!!! They are competing for a mere 6,106 spots!

This strikes me as grossly unfair! Why should so many students be denied entry to schools which continue to win national award after national award? These nine buildings can only hold a certain amount of students and they are all at capacity. What, then is the solution?

It is the solution the NYCDOE has struggled with since their inception, how can we make the level of education received in every high school in the five boroughs the same as in these nine schools? There is no easy answer and the bottom line is that it’s impossible for every single high school to perform at the same level, particularly when many have such a large percentage of special needs students. That being said, the majority can and should be performing at the same high level.

The answer is simple and so important that I will type only in caps: LIMIT CLASS SIZE TO MAX 15 STUDENTS PER A TEACHER!!!

Do this and I promise you test scores will rise, students will graduate actually adequately prepared for college, and teachers can and will be more effective. What is the flaw in this brilliant and seemingly simple solution? MONEY…it will cost the city A LOT of money to hire so many new teachers. This is something the city has not and is still not willing to do, even if it means our low performing schools stay that way.

I leave with you with one final question….Jamaica High School against very loud protests by parents, students, and teachers is closing and several small schools have already been opened in the building. Currently there are roughly 1000 students total in the entire building but there are five people earning principal salaries. Brooklyn Technical High School has 5000 students in the building and one person earning a principal salary. Yet, there has been a hiring freeze for new teachers since 2009….what is wrong with this picture?????

I look forward to your thoughts and thanks for reading!

Bloomberg is closing 25 public schools…what is wrong with this picture?????

Mayor Bloomberg and the NYC DOE in their infinite wisdom have placed 25 public schools on the chopping block! I know this is not supposed to be a political blog but on this issue I can find no middle ground. The bottom line is this: it is 110% wrong! I would also like to give due props to the NY1 news teams for their in-depth coverage on this important story. They have had a feature story each morning on all the schools. It’s a wonderful 180 from their policy of the past, when they dared not say anything negative about the Mayor.

In every single one of these stories, there has been outrage and noise made by students, parents, teachers, and principals, wholeheartedly against these forced closings! To even consider proceeding with these closures is absolute lunacy! If there is so much passion for a school that is more than enough reason to not close its’ doors! If people love a school, then it can be improved, and it should be saved. There should be no debate about this!

Let’s take one example to look at further: Jamaica High School‘s door will be closing soon despite many protests! Parents, students, and teachers tried to have a judge put a stop to the closure, but to no avail! So, what have they done with this beautiful building that is perfect for a school? They have made four of these “small schools.” So you ask what does that mean? It means that for max 1000 kids there are four people earning a full principals salary! Meanwhile, Francis Lewis High School, has 1500 students and only one principal! Please tell me what is wrong with this picture? Supposedly, the education system is broke and yet we have the money to pay for four principals!?!?!? It’s absolutely ludicrous!

You may ask, what kind of schools are being forced to shut their doors? How about a school that caters to pregnant teens or teens with babies? Where else will these children be able to turn for, where they can get an education and have free childcare? Where will these, mostly minority students end up? Several technical schools are also on the chopping block. The bottom line is that college is not for everyone and these technical schools offer a viable alternative.

The bottom line is that for once, Mayor Bloomberg and the NYC DOE need to put our children first! I implore you, please do not close even one of these schools!

How to Encourage Good Study Habits and a Life Long Love of Learning????

I was inspired to write this post after a tutoring session with one of my new clients. She is a high school sophomore, who has really been struggling with Chemistry. Thus far, she has failed the vast majority of her tests. Her father employed me a week ago to help improve her grades. Unfortunately, we were only able to work together twice before her Chemistry midterm. Consequently, she only earned a 65 on her Chemistry midterm and in fact, the same low-grade on her Global midterm. (I was actually unaware that she was struggling so much with Global as well.)

As is often the case, she likes her Global teacher, but does not feel the Chemistry teacher has taught her anything the entire year. I do not believe in putting down other teachers, so I will not do so here. I do know that she had little to no understanding of the topics in Chemistry she should have mastered by now and will definitely need to know for the upcoming Regents Examinations. When asked to show how to write electron configuration, she had absolutely no idea how to proceed. Even basic things like the meaning of atomic number and atomic weight, she was struggling with! In the four hours we worked together before the midterm, I showed her a systematic way to solve electron configuration based on the way I learned. I taught her the meanings of each Quantum Number: N l ML and Ms and showed her how to make a table that would make it a lot easier to write a full-out electron configuration for each element.

She knew how to do it, but as often happens when a student knows the material, but is not 100% comfortable with the methods, she answered the exact questions she got right with me, incorrectly on her midterm! Even during our next session when I asked her the same questions, she was able to answer them correctly. So, what was the problem on the midterm? She did not follow the prescribed steps we had gone over to arrive at the correct answer. Particularly, with the Sciences, it is essential to find a method that works and most importantly, to use it each and every single time!

