Category Archives: Admissions

Quick Study Tips for Tests

As finals and other year end tests approach, pass on to your sons these tips for effective studying:

Find a Good Study Spot: Identify a place in your home which will be the designated study spot for tests and quizzes. Make sure it is free from clutter and distraction, and is away from noise and activity.

Review the Main Concepts: Begin your overall study plan by reading through your notes and refreshing your memory on major concepts. This will make it easier to fill in the details later on.

Rephrase What You Know: Restate the main concepts in your own words as if you were teaching it to someone. Being able to clearly explain things ensures that you fully understand them.

Study Out Loud: Read your notes aloud and talk to yourself about them. When you hear yourself think, it is easier to figure out what you know well and what you need to study more.

Rewrite your notes: Make a study guide using your notes. The process of writing what you already know will help cement it into your brain. Organizing the information by subject and section helps keep the information organized in your memory. After you write the guide, continue to use it to study.

We’ll be passing on additional study tips over the next few weeks. Good luck to all our boys on their final exams!!!


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Filed under Academics, Admissions, Books, Resources

Good News on the College Admissions Front

For the fifth year in a row, all 240 of Chicago’s Urban Prep Academies seniors have been accepted into over 200 four year colleges and universities. The seniors, all African American young men, celebrated their success at a ceremony where they exchanged the red ties of their daily uniform for the red and gold striped ties signaling their impressive accomplishments. Here they are celebrating:


Congrats to the seniors of Urban Prep! You can read a bit more about them here. Check out our previous posts “And Now For Some Good News From Chicago”s Urban Prep” (April 12, 2012) and More Good News from Chicago’s Urban Prep Academies” (April 1, 2013) to learn more about how well this school has been doing.

In other college admissions news, Harvard University has just accepted the highest percentage of black students ever for the class of 2018, which will start in the fall. Almost 12 percent of the total applicants who were offered admission next fall are black. You can read more about it here.

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Filed under Academics, Admissions, College Bound Students

Reality Check: Pre-School and Kindergarten Admissions

O.K. all you parents who are either in the midst of the school application process for your pre-school or kindergarden son or have submitted your applications and are counting down the months until you are scheduled to hear the responses, take a deep breath and let it go slowly. Time for a reality check. We’ve all heard the depressing stories of how tough it is get your little one into these fiercely competitive independent and public schools. But we also know that each year, parents manage to figure it out and enroll their children in pre-school and kindergarten. No reason why you won’t be in that group. So stop listening to the naysayers (external and/or internal) and know that you’ll make it through. Here are a few tips for surviving this process in the best way possible:

Try your absolute hardest to stay relaxed through this process. Easier said than done, yes, but so necessary, for these three reasons: First, admissions directors can smell fear and nervous desperation a mile away, and it is such a turn off. In admitting children for the early years, admissions staff have to rely more heavily on the impressions they get from the parents, as there is only so much that a school can learn about a 3-5 year old from testing and interviews. So you are actually doing your child a disservice if you allow nerves to interfere with you being the best examples of yourselves that you can be when you are visiting or interviewing with a school. Second, no matter what anyone tells you, admission to a highly regarded pre-school and/or kindergarten admission is not a ticket to a top-tier college. It is a long and winding road from pre-school and kindergarten to college. Take it one school year at a time. Third, that long and winding road will be filled with admissions applications and nail-biting wait times and victories and defeats for your child (and therefore for you as well). You absolutely can’t afford to get crazily nervous this early in the game, you’ll burnout and will be of no use to anyone. Seriously.

How to Relax? Make sure you have completed all parts of every application, attended every open house and interview for each school, focused on getting any letters of recommendations in (more on that below). Also make sure that you have done your homework on the places to which you are applying for your child so that you’ll have the best sense possible of your direction once you know the choices he’ll have. Most importantly, have a good public school backup that your know your child can attend and that you would be satisfied with. If you are only applying to a series of special public schools, make sure you know and can live with the alternative if he doesn’t get into the schools of your choice.

