“To Be Black at Stuyvesant High”, an article in today’s New York Times, found here, focuses on Rudi-Ann Miller, a 17 year old senior at Stuyvesant High School. Stuyvesant is a New York City public high school specializing in math and science whose admission is based entirely on the results of an entrance exam. There are 3,295 students in the school. Rudi-Ann, who immigrated to the U.S. from Jamaica five years ago, is one of only 40 Black students currently enrolled.
The racial makeup of Stuyvesant has changed dramatically over the past 40 years, as this article notes. Asians currently make up 72.5 percent of Stuyvesant’s student body (and are only 13.7 percent of New York City’s public school population), whereas in 1970 they were only 6 percent of the Stuyvesant student population. Back then, white students made up 79 percent of Stuyvesant’s enrollment; this year, they are 24 percent, and 14.9 percent system wide. Hispanic students are 40.3 percent of the public school system. Currently, they make up 2.4 percent of Stuyvesant’s enrollment. Black students, who make up 32 percent of the city’s public school students, are 1.2 percent. Their enrollment at Stuyvesant peaked in 1975, when they were 12 percent of the class.
The article details Rudi’s journey to and through Stuyvesant, and further discusses the declining number of Black students enrolling in NYC’s eight specialized high schools and the efforts Stuyvesant administration and students are taking to increase their pool of Black applicants.
But a key point of this article from the GCP perspective is its description of how students prepare for the exam:
“Many Stuyvesant students start preparing for the exam months, even years, in advance [emphasis ours]. There are after-school, weekend and summer classes run by large companies like Kaplan and Princeton Review, as well as by neighborhood outfits like Aim Academy, in the predominantly Chinese enclave of Flushing, Queens, and the Khan’s Tutorial branch in nearby Jackson Heights, home to thousands of families from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Rudi took Kaplan’s 12-week program, which met on Saturdays at Fordham University, at a cost of $750, the summer after seventh grade. (Students take the exam in October of their eighth-grade year.) Her tutor, a Stuyvesant graduate, persuaded her to make the school her first choice.”
Many families, and not just wealthy ones, are spending lots of time and money prepping their children for this exam. They are finding out about these opportunities years in advance, and taking all possible steps to give their children a leg up on the competition for these spaces. This goes on not just in New York City, but in communities nationwide.
The issue for GCP readers to take to heart here is Access. We need early access to information about available opportunities at schools like these and desired schools in general, early access to information about prep classes so that parents can start focusing their children and putting aside the funds to help them prepare. The information is out there; it is our responsibility to our children to find it and use it to help them.
How did Rudi’s family find out about Stuyvesant? According to the Times, her father, a Jamaican immigrant working as a director of accounting at Bronx Community College, asked a colleague for advice about enrolling Rudi, the youngest of his three children, in “the best New York City high school.” The colleague advised Mr. Miller that he had to sign her up for the specialized high school exam and, if he wanted to improve her odds, to have her take some kind of test preparation program. In a perfect world, this information would have come from a school guidance counselor, but we do not live in a perfect world. A brief conversation with a colleague enabled this parent to figure out how to put his daughter on the right track.
Access. Are we seeking it? Are we putting in the time and focus such that our children can be in the best position to become scholars and leaders? Are we sharing it once we attain it? Immigrants who come to the United States seeking advancement can be laser focused on finding opportunities and making the most of them. There is absolutely nothing preventing those of us born here from doing the same. One of the principal reasons GCP was created was to give more parents access to more information about what we can be doing for our children, especially our boys. Articles like these confirm that this access is critical.
I was talking the other day with a mom about how school is so much more competitive these days for our children. Many of us privileged to have gone to elite high schools and colleges 20 or 30 years ago will have to acknowledge that what may have gotten us admitted to those schools then will not necessarily get our children in now. The work is harder, the academic expectations are higher, the field is fiercely more competitive, and despite what your majority colleagues may grumble, the admissions process no longer takes diversity into consideration to the extent it did when we were students. It is a new day, and we need to recognize this and treat it as such. Articles like “Black at Stuyvesant High” are poignant reminders of this fact.