Making Specialized High Schools More Diverse

Bronx High School of Science (Photo by Dave Winer, Creative Commons license)

New York City’s specialized high schools have a diversity initiative to raise enrollment of Black and Hispanic students, writes Stephon Johnson in the Amsterdam News, and with good reason: at Bronx High School of Science, Brooklyn Technical High School and Stuyvesant High School, the top three of the specialized schools, Black and Hispanic enrollment is less than 20 percent, while the public school system overall is 70 percent Black and Hispanic.

In a detailed article based on interviews with Black and Hispanic graduates of the “big three,” Johnson reports on the discrimination and hurdles they faced, noting that ultimately, “being one of the few students of color at the big three specialized high schools is the tie that binds.”

Rob Jones, a Bronx Science grad, said that teachers didn’t provide him with many negative experiences, but one authority figure did.

“I do not feel I experienced discrimination from my teachers,” said Jones. “I did, however, have an incident with my guidance counselor. She was coaching me as to what schools to apply. When I told her I applied to schools like Stanford, Princeton, Yale, Boston University, etc., she made the comment to me that perhaps I should look at the SUNY or CUNY schools. I agreed until she said that I would fare much better with the SUNY or CUNY schools. I inquired as to why she thought I would do better at those schools than the Ivies and she replied that it would be better to be a large fish in a small pond than a small fish in a large pond. I let her know that I would do well in any ocean.”

Jones was a National Merit University winner based on his near perfect SAT and ACT scores and was accepted to all 28 schools he applied to, including the aforementioned Ivy League schools. He chose Boston University because the school provided the most aid. He now heads an international consulting firm.

Teachers like Raymond Bradshaw, a physics teacher at Brooklyn Tech, can help students of color at the specialized schools.

“If I don’t have them in class or don’t have them for lab, I may be their only male teacher of color even though there are other Black teachers at the school,” Bradshaw said. “They approach me in the hallways and ask me for advice. Just this week, two girls who I taught last year came back to me for advice.”

Bradshaw said that students not only ask him academic questions, but also questions of a personal nature. “They look at me as someone who’s going to understand their experiences,” he said. “Being in Brooklyn, born and raised myself, you try to make them feel comfortable.”

Go to Amsterdam News to read recommendations from one 1970 alum of Bronx Science for meetings between graduates of the specialized schools and prospective students, and to read about suggestions for how to boost Black and Hispanic enrollment at the schools.

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