Recommendations: Provide them if they are requested, even if they are optional. The best people to ask for a recommendation for pre-school or kindergarten is someone the school knows, like a current or past parent or a board member. But this only makes sense if the person really knows you and your child. A generic recommendation from someone the school knows will come across as lukewarm, and won’t be as helpful as a glowing recommendation from someone who genuinely knows you. And even if you are close to a board member, do not ask for a recommendation unless you are prepared to answer the question of whether that school is your first choice for your child. Many board members are unwilling to go to bat for a child knowing that if he is accepted his parents may send him elsewhere. And if you are asked, be truthful, even if it means you won’t get this recommendation. At best it is extremely bad karma to lie about this.

Interviews: During any school visits and interviews, be sure to do the following: Silence the phone and put it away. Be courteous to all the people you meet at the school, from the security guard to the secretary to the tour guide. If you are not, know that it will get back to the admissions department. Look respectable. Leave the “look at me” outfits at home–nothing too tight, too short or with crazy heels, ladies, and everyone should cool it on the flashy jewelry.

Repeat the Following Phrases Until You Know Them As Truth: Your child’s education is much greater and will be much better than whatever school you send him to, because you are ultimately his first and best teacher. Whatever school he goes to will be lucky to have him. Whatever school does not accept him, it is their loss.

Lots of Hugs: Hug your son a lot these days, as often as he’ll let you, as he is undoubtably feeling pressure and uncertainty about the transition ahead as well. Encourage hugs around the entire family–great antidote to stress.

Focus on Having a Happy and Healthy Holiday Season With Your Family. Best of luck to you all!

Coming soon: Admissions reality checks for Elementary/Middle School, High School and (gasp) College.

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Filed under Admissions, Ages 0-5, Parents, Resources

Jump-Starting the School Admissions Process for Your Child

Even though school has barely begun, if you are looking for a new school for your son or daughter to start next fall, particularly if it is a private or highly sought after public school, you are likely starting the search and application process now. Today’s post comes from writer and editor (and GCP contributor) Rachel Christmas Derrick. In this article, which was originally posted in Let’s Talk Schools, Rachel offers some great tips to parents who may already be feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of finding and applying to the right schools for their children.

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Do stories of parents applying to seven or ten different schools keep you up at night? Does the thought of filling out all those applications make you want to pull the covers over your head each morning? Does the prospect of writing the essays and parent statements seem as daunting as applying to college or for a new job?

Take a deep breath and prepare to be pleasantly surprised: Applying to schools for your child doesn’t have to be an ordeal. In fact, with some planning, organization, and guidance, exploring how you and others see your child and your family can actually be big fun.

Here are some tips to help you jump-start the school admissions process:

1. Do your homework! School websites can give you a sense of what makes each educational environment different from the rest.

2. Don’t apply to a school simply because everyone you know is applying or it’s on some Top Ten list. Remember, there are lots of excellent schools out there—and you’ve never heard of many of them.

3. See if your family’s values match those of the school. For instance, do you believe that allowing learning to be incidental to having fun can be detrimental in the long run? Or do you think that rigorously training a young child in the basics can have a negative impact?

4. Keep an open mind. Even if you’re positive you want a co-ed school, for example, consider single-gender schools. If you’re convinced that a progressive education is the way to go, visit a more traditional school or two.

5. Consider the neighborhood. If you live in Manhattan, you can certainly send your child to that phenomenal school with the main campus miles away in Riverdale. However, make sure you’re comfortable with what that will mean for play dates, birthday parties, and long bus rides for your young child.

6. Once you identify the schools that interest you, attend their tours and open houses. Take detailed notes of your impressions of each school, including the demeanor of teachers and other staff, the classrooms, the cafeteria, gym, and auditorium, the hallway artwork, the outdoor spaces, even the bathrooms.

7. Feel free to ask administrators and teachers questions—but not those whose answers could easily be found on their websites.