So onto the main point of this post….needless to say, my student’s father was EXTREMELY unhappy with his daughter’s midterm grades! I was really pleased to hear him tell her that: “in our house, lower than an 85 is failing!” He then proceeded to strip her of her phone, laptop privileges, and all after school extracurricular activities! As expected, she was pretty angry with the situation, but I was ecstatic! It always makes me happy, when parents act like parents, and demand the most of their children. The bottom line is that not all students are A students, but this particular girl is very bright, and she should be an A student! Her parents know this and are pushing for her to realize it as well!

At home is where good study habits and a lifelong passion and love for learning develop. It is our parents who first model for us what it means to be a student. It is essential for parents to constantly be learning themselves, to always have reading material around the home. Also, make sure even at the young age of 1-year-old, a child should be taken to the public library, in my opinion, at least once a week. As a child, I knew every librarian’s first name and they all knew me. Consequently, the Brooklyn Public Library is still one of my most favorite places in the world and I still go there at least once a week!

If you start your children off on the right path, they will develop an insatiable thirst for knowledge, which will always serve them well, in school, college, work, and beyond! In short, it will make them a better human being and we all owe our children that!

What do you think? How else can we inspire our children to become lifelong learners?

 

I am a BROKE College Student….Why do I need to sell a kidney so I can buy my science textbooks?!?!?!?!

So….today I finished the third day of the new Spring 2012 term at Medgar Evers College. I’m psyched, especially since this is my last full term of prereqs, only one class, Developmental Psychology left! On the other hand I am taking Organic Chemistry I, Microbiology 403, and the last section of Anatomy and Physiology, three sciences with labs, and SUPER challenging sciences at that! So basically, I can kiss any semblance of a social life goodbye until May 24 and will be renting a desk in the library for the duration! It’s only the third day and I can barely keep my eyes open to write this post!!!

So…once again I digress…(I think this sentence has shown up in every one of my posts!!!)…on to the main subject of this post. Can anyone give me some semblance of a logical reason for why textbooks for college science courses need you to donate organs to pay for??!!?? Usually, I rely on handy used book search engines and Amazon to score deeply discounted used textbooks. However, much to my chagrin when I looked up the ISBN for my Organic Chemistry text, the absolute cheapest available was $250.00!!!!! What’s wrong with this picture?!?!? It’s very common knowledge that being broke goes hand in hand with being a full-time college student. It’s the exception to come across a college student swimming in dough and almost always it’s their parents dough not theirs! I am going to college, like most others, in hopes to eventually make some money off this enormous investment of my time and money!

So, you ask what happened? Did I have to donate blood to pay for my Organic books??? Well, it turns out the Medgar Evers College bookstore has a special soft cover package of the same text packaged with the lab book as well for a measly $246.00. (Please note I write measly with the greatest degree of sarcasm available!) Pardon my vulgarity, but the bottom line is the publishers have college students by the cajones! What choice do we have? I need to read the book so I can get an A but I also resent having to pay that much to earn an A!

The scariest thing is that I bet the book probably costs McGraw Hill max $15.00 to print! That’s a VERY handsome profit! The publishers lack of pity for the college students’ pocketbook is beyond alarming!

So I am sure I am the millionth student to complain about the unfairness of this situation but have I, or you actually done anything about it besides bellyache? NO..and why pray tell is that??? Because the bottom line is there is not a d*mn thing any of us can do about it!!!

I am more than open to suggestions…does anybody have one?

Why Doesn’t the US Adopt a FREE College System…like the rest of the Western World!?!?!?!

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So….I know this is a topic that has been, in many senses beaten to death, but there has been no headway made, so I guess, what could the harm of me putting my two cents into the ring? I have a sort of odd association that first comes to my mind when thinking about this topic. I have a subscription to Time Magazine (mainly because it’s a weekly for only $20 a year and yes, I am one of the few 20 somethings who actually enjoys reading the written word on paper and owns not one product from Apple! But, once again, I digress…) In one of the recent issues of Time, there was a two page picture of a newborn, and the title said, “Hi! My name is Sophia and I was born in January, 2012 and I can already tell you some things about myself.” One balloon that really jumped out at me stated: by the time I am 21, my parents will have spend $150,000 on a private college education, if I was born in Germany it would be free. How can this be? In the greatest free country in the world, the champion of freedom and equality, a college education, and therefore, a pathway to a better life and advancement can cost so much, yet, across the ocean it costs a citizen absolutely NOTHING?!?!?!? What’s wrong with this picture!?!?!? As someone with over $50,000 of student loan debt, I speak from personal experience. At the end of day, unless you are extremely wealthy or extremely poor (qualifying for the ludicrously low standards for grants set by the Feds), in order to attend college you will have to agree to put yourself into a significant amount of debt. I basically just try to never think about it, and optimistically assume that, one day I will be able to make a dent in paying it back.

