High school open houses are upon us this month. Even if you are zoned for a good public high school, one has to be quite lucky to get into one.
Maspeth High School in Queens is one of several newer public high schools. Of the 750 8th graders who chose it as their number one choice, only 250 got in, and many hopefuls in Maspeth were left on the outside looking in.
In fact, those living one block from the school are just as likely to be rejected as the 8th grader who lives 25 blocks away. There is little rhyme or reason for admission, but we know that some of the 14 year olds who live three blocks away have to go to a school a mile and a half away.
What’s more, according to public school officials, the idea of using a connection to be accepted into a specialized high school is all but gone. What was once common is not how it works anymore.
Think about a better, more personalized education at one of the private high schools we have compiled information about in this special edition of our weekly community newspaper. Learn from this guide and explore what these private high schools have to offer in advanced placement classes, after-school clubs and truly organized athletics.
Take a look at any one of the school’s websites and you can see that there might be as many as eight sports teams in action in a given day. Today, St. Francis Prep, in Fresh Meadows has soccer, volleyball, tennis, baseball, bowling and gymnastics all going on after school.
While one mom might boast about how her older son made it into Brooklyn Latin Public Specialized High School (a lower tier of the specialized high school) or Brooklyn Tech (which is not as “special” as it once was), you look at your child’s grades and realize that his marks are high enough for you to explore some better options.
It’s random if you get picked out of the lottery of your zoned public high school or one of the smaller themed high schools located in some industrial areas in Queens or Brooklyn. Is that how you want to look at the education of your precious child?
How We Chose The Top Schools
We sent questionnaires to dozens of private high schools in Queens, Brooklyn, and Manhattan for our 2014 issue, just in time for October open houses. To be among the top high schools we need to see at least 90 percent of the student body go to college, answer 90 percent of our probing questions and have a wide variety of extracurricular activities.
We speak to parents, students, alumni, teachers and administrators. We are able to obtain interesting information, which might not typically be shared with the outside world. The questions we ask are intended to compare the academic, spiritual and social environment of each school.
Some schools were not shy about sharing scholarship opportunities for eighth graders entering their school, as well as money their seniors were offered in scholarships to colleges.
Some were able to brag about the average SAT scores of their current students, while others wouldn’t share.
On the whole, each school has its strengths and different culture. If Billy’s school is not listed here, it doesn’t necessarily mean we think his school is not worthy. There are some schools that wouldn’t share enough information for us to make a determination on quality of curriculum, program and student body. We’ve been on this beat for 12 years now. They know why we are calling.
If you do speak to a parent who is truly honest about choosing a public high school, he or she will tell you their child is going to one of the themed high schools because it is small, and with public schools “big is bad.”
“Small” gives your child a shot at making it out of there in one piece. We can’t get credible information from any of the public high Schools in New York City, so we can not include them on this list.
After exploring high schools for a dozen years, we see much more of an education at one of our top high schools. We are seeing the high-achieving eighth graders, who might have attended a specialized high school in the past, now opting for a top private high school on some kind of academic scholarship.
The reason is obvious when you see what these schools are doing to compete. They each have their way of thinking “outside the box” to motivate their students. In doing so they are higher achievers.
In one case, at St. Vincent Ferrer, an all-girls school on Lexington Avenue and 51 Street in Manhattan, according to Admissions director Sister Christine an exciting new Pre-med College Advantage program at the school is creating a great deal of buzz in the Science Department.
“It’s an intense program for 15 girls who are seriously motivated about science,” she told us. “These are girls who got a 93 or better in the first two years here, and they study advanced science and math here for their junior and senior year. We get them exciting summer internships in the field.”
In this, our 13th Annual Top High Schools issue, we suggest you explore choosing a high school that can add some moral and spiritual focus, along with what we have seen as top-notch academic regimen, to your child's formative teenage years. We suggest you look at this time of your child’s educational life as an investment.
Nick Melito, admissions director at Msgr. McClancy High School in East Elmhurst points to the business end of the school.
“The evolution of how colleges are accepting students these days is making us change the way we are accountable for getting your students to the next part of their education,” he said. “We find things that they like to do after school, not activities that our teachers like. They must be involved in something and we are answering the bell.”
