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Boys and Girls High School Complex: Three Options to Consider

Photo: Margot McKenzie American History class at Research and Service HS where students were delegates wearing robes and wigs and drafted their notes on index cards in preparation for the debate on the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

Eighth-grade students hoping to attend a New York City public high school have until December 1st to submit their applications for round one of the process.

The high school directory of over 400 schools should help parents and their students navigate the choices. An online version is also available. Since early September, high schools have been conducting open houses to further facilitate the process. Several are still upcoming.

The Department of Education advises parents to make a list of 20 to 30 programs of interest. By the deadline, they must narrow down their choices to twelve in the order of their preference and submit the application no later than December 1st. Sometime in March, students will receive a letter indicating the outcome of their application.

For two days in October, this writer was invited to the Boys and Girls High School complex to tour this “Miracle on Fulton Street” as Stanley Kinard, community liaison, likes to call it.

Daily, students pass the artistic reminder of the Middle Passage by sculpture Ed Wilson to get to one of the three separate schools housed in this building: Nelson Mandela School for Social Justice (“Mandela”), Tabari Zaid Bomani, Principal; High School for Research and Service (“Research”), Allison Farrington, Principal; and Boys and Girls High School(“BGHS”), Gretchen Harrison, Principal.

Student confers with Principal Tabari Z. Bomani, Mandela School for Social
Justice. Photo: Margo McKenzie

After the artwork outside the school, the second wonder is the pristine physical plant itself: sturdy brick building with sparkling floors and walls, high ceilings, wide hallways, dedicated library and media center, athletic field and more. “This is prime real estate,” said Kinard. We took a walk to the state-of-the-art medical center on the first floor and the newly established Transitions and College Access Center with full-time staff available to the school and the community for housing, education and employment. Did you know there’s a museum in this school?

The Nelson Mandela School for Social Justice

Very often we hear the complaint that too many of our Black and Latino youth are not making it successfully through the public school system. According to Principal Bomani, The Nelson Mandela School for Social Justice has the solution: the principles of the Expanded Success Initiative*, research-based practices for bolstering their success.

New York City Public School Graduation Class of 2016

Ethnic/Gender Group Number in Cohort Number of Grads % of Grads Number Still Enrolled % Still Enrolled Number of Dropouts % of Dropouts
Male Asian 6515 5319 81.6 731 11.2 411 6.3
Male Black 10,893 6695 61.5 2793 25.6 1118 10.3
Male Hispanic 14,690 9081 61.9 3375 23.0 1901 13.0
Male White 5306 4098 77.2 819 15.4 316 6.0
Female Asian 5965 5363 89.9 417 7.0 165 2.8
Female Black 10,819 8086 74.7 1802 16.7 784 7.2
Female Hispanic 14,020 10,111 72.1 2395 17.1 1318 9.4
Female White 4732 4144 87.6 385 8.1 166 3.5

According to the table, the students whose graduation is most in peril are Black and Latino males and females. The purpose of the Mandela School is to address the needs of the Black and Latino youth by developing a curricular approach that the research says works.

Bomani stated that one objective of his school is “to train students to address issues pertaining to social justice in a school environment which affirms their historical and cultural identity.” Inspired by the Trayvon Martin story, Nupol Kiazolu, a senior, does just that. She has brought a Black Lives Matter chapter to her school and travels to speak about social justice at universities across the country.

The school is also selective about staffing decisions. Second-year teacher Sahrif Keshk said, “If you don’t like kids, you’ll never be hired here.”

When asked why a parent should send a child to the Mandela School, Bomani said, “Where else can a child go and have his history and culture valued and incorporated into the curriculum?”

*The Nelson Mandela School uses researched-based practices to provide rigor and supports needed for college and career success for African American and Latino young men.

The School for Research and Service

For a variety of reasons, seventeen-year-old students can find they have only earned ten credits when they should have earned close to forty. To meet the needs of these overage, undercredited students, Allison Farrington developed the vision and plan for Research and Service. One of her main thrusts seems to be to create a community where she knows every student, and every student knows her. She has set up her office in the middle of the hallway to make sure that happens.

On the day of my visit, Principal Farrington wore a judge’s robe. “I’m a judge in the Constitutional Convention of 1787,” she said and invited me to sit in on an American History class. The delegates/students wearing robes and wigs drafted their notes on index cards in preparation for the debate. Under the watchful gaze of their two teachers, and three judges, history had come alive. Students represented their historical figures and spoke with courage presenting their positions on slavery, representation and the Bill of Rights.

Ms. Farrington’s school is not designed for incoming ninth-graders, but parents and students should know that such a school exists. One could only conjecture that if more students knew about this “miracle,” perhaps more students could find their way to Research and fewer would drop out.

The pressures of the street, a dysfunctional family, pregnancy, incarceration or homelessness interfered with Farrington’s students’ ability to succeed in their first high school. To ensure her school is the students’ last high school, Principal Farrington

  • provides dynamic teachers for engaging instruction
  • provides a dignified, state-of-the-art food pantry
  • connects with Good Shepherd Services for her students’ social, mental and academic needs
  • provides “aftercare” for two years after graduation.

The data shows that the majority of New York City high school graduates flounder in college. The programs implemented at Mandela and Research are designed to make sure their students are not reflected in that data. Tara Page, teacher of English and social justice at Mandela, says, “It’s about time we address our students’ social trauma.”

One may say the artwork at the entrance of the school building shows the entire school community recognizes that trauma. Once inside, the teaching, relationships and school culture work to heal that trauma with the support of staff who are “friendly, funny and passionate,” according to Research transfer student Victoria Udechi (originally from High School for Teaching).

(The Principal of Boys and Girls High School, one of the three schools within the complex, could not be reached in time for publication and will be profiled next week.)



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