8. As you walk through each school, can you visualize you and your child as part of this community for the next 6, 9, or 13 years? Do teachers look happy? Do students seem engaged? Are children well-supervised?

9. Remember, the “best” school is the one that feels right for your child and your family.

10. Tailor your application essays or parent statements to each school and explain why YOUR child and YOUR family could be right for THAT particular school. A quick way to turn off an admissions team is to submit a generic essay, one that could be written to any school about any beloved child.

11. If you’re applying for financial aid, don’t put down “$0” when asked how much your family can contribute to tuition. Schools are drawn to families who understand that your child’s education is a partnership that both you and the school have a stake in.

12. Apply early! (Applications go online at the end of August or right after Labor Day.) Schools like enthusiastic, organized families who plan ahead. Even before you know what schools you’re applying to, get started on your basic essay. You’ll then be ahead of the game when it’s time to adapt it to the questions asked by each school.

Rachel Christmas Derrick is a widely-published writer and editor whose Words Rule! program helps guide families through the essay-writing process for school applications. For details, contact her at


Filed under Admissions, Ages 0-5, Ages 13-15, Ages 16-18, Ages 5-7, Ages 8-12

The Myths and Realities of Affirmative Action

Today’s post comes from Rachel Christmas Derrick, a widely published writer and communications consultant specializing in socio-economic development, youth empowerment, and education. Rachel originally posted this piece on The Independent School Diversity Network’s website.

You may recall that Wendy Van Amson, one of the co-founders of The Independent School Diversity Network (ISDN), was the very first person GCP interviewed after our launch (“What Parent’s Can Do: Wendy Van Amson”, 2/11/2011). Please check out ISDN’s updated and impressive website here, where you can find lots of interesting and helpful information.

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Asians and Whites Against Blacks and Latinos?
The Myths and Realities of Affirmative Action
and College-Bound High School Students

by Rachel Christmas Derrick

A high school teacher recently gave a student a lower grade than she expected. She told him after class, “I can’t get grades like this! I’m not brown. If I was, it wouldn’t matter, but since I’m white, I won’t get into college with grades like this.”

Two close friends were discussing where they were applying. The Asian-American student said to the African-American student, “Of course you’ll get into your first choice—you’re black.”

A white mother lamented, “I didn’t know what to say to my son when he told me that a less academically gifted classmate, who’s Puerto Rican, got into a highly competitive college where my son was wait-listed.”

“Most of the white and Asian students I hear talking about affirmative action really dislike it,” Hunter College High School history teacher David Joffe says. “They rarely reference the historical or, for that matter, the current socio and political contexts that make race-based affirmative action, in my mind, still necessary. When it’s discussed in terms of increasing diversity, many white and Asian students see it as meaning fewer of them in favor of more black and Latino students. So they view it as anti-white and anti-Asian.”

These uncomfortable issues, which high schools across New York City and across the country are grappling with, were at the core of a thought-provoking discussion at a recent Hunter PTA meeting.

As at the Department of Education’s specialized high schools, the student body at Hunter is mainly Asian and white, with African-American and Latino students vastly under-represented. Of the students accepted in March 2013 into the DoE’s specialized high schools, only 5% were black and only 7% Latino. The percentages are likely even lower at Hunter. This is way out of proportion to the city’s population, which, according to the 2010 Census, weighs in at 45% white, 25% black, 28% Hispanic, and 12% Asian. (These figures add up to more than 100% because Latinos can be of any race.) The percentages of the city’s school-age black and Latino children are higher still, with white kids actually in the minority (since the white population is older).

The paucity of brown faces at Hunter and the city’s other high schools for gifted students has led more than a few children and others to conclude that African Americans and Latinos just aren’t as smart or as driven as Asian and white students. However, the truth about the disproportionately low numbers of black and Latino students at schools like Hunter, and at top independent schools, actually lies in a complicated concoction of racial, socio-economic, political, curricular, and geographic challenges.