We have found that St. Mary’s High School in Manhasset is far ahead in the tech-based learning trend. They use what they call “Apple 1 to 1 Program” technology and higher-order learning skills. Every student gets and iPad when they enter the school and teachers use the technology throughout the day.
“It does a great job of engaging the students over a wide variety of subjects, from world events to science,” said Eileen Symmons, a representative from the office of the president of the school.
St. Agnes in College Point is opening a fitness center next to their dance studio this week. It includes treadmills, ellipticals and weights. They are incorporating it into their physical education classes and are starting a fitness club so the young ladies learn to use the machines efficiently. They are integrating iPad technology into curriculum this year, as well.
The schools we highlight in this section have a greater percentage of graduates that have the marks and skills to go on to tier-one colleges. These schools truly focus on guiding every student towards the right college, and not just put choices in front of a teenager.
Parents need to try to find the right fit for their child early on. Today, as opposed to 20 years ago, it is more typical that the first child in the family will fit better into one school, only for the second child to be comfortable in another.
The schools are indeed different in their academic standards, expectations, social climates, class sizes, and spiritual emphasis. However, we have found that each looks at its students as part of its family. In fact, typically half the faculty or administration at these schools had attended the school themselves.
After exploring high school options in Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan, we leave you with this thought: Even if you think your family can't afford to send your child to a private school, attend the open houses during the next few weeks and talk to an admissions director to explore scholarship and financial aid packages.
If they find your child is likely to succeed and can bring something to the table that might add to student life at the school, you might just be lucky enough to qualify for scholarships or aid.
Take the TACHS
Apply for the Test for Admission into Catholic High Schools, or TACHS, scheduled for November 8. Visit the website www.tachsinfo.com or call 1-866-61TACHS to register in advance. For the student applying to a top private high school, a choice of schools (in order of preference) must be given by the student on the application.
Worth The Investment
After doing the research, we found that the schools we cover in the Top High Schools issue are worth the investment in your child. Special attention given to each student is what most of these private high schools are about.
Whether a future employer sees the name of the school on a resume, or their extended family on a Facebook or LinkedIn page, the high school they attended follows them for the rest of their lives.
Although focus on faith and moral character is also paramount to the high school experience at these schools, the old adage that these schools shove religion down the throats of students is not apparent to us. We find the schools are culturally and religiously diverse.
Many schools we cover in this edition vary their approach to getting top students each year, while others have stuck to their traditional methods.
Technology, Scholarships, College Credit Courses & Internships
The schools we cover in this issue have invested heavily in technology assets in their classrooms and libraries. In fact, over the last 10 years they have been much more willing to experiment with savvy tech options to stay ahead of the curve. They have outspent public schools on this front. They all offer high-speed Internet connections and state-of-the-art computers, libraries, smartboards and interactive websites.
We are noticing a great deal of student-teacher email and web interaction over the past few years. Assignments are given out and handed in via web portals. “Colleges work that way therefore so do we,” said one English teacher at a Manhattan school we spoke with.
Almost all of the schools in this issue offer college credit courses, which helps with some college expense. St. John’s Prep in Astoria typically has 30 percent of their students enrolled in at least one college-credit course and almost two-thirds enroll in an honors course.
St. Francis Prep offers 30 college credit courses in subjects ranging from art and language to math and more. St. John's University has college credit courses at Msgr. McClancy.
Foreign travel excursions are also part of many of the schools’ language curriculum options. Manhattan’s Dominican Academy has more than one foreign-bound school trip every year, and the cost is fairly reasonable.
While we find that most private high schools in Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan are still attracting students in their locale, they are a choice for more and more students who commute an hour and sometimes more.
“It literally takes me 42 minutes from Roosevelt Avenue to get to the door of my Manhattan school,” said a senior from Notre Dame Academy, who lives in Woodside.
We are also finding students willing to travel if they are offered academic scholarships, or if they see that some personally desirable extracurricular activities (sports teams, clubs, specialized academic programs) match their needs.
More important to you might be what that school has to offer and what kind of graduates they produce. Archbishop Molloy has 100 percent of its students go on to college. We find that statistic typical at these schools.