I think at the heart of this issue is the fact, that student loans were originally set up by the Feds as a way for low and middle income students to afford a higher education. They were NEVER EVER supposed to be a for-profit industry. However, industry giants like Sallie Mae, EdFinancial, and Great Lakes, are literally making millions on interest and repayment at the expense of US college students. Why? Is it because they donate millions to political campaigns and have lobbyists with extremely deep pockets in our capital? I cannot definitively prove it, but I would put good money on it.

So, as a country what are we suppose to do? Obama has attempted to make sweeping legislative change, but as basically with everything he has tried to do since 2008, the GOP has fought him tooth and nail for every inch. So, I guess it’s up to us, ordinary Americans. We simply have to bring this to the attention of our elected representatives. We put them there and they work for us, we must hold them accountable for their votes! This means insisting financial aid for a college education go through some drastic changes! Let’s start with a fixed interest rate throughout the lifetime of the loan, expanding the Federal Work Study Program, Pell Grants, and other grant programs. Additionally, how about making majors where there is an immense demand, such as science and engineering, cheaper for students who agree to work an agreed upon number of years in these fields. Most importantly, a ten year limit, if you have not been able to pay back any of your debt by then, the loans will be forgiven!

If Europe, can make a free higher education system work, it is to the benefit of all Americans if we do so too! Demand reform and accept nothing less!

What do you think would work and should be used to fix this immense problem?

Thanks for your ideas and for reading! Have an awesome weekend!

How did I end up here? My Educational Journey..Bonus: How to Succeed in College and Earn As!!!!

I have spent much of my adult life in college. I completed the traditional track, finishing my BA in History Minor in African American Ethnic Studies from Adelphi University at the age of 21. I loved Adelphi so much, that I stayed on another two years to complete my Master’s in Secondary Social Studies Education in 2009. As you may or may not know, from 2009 until the present, has to be one of the worst times in history to try to land a job in the education system! So I bounced around, worked retail and a telephone sales job at a Manhattan IT school which I absolutely abhorred! So after endless resumes sent out, applications, and countless interviews. I started to search for another answer. I knew what I wanted, I want a career, I do not need to be rich but my husband and I would eventually like a family and a house one day and I would like to be able to afford both. (We are sick of paying the absolutely ridiculous rental rates in Brooklyn!) Equally important, I needed a job that would be intellectually stimulating, offer excitement, variety, and NOT be in a cubicle! I started to research which sectors of the economy were still hiring even in the recession.

A little research revealed, that the Health Care industry was one of the few sectors that had still shown significant growth in the past few years. I knew I was not ready for the seven year commitment required to complete an MD. So, I looked for another answer, I attended an information session about the Physician Assistant Program at Pace University. I was thrilled, it was a perfect fit and it would only take 27 months to complete! As I did not have any science courses yet under my belt, I did have a significant amount of prerequisites to complete before being eligible to even apply. So I came to a crossroad, I did not know what to do. I had already dedicated a significant amount of time and accrued significant student debt, that I had yet to pay, did it make sense to go back to school, for something entirely different? It was a huge dilemma for me but with the support of my husband and family, I decided to take the plunge!

I enrolled at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, mainly because of the affordable cost of the CUNY system and it is relatively close to our apartment. I was pretty terrified I had not taken any Biology or Chemistry courses in ten years….what if I was terrible at it?!?!?! I graduated with a 3.67 in my BA and 3.881 in my MA so I have always been an excellent student, but would I have the same success in science???? So it was with equal parts trepidation and excitement, that I found myself sitting in my first class at Medgar Evers College: Anatomy and Physiology, Part I. To my delight, I loved all my courses! It was A LOT of work but I was earning good grades! On a side note, I cannot more enthusiastically endorse Medgar Evers College, my experiences there have been absolutely amazing! All of my professors have been Ph.Ds and really know their topic area. Equally important, they always have an office door open for extra help and questions. I have also made some amazing new friends. If considering CUNY, please look into Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, you will not be disappointed, I can promise you that! At a total cost of $5000.00 per a year, you simply cannot go wrong!

The irony here is that all through high school if anyone asked, my career goals, I told them I was going to become a pediatrician! So it’s almost as if I have come full circle. If I have said it once, I have said it a million times: “Life makes its’ own plans…you never know how things will turn out!” I am optimistic though. My only worry now, is that I will complete all my prerequisites and not get into any programs! I have almost a 3.8 (all As but one C in a summer chemistry course is killing me!) If God forbid, I do not get in anywhere, these past two years will basically be for naught! So please, keep your fingers crossed for me!!!