For example, the locations of “feeder schools” play a key role in the low numbers of black and Latino students in high schools for gifted students. According to Sharon Gordon, a social worker in East and Central Harlem for many years and the former director of a Head Start program in East New York in Brooklyn, “there are very few, if any, G&T [Gifted and Talented] elementary school seats for kids in these Harlem and Brooklyn neighborhoods or in the Bronx [all predominantly black and Latino areas]. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t very smart kids from these and other schools in regular ed classrooms, but they wouldn’t get the same academic stimulation that their peers in G&T classrooms would get before applying to specialized high schools.”

Hunter parent Andy McCord explains further: “Very few school districts produce most of the students at the [gifted] high schools, including [the mainly white] 2 and 3 in Manhattan and a couple of [heavily Asian and white] districts in Queens. Some districts produce none.”

To enter Hunter, which accepts students in 7th grade only, children must leave middle school before completing their 6th through 8th grade programs. Gordon, a Hunter parent, says, “I can’t tell you how many kids I’ve worked with who might have had a chance to get into Hunter in 7th grade but the middle schools they were attending discouraged them from applying because they didn’t want to lose their high test scores for the rest of middle school!” So, along with geographic obstacles, self-serving guidance is a problem as well.

In addition, some of the brightest black and brown students, who might otherwise have gone to Hunter or the city’s specialized high schools, are drawn to the bells and whistles of independent schools. But these private schools can offer hallelujah financial aid packages to only some of the many families that can’t afford the hefty tuition.

Against this backdrop of unequal access to the city’s most stimulating academic environments, the topic for discussion at Hunter’s annual Queens PTA meeting was the myths and realities of affirmative action for college-bound Asian students.

The first speaker, the head of a college Asian-American Studies program, began by asking for a show of hands of parents who believe that being in a diverse environment is important for their children’s wellbeing and future. Several parents who raised their hands said that, to be truly successful in life, our children must learn to value and interact with people who offer different perspectives, come from different cultures, and have different backgrounds.

Quite a few parents in the mostly Asian audience, however, did not raise their hands.

The Asian-American Studies director said that she holds the often unpopular belief that, in addition to its role in increasing diversity, affirmative action is necessary because a society must right wrongs that have been done to its individuals, even if righting those wrongs doesn’t directly benefit (or doesn’t appear to benefit) all members of that society.

She reminded us that we need to teach our children that no matter how bright they are or how hard they work, they won’t always get what they want (such as admission to their first-choice college). No college is going to accept every “qualified” Hunter student because no school wants that many Hunter students. And because there are already relatively large numbers of Asian students at elite colleges, there is a great deal of competition among Hunter students for those colleges.

Therefore, she said, we must teach our children how to be resilient. We must help them (and ourselves) understand that there are amazing opportunities for our students in an array of colleges, not only at the “top” schools.

One audience member, who wasn’t buying the merits of affirmative action, brought up the “mismatch theory” mentioned in a recent New York Times article. The theory goes that when top colleges “lower their standards” to admit black and Latino students, these students struggle and/or drop out. Thus, affirmative action fails the African-American and Latino students it is intended to help as well as the “more qualified” white and Asian students who are passed over to admit those “less qualified” black and brown students.

The other speaker, an attorney for an Asian-American civil rights organization, explained that the mismatch theory has been broadly debunked, on a number of fronts. In fact, when colleges use a variety of indices to choose students to admit (instead of relying only on their grades and test scores), these schools are able to identify students who ultimately perform very well in college and beyond. Colleges select students who they think are the best fits for their incoming classes. No admissions team wants to make themselves or their college look bad by accepting students who are doomed to flounder or crash and burn.

He addressed the basic premise held by far too many people—that affirmative action is anti-white, anti-bright, and means lowering standards to admit black and Latino students. He talked about the current University of Texas case in which a white woman is claiming that she did not gain admission because of affirmative action and her race. Her case is weak, he pointed out, because there were other white applicants with similar or worse academic records who were accepted. And no one ever talks about “discrimination” or “lowering standards” when top schools give preference to children of donors, legacies (children of alumni), and athletes.

