Hundreds of the city’s black and Latino kids have found a pipeline to success that Mayor de Blasio doesn’t mention.
The mayor and Chancellor Richard Carranza contend the city’s eight top-performing specialized schools unfairly bar African-Americans and Hispanics from getting in — and point to the paltry 10 percent of their enrollment at the prestigious schools as justification for scrapping the admissions test.
But the mayor isn’t counting at least 1,500 talented minority and immigrant kids from the city’s poorest neighborhoods currently enrolled in ritzy private and boarding schools — most for free — and headed for scholarships at top universities.
Their secret? A handful of nonprofit organizations scour the five boroughs to identify and recruit the brightest kids of color, put them through rigorous summer and weekend classes, and push them to excel.
“The Mayor’s Office is well aware that the top diversity talent is exiting the public school system in droves, because those students are being offered a choice that is more beneficial to them, where they can achieve higher college goals, such as greater Ivy acceptances,” said a source familiar with private schools.
“But the mayor is not being transparent with the public in making those numbers of exiting top students available to be a full part of the analysis.”
According to city Department of Education data, a stunning 27 percent of high-performing black and Latino students offered seats in the city’s specialized high schools snub them.
“They [the DOE] have to understand that talented kids have options outside the public system,” said Clara Hemphill, editor of InsideSchools.org. “They have to actively recruit them, and make them feel more welcome.”
The nonprofits do that. One of the biggest, Prep for Prep, boasts 715 minority kids — snatched from DOE schools, plus some charters and parochials — who are currently enjoying the advantages of $50,000-a-year private schools such as Trinity, Horace Mann and Spence, or boarding schools such as Exeter and Andover.
Prep runs a 14-month “boot camp” in which kids still in public schools attend outside classes, led by private teachers, for two summers, and on Saturdays and Wednesday evenings during the school year. The students get lots of extra homework, to boot.
“This is for a very special kid,” said Ed Boland, a Prep for Prep vice president, of the caliber of the organization’s students. “It’s a tremendous sacrifice.”
Caribbean-born Michael Thomas was shuttled into Manhattan’s Trinity School for the program while attending 6th grade in a Canarsie public school. Through Prep, he was admitted into Dalton in 7th grade, where he became a “peer leader” and football team captain.
Thomas has since graduated from Princeton University and now goes to Harvard Law School. In February, he was elected the 132nd president of the Harvard Law Review — a post once held by Barack Obama.
“Above and beyond the fantastic teachers and its rigorous academic program, the organization’s greatest power is its ability to raise expectations,” Thomas told The Post. “Though I didn’t always know that I wanted to pursue a law degree, Prep did everything in its power to help me reach my aspirations.”
Athena Stenor, whose parents emigrated from Haiti, moved to Brooklyn in sixth grade from Florida. But she “wasn’t challenged” at IS 211 in Canarsie, she said: “My mom was tired of me being done with my homework in a half-hour.”
After joining Prep, she was accepted to Stuyvesant HS — the most coveted specialized school — but took a scholarship at Phillips Exeter Academy, a top-flight New Hampshire boarding school — and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s alma mater. Now a senior, she’ll attend Yale in the fall to study chemical engineering.
Black and Hispanic students make up only 4 percent of Stuyvesant’s 3,336 students, but 10 to 15 percent at many top private schools.
“Ironically, a black or Latino may feel less isolated at some of the independent schools than at Stuyvesant,” Hemphill said.
Besides Prep, non-profits Oliver Scholars, A Better Chance, and TEAK Fellowship also give intense training to funnel hundreds of minority and poor kids into elite private middle and high schools. Breakthrough New York currently has 77 kids enrolled in privates — and 156 who won seats in DOE selective and specialized schools.
Regis HS a selective but tuition-free Jesuit school on the Upper East Side, preps disadvantaged Catholic kids in its REACH program. They fill 10 percent of freshmen seats, said admissions director Eric DiMichele.
Carranza says the exam used to admit students to specialized schools puts blacks and Hispanics at a disadvantage because many can’t afford to pay for extra test prep. Under de Blasio’s plan, that test would phase out in three years, with eight specialized schools taking the top 7 percent of kids, based on grades and state exams, from each of 600 middle schools.
These high-achieving New Yorkers escaped poverty and low-performing city schools with the help of programs that prepped them for the best private schools and a path to elite universities:
Athena Stenor, 18, Brooklyn
The daughter of Haitian immigrants who worked factory jobs, Athena Stenor escaped a Brooklyn public middle school where she didn’t feel challenged.
Recruited by the nonprofit Prep for Prep, she spent summers between 7th and 8th grades and every Saturday in between learning how to make it into a top high school.
“They created an environment where learning was the center of our day, and we weren’t distracted by anything else,” she said.
In addition to challenging academics, Prep taught Stenor how to navigate the “world of New York socialites and elites” — to mitigate the culture shock she would inevitably face at a ritzy private school.
“There are people who are rich in ways you can’t imagine,” a teacher explained. “I don’t want you to be shocked by someone who has a Rolex at 14 years old. It doesn’t make you any more or less than them.”
Stenor was one of a handful of black students accepted to Stuyvesant HS, the most competitive of New York City’s eight specialized high schools, but chose to attend Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. She’s off to Yale this fall.
Aaron Carrasco, 18, Bronx
Afraid to go outside after dark, Aaron feared the Bloods gang member down the street and the gunfire echoing through Parkchester.
The teen has a loving family, but they are poor.
“There were times when the lights were shut off, and I had to do my homework with candles,” he said.
His life at school was just as chaotic.
“I didn’t have a teacher for more than a semester, or maybe a year. It was new faces in and out,” he said of the Bronx Charter School for Excellence. “I was lazy, because school was very boring and nothing challenged me.”
Carrasco’s middle-school counselor gave him a way out: Oliver Scholars, a nonprofit that prepared him for a rigorous high-school education.
He now holds a diploma from Concord Academy boarding school in Massachusetts and is headed to Skidmore College this fall.
“I wanted to go to a private, independent school way more than any other school, because Oliver set me on this path, and because I loved it so much and wanted more of it,” he said.
Kristen Clarke, 43, Brooklyn
The daughter of Jamaican immigrants, Kristen was one of a few 7th-graders at IS 364 in East New York to be chosen by Prep for Prep, a non-profit that opens doors for minority kids stuck in low-performing public schools.
“Boarding schools and private schools weren’t something I knew much about, so Prep was an introduction to that world,” she said. “It sounded intriguing.”
So much so that she didn’t even apply to any of the city’s specialized high schools. Instead, she accepted a scholarship from Choate Rosemary Hall, a private school in Connecticut and John F. Kennedy’s alma mater — where she thrived.
She went on to earn an undergraduate degree at Harvard, and a law degree from Columbia. Today she’ s executive director and president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a firm that fights to desegregate schools.
Clarke believes the city should do more for low-income, minority kids who aren’t as lucky as she was:
“There is no way private programs like Prep can ever be a substitute for the obligations New York City has to meet the needs of all its students,” she said.
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