So, now on to the second point of this post, my thoughts on succeeding in college. I was prompted to write this post after something my professor said in my Anatomy and Physiology course this past term. I had done really well on a test, that a majority of the class had failed, so to my embarrassment (I blush a bright red very easily!), Dr. Stoddart announced to the class: “study with Kirsten!” So, after class, another student came up to me and asked me how I studied and what advice I could offer. I looked at her and said verbatim “I read the book.” That is the key, there are no gimmicks to earning good grades, just read your textbook! I was, and still am shocked, at the number of college students who do not read the textbook for the course! I know texts are ridiculously expensive, especially for the sciences, but every college library has all the textbooks on reserve for students, so, there are no excuses! The other key, is do not attempt to study the night before the exam! College work requires constant effort, reading, notes, and practice problems! I have found the rule for every hour of class, you should be putting in about 2.5 hours of reading at home! Ideally, the night before an exam should be spent on a short review, a good dinner, and most importantly, a full night’s sleep! That’s it, the key to good grades, it is as simple at that!!!

I have found I have difficulty getting studying done in my apartment. Between my hubby, TV, and housework there’s just way too many distractions! I have to place myself into an environment where there is absolutely nothing else I could be doing, except eating books! For me, this is the library, find a place that works for you!. I have also found that I must listen to either classical music or instrumental jazz like Miles Davis or Charles Mingus to really concentrate. Flashcards have also been immeasurably helpful to me, as a commuter on the NYC Public Transit System, whether waiting on the train or bus, or sitting on one of the two, I always have time to study my flashcards. I usually make them myself, but for Anatomy and Physiology, I finally broke down and purchased a set last term from Barnes and Noble. There are from Mosebly and I have found them to be extremely useful. The only complaint I have is that they do not list functions, so I have taken to writing directly on the cards themselves. They were about $30.00 and well worth it! Find something that works for you. What study tools have been worthwhile for you?

Can anyone relate to my story? What study tips can you offer?

Best of luck and Happy Studying!!!:-)

“Excellence is a better teacher than mediocrity. The lessons of the ordinary are everywhere. Truly profound and original insights are to be found only in studying the exemplary.” ~Warren G. Bennis

How do I know it’s time to hire a tutor!?!?!?

“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge”~Albert Einstein

So, how do I know it is time for me to hire a tutor? As soon as you realize the student is struggling and having difficulty grasping the concepts and completing assignments it is time to hire a professional tutor. DO NOT wait until the student is earning failing grades!!! A tutor should be utilized to push a student from a D to a B, a C to a B, and a B to an A+!!! Also, please, please, please keep in mind that a tutor is not Anne Sullivan, ie a miracle worker! I cannot tell you how many times I have received a call for tutoring two weeks or even a week before the SAT, SHSAT, ELA, Regents, Midterms or Finals! If a student is taking a test like the SAT or ACT which can help him or her earn important college scholarships, a tutor should be hired at least six months in advance, end of story. That being said, better late than never! Albeit late, some help is a million times better than no help! Please keep this in mind. A student does not fall behind over night, and it will take some time for them to catch up!

A tutor should have a lot of different kinds of teaching experience. Equally important is that they have a firm grasp of all intricacies inherent to the subject matter.The tutor you hire is someone the student should be 100% comfortable with. A tutor should always be punctual and open to suggestions. Another important point is that they are able to tailor the lesson to each students unique learning style.

Next step, I have hired a tutor, now what? Well, I must have given these speeches a million times and will likely continue to do so in the future: “you get out of life what you put in” and another classic jewel of mine is: “I cannot do everything all by myself, you will have to meet me halfway” and of course, I can not forget “Two hours with me a week is simply not going to cover it, you must be doing problems and work on your own, and have all your questions ready to go before I even get here!” Often I come across students who’s life motto is: “what..me..worry?!?” and this applies to school work! They seem to be coasting through their studies, not willing to dedicate the time and work required. While there is definitely something to be said, for not letting life stress you out, that does not mean there are not somethings in life that deserve some stress, sweat, blood and tears. Sometimes those things can be academic in nature!

The last decision is, how long should each session be and how many sessions do I need a week? For any student under the age of seven, I think one hour sessions are best, anymore and the student will be unable to focus. For ages eight and above, I believe a two hour session is best. In two hours, A LOT can be covered and accomplished. In terms of how many sessions to book a week, frankly that really depends on your finances and schedule. Obviously, the more tutoring sessions the student participates in the more prepared they will be.

A final thought, if you have any questions, comments, or concerns, NEVER EVER hesitate to bring it to the tutor’s attention immediately! Likely, they are not even aware of your concerns.

Happy Searching!!!

“Education is the transmission of civilization.” ~Will Durant