Affirmative action is not actually about lowering standards at all. Instead, it’s about new definitions of what “qualified” is. There are many ways of measuring and predicting academic success in addition to grades and test scores. The more all students explore their passions both in academic realms and beyond, the more attractive they become as candidates—and the more successful they will be as college students.

True, a white student with high grades or test scores might be turned down by a college that accepted a brown student with lower grades or test scores—but this would be due to pivotal factors such as exceptional personal essays, demonstrated leadership abilities, unusual extracurricular activities, stellar teacher recommendations, sustained community service contributions, or the student’s geographic, cultural, or socio-economic background.

By the same token, a college might accept a Finnish-, Portuguese-, and Mandarin-speaking Chinese-American student with lower test scores than a Chinese-American student who was turned down. Or they might select a nonprofit-starting, short film-making white student over a white student with higher grades.

We should not forget that there are also black and Latino students with both impressive resumes and high test scores and grades—and not just from middleclass and upper-middleclass families or in private schools. Part of what affirmative action is designed to do is to identify and attract students like these.

Among high-achieving students, no matter what their race or ethnic background, there is often a sense of entitlement: “I deserve admission to an elite college. I’ve worked hard and done well, so I’ve earned it.” When it comes to admission, however, no college owes any student anything. Schools each choose the students they wish, regardless of their number of A’s or impressive activities. There are never any guarantees, no matter how outstanding a student may seem.

“As a parent of a white senior who is getting an incredible number of waitlists from selective schools and a few acceptances so far from slightly less selective schools, the hardest thing to get my head around is how hard it is for everybody,” McCord, who also has a child at Bronx Science, says.

In the audience at the Hunter PTA meeting, the question on many minds was, How does affirmative action help top Asian students, whose high grades and test scores already make them attractive to the best colleges, and who already attend some of the top colleges in relatively large numbers? Although the meeting ended before we could delve deeply into the answer, I offer this response:

First, we need to remember how things got this way. Without the hundreds of years of free labor of the enslaved Africans who helped build this country, the United States would never have become as wealthy and powerful as it is today. To make slavery work, Africans were torn away from their homes, from those they loved, those who spoke the same languages, and those who shared the same religions, all so that they could be broken and more easily oppressed.

This early cultural annihilation and enslavement (along with the subsequent racial discrimination, segregation, public lynching and burning, and other social, psychic, and physical violence against black Americans) is directly related to the lower socio-economic status and self-esteem of most African Americans today compared to that of most immigrant groups.

Asians came and still come to this country not in chains, but as willing, hopeful immigrants believing that this is the place where they could and can forge better lives for themselves and their families. Certainly they too have faced terrible racism, from the early Chinatowns out West destroyed by fire to Japanese internment camps. But they could always draw on the support of fellow immigrants from their countries.

No matter how hostile their surroundings, Asians could be strengthened and inspired (even if secretly, at times) by the familiar languages, foods, spiritual beliefs, and customs of home. Once Chinese Americans and successive Asian groups were allowed to naturalize and immigrate with family members, their shared cultural backgrounds and cohesive communities made it easier for them to believe in and instill in their children the belief in the value of a good education as the gateway to success.

Latinos also came and continue to come as hopeful immigrants, and those who look more European have fared better in this country than those with the most African and Indian ancestry. However, most Latinos of all races have faced ethnic discrimination that has resulted in low self-esteem for many, despite their cultural pride and close-knit communities. Moreover, many still are not recognized as American by some, because of the stigma of immigration and low socio-economic status.

White people, on the other hand, particularly males, have always reaped the automatic benefits of doing nothing more than being white. Of course Irish, Italian, Jewish, and other groups have not had an easy time. But simply because they were not black, Latino, Asian, or Native American, they have always had a much better chance of making the hard work of the American Dream pay off than those who are now under-represented in the country’s best schools.