Speak To Parents
Every school has its strengths. Ask the parent of a child who you think is the kind of person you want your child to be. A good athlete, a good student, a polite, energetic, motivated high school student might impress you.
One Middle Village mom whose daughter attends Dominican Academy in Manhattan says her daughter had a new lease on life once she began attending the all-girl’s school in 2012. “She is motivated and the fit is perfect,” the mother said. “She does dance and sings nearly every day after school.”
You need to believe that your child’s high school choice plays an important role in the outcome of their life.
What To Look For at The Open House
October is the month most schools want you there, although some offer second chances in later months. It is imperative that you attend the open house with your child. Even if you attended one a few years ago, go again.
Most schools have had a child or two attend a top college at one time or another. Find out where a student who was in the middle of the class academically went last year. Do most of the graduates go to community colleges, CUNY, SUNY or tier-one colleges? U.S. News & World Report publishes a guide to U.S. colleges every October. Give it a look.
Speak to a current student you might not know. Is he or she the type of kid you think you want your child to be? Ask where they score in relation to their classmates. Are his or her marks in the middle of the class, or are they above average? We have found that a teenager will most likely be honest if they are talking to you one on one.
Find a senior. Where do they stand in the class and where are they planning to go to college? What did they score on the SAT? (By the way, they are thinking of eliminating the writing part of the SAT for next year, so it might go back to just English and math.))
How were his or her grades in elementary school? If that student, who is in the middle of the class is now attending a college you think might be the goal of your child, then maybe that is the school for your son or daughter.
Ask to speak to the principal or admissions director during the open house. Introduce your child to him or her. Don’t be afraid to tell him or her about your child and what type of student they are.
In talking to many of them for this special issue we see that they want to talk to you about your child and we have found that they are honest with you. Their experience tells them that if they paint a true picture then the family can make an educated decision about their school.
They have told us that they don’t want a student who will not be a good fit for the school. They believe that if the student leaves after a year it doesn’t make sense for either the school or the student.
Sports & Schools
Some schools concentrate on their teams because it is a way of promoting their school. Although few administrators will freely admit that they feel the good press of a few good teams goes a long way in recruiting students, it’s true.
Many students say that looking forward to practice or the game after class or the intramural sports program at the school gets them through the academic day. Not everyone will make the team of their choice, but these schools do a great job in making sports an integral part of the school spirit.
But be cautioned not to pick a school just because they have a great basketball or baseball program, because if your child doesn’t get picked for the team, resentment often sets in.
If your child is an athlete, seek out the freshman coach before you attend the school. Most coaches we spoke with will be honest about your child's chances of making the team. Although recruiting kids is generally frowned upon, it always seems that basketball and baseball coaches of high school teams will know four or five kids coming into their freshman program. We have found that 40 or 50 students will attend basketball and baseball tryouts at the larger schools.
If your child is not one of the select few for the highly popular basketball team, we find that many opt for the track & field or volleyball team. Some parents feel their child might actually be better off on the soccer team in the long run. "At least we knew she would play when I went to the games,” one parent told us.
You, as a parent, might know best what your child can handle, academically and socially. However, we have found that, in many instances, the right high school has brought out positive growth in teens that parents did not expect to see.
It is indeed true that some schools expect more homework than others. It is also true that some schools graduate more of their students to top colleges. The way these schools keep their standards high is to accept students who will succeed in the daily academic grind.
Spiritual and religious experience is important in private schools. Religion and the spiritual interactive experience might not be on the top of most parents’ list, but is an interest for these schools.
William Higgins, principal at St. John’s Prep in Astoria, has always talked about faith and social values being front and center at his school in preparing his students for college.
“We can openly talk about values and religion here,” he said.
St. Johns has retreat programs on the third floor of their building and it is an important part of the education.
We know of many instances where this was done, and the student had a great high school experience and graduated to the right college. However, we know of many instances where the child couldn’t handle the work and was asked to leave the school. So be as honest with yourself and your child as possible.
There is no doubt that the extra attention and quality education your child receives at one of our top schools is worth the cost and the effort. Many children mature during their teen years. Don’t stifle their academic potential before they get a chance to grow up.