Clearly, black and brown students have been left out or pushed out of the cream of the educational crop for far too long. Yet affirmative action is not about white and Asian kids with good grades and high test scores having to selflessly step aside to right the wrongs started by past generations.

It’s not Us against Them.

Affirmative action is about leveling the playing field, so that everyone can enjoy the benefits of a more just, more equitable society, a society in which everybody feels valued, safe, and welcome to strive for better opportunities.

It’s about helping all students understand that, no matter what college they attend, the more they interact with people from varied backgrounds, the more enlightened, capable, and successful they themselves will become.

It’s about encouraging students to fortify themselves now, since, for the rest of their lives, they will also be competing with or measured against others. Like it or not, they will be judged continually for a variety of accomplishments and characteristics—whether they are in college, applying for a job, vying to rent a coveted apartment, or bidding on a house.

It’s about teaching them to broaden their perspectives, instead of falling prey to the stale belief that the sole key to a happy, prosperous future lies in attending one of the three or ten most popular schools.

At the very least, affirmative action challenges students to think creatively about how to distinguish themselves in a crowded, competitive field, a skill that will certainly serve them well throughout their lives.

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You may contact Rachel at

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Filed under Admissions, Saving Our Sons

“Admitted But Left Out”: Important But Incomplete

Today’s New York Times includes the article “Admitted But Left Out”, found here, which chronicles how minority students at various NYC private schools feel isolated and alienated among their wealthy white classmates. Students in various schools describe how they felt uncomfortably out of place when their white classmates talked of weekends in the Hamptons and exotic vacations. They complain about feeling like a guest at someone’s house: “you can stay and look, but you don’t belong”. DJ Banton, who came to Manhattan’s Trinity School from her Brooklyn middle school through the Prep for Prep program, complained that the differences in money and experiences made the gulf between herself and her private school classmates often too wide to bridge. “The only people who could relate to what I was feeling were minorities, or they were poor,” Ms. Banton, now studying at the University of Southern California, said. “It became linked in my mind — rich, white; minority, poor.”

Anyone unfamiliar with NYC private schools reading this NY Times piece is likely to make the same link as Ms. Banton, and likely to assume that every minority private school student feels similarly uncomfortable in these schools. While the students quoted in this piece are genuine in their descriptions of their discomfort, this article makes no effort to present any alternative viewpoints. In this exhaustive discussion of the minority student experience at elite private schools, the Times couldn’t find one minority student who managed to feel comfortable among his or her white peers. Even the one recent alum quoted in this article who had fond memories of his private school experience felt “excluded by whites”. No students were included who by virtue of their friendships and/or their common experiences with some of their white classmates felt as if they belonged in their schools. (Nor could they find any white students who felt similarly economically isolated from their wealthy classmates.) These minority students exist. Some of them are our children.

No question that these schools need to focus on making sure that minority students are comfortable in their schools–our children deserve to feel as if they belong there. And it is important that we parents stay vigilant to ensure that unchecked insensitivity doesn’t harm our children. But this article doesn’t even attempt to present a fuller picture of minority student life at these schools. There is a brief mention of the impact of economics (versus race) on these students’ perspectives, but the article overwhelmingly views this issue solely through the prism of race. Even if this were a completely accurate picture, the article includes no suggestions as to what schools can do other than create films to “start the conversation”, as if this is a new issue. There is no mention of how other schools (e.g., boarding schools) have been dealing with this issue from a racial and economic perspective for decades. Eye-rolling abounds when one considers how much more interesting, informative and helpful this article could have been had the Times dug just a little deeper.

GCP readers, what do you think??


Filed under Admissions

How To Choose the Best School for Your Son

Today’s post comes from Anne Williams-Isom and Jennifer Jones Austin. Anne Williams-Isom, author of the GCP post “Words of Wisdom from a Montessori Mom” (October 4, 2011) is currently the Chief Operating Officer of the Harlem Children’s Zone. She and her husband are raising their three children in Harlem. Jennifer Jones Austin is the Senior Vice President of the United Way of NYC. She lives with her husband in Brooklyn where they are raising a daughter, 14 and a son, 10. Anne and Jennifer consider themselves child advocates and have been friends and colleagues for over 15 years.

As mothers of African American boys concerned about every single aspect of their development, we want to share our thoughts on one of the most important decisions a parent must make: choosing the right school. On countless occasions we’ve asked ourselves, “What is the right environment for my son? Are his teachers nurturing and caring? Who will protect his self esteem and give him space to grow so he can become all he can be academically, socially and emotionally?” Tough questions, for sure, and it is no simple task for parents to find the answers.

Here, with what we hope is a bit of wisdom born of our experiences, are some of our tips for selecting a school for your son. Of course, many of our thoughts are applicable for all parents when selecting schools for their children, but we believe that because issues of race, class and culture so underlie our society even today, there is an added layer of complexity for parents of children of color, and African American boys, in particular.

Academic Rigor That Meets Your and Your Child’s Aspirations

We are going to begin with an assumption that very little needs to be said about academic rigor. We assume that as a concerned parent, you will look first at the available data for your son and the schools to ensure that the schools you are considering provide the academic rigor you believe most appropriate for his educational success and future.

Social and Emotional Stimulation is Important

Next, the task is to figure out whether the school environment is socially and emotionally stimulating. When choosing a school in your son’s early years, factors including proximity to home, diversity, class size, school curriculum and school culture are key in social and emotional development. As your son grows older, each of these factors takes on greater or lesser significance depending on his interests, maturity and development.

Diversity is Key

For boys of color, the racial and ethnic diversity of the school should be a strong consideration. For a child trying to develop his sense of self, being the “only one” can be brutal. It is important that children of color see that all members of the school community — other students, faculty, administrators and other key personnel — reflect positive images of people of color. The curriculum should reflect the experience of students of color as well. A school committed to diversity and children’s social and emotional well being will have formal mechanisms in place, such as support groups, to help parents of color navigate the inevitable bumps that come up.

Note that school and class size may affect diversity. If you’re looking at a small school you want to make sure your son will not be the “only one” in his grade, and if it is a big school you want to make sure your son does not get lost. If your child is entering at a later grade in a larger school you want to make sure that the students of color in his grade are friendly and open to new students. Most importantly, you want to make sure that there is a critical mass of students of color in the school to help provide your son with a sense of belonging.

The “Right Fit” is Paramount

In the final analysis, what’s most important is that your son is in a school that is the “right fit”. There’s no easier way to turn a boy off from school than to put him or keep him in a school environment that doesn’t nurture his interests and talents while meeting his academic needs and aspirations. What does it mean to find the “right fit”? Well, it’s not a one size fits all definition, and it may not be constant in your child’s life. The right fit is relative to your son and it may change as your son grows and develops.

The best way to define the “right fit” is with examples. If athletics play a key role in your child’s maturation and development, enrolling him in a school that doesn’t have an organized athletics program may prove challenging to keeping him engaged. If your son comes alive in a learning environment that emphasizes the humanities and world languages, and you insist that he goes to a school that caters to students interested in math and science, his grades and social life may reflect his unhappiness. Putting your child in a school that offers little in arts and culture, even though your child is artistically inclined, will limit his ability to further develop his talents.

Finding the “right fit” does not mean enrolling your child in a school that emphasizes your child’s interests over other key subjects and learning activities critical to his development. It simply means making sure that the school environment you choose provides the right balance of academics and other developmental programs that will ensure your child receives the educational experience that helps him to flourish in many areas, including those important to him.

Finding the Fit

How do you go about finding all of this information about the schools you are considering for your son? Talk to as many people as you can while you are looking at schools, and listen carefully to their answers. Be actively engaged during the touring process and ask questions at every opportunity. Speak with an assortment of parents who have children in the schools, don’t just rely on one family’s impressions. Know what your son needs, and as you visit each school, ask yourself if you can see him being happy in this environment. Push aside any anxiety about the process and focus on your mission, which is finding the best school for your son.


More posts from Anne and Jennifer are coming soon. Stay tuned for their next post: “What To Do When The Road Gets Rocky for Your Son at School (And it Will)”.

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Filed under Academics, Admissions, Ages 0-4, Ages 0-5, Ages 13-15, Ages 16-18, Ages 5-7, Ages 8-12

Back to School for Parents

Now that our sons are back in school, it’s time for parents to focus on our Back to School To Do List. Here are a few things you can do to help your son start the school year well:

Review your son’s schedule. Find out what you can about the teachers from your son, other parents and whatever adult sources you’ve got in the school. Where does your son’s lunch hour fall in the day? If it is very early or very late in the day, you might want to start the practice of putting (or having him put) a few healthy snacks in his backpack to get him through the day.
Talk with your son about teacher’s expectations. In the post elementary school years, teachers generally begin the semester by outlining what their classes will cover, what their expectations are for the students, and when they are available outside of class. They usually put this information in writing and distribute it to their class. Check with your son to make sure he focuses on this important information, and have him put a copy on his desk at home.
Review Academic Planners: Does your son have a daily academic planner to record homework assignments and upcoming tests? If his school doesn’t require one for him, make sure you purchase one for him, and instruct him to write down all homework assigned that day and all tests/quizzes announced in class for all classes. The start of the school year is the perfect time to establish this practice. Even if your son has done this in years past, he may need your help during the first few weeks with remembering to keep his planner up to date. Depending on his level of focus on these kinds of things, he may need your help remembering throughout the school year!
Take a good look at the school calendar, and take note of all of the upcoming important meetings. When is Curriculum or Open School night? Lock it into your schedule now. Also take note of the Parent’s Association or PTA meetings on the horizon. Make it a point to attend as many of these meetings as you can, try to do at least one a quarter. If your work schedule simply doesn’t allow it, take the time now to connect with a parent who regularly attends the meetings, and ask if you can follow up with them after the meeting to see what took place. It is important to know what is going on at your son’s school, even if it doesn’t seem to directly impact him at this time. It is also important to know the players within the parent’s association—you never know when you might need their help.
What school-sponsored events are coming up? Book sales, bake sales, after school events? Is there an opportunity for you to become involved with their planning? Lots of work can be done via telephone and email, which can be done anywhere. Everyone appreciates your pitching in to help, and it enables you to connect with other parents and the administration in ways you might not otherwise.
What is your son doing after school? While it is important to get afterschool activities scheduled as soon as possible, make sure you are not crowding his week with too many things to do. As the school year progresses, he will appreciate downtime during the week, and he may need it to focus on more challenging schoolwork.

Readers, any other suggestions? Please leave them in a comment below.

Best wishes for a good and productive school year!!!

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Filed under Academics, Admissions, Ages 0-4, Ages 0-5, Ages 13-15, Ages 16-18, Ages 5-7, Ages 8-12, College Bound Students, Holidays, Parents, Resources

A Persistent Problem: Being Bullied By Our Own for Being Smart

A generation ago, when I was a kid being bused into a predominantly white school in Brooklyn, I faced daily taunting and intimidation on the school bus from other Black students, who accused me of “acting white,” and “thinking I was cute” for the crime of being the only Black kid picked to be in the class for high achievers in my grade in the predominantly white school. I was teased, spat on and physically assaulted frequently during that 25 minute bus ride. While intervention by my parents and the school stopped the physical assaults, the ostracism continued. Luckily for me, my parents had the resources to move us out of Brooklyn to a more racially and economically integrated suburb.

A generation later, my husband and I moved to a similarly integrated suburb with the belief that our kids would be spared social ostracism for liking books as well as Lil Wayne. Imagine my disappointment when my son hit middle school and was subjected to daily taunting from his Black schoolmates because he liked to read, spoke standard English and had a diverse group of friends. After being on the Honor Roll his first semester, his grades took a nose dive. It took several months for us to ferret out the extent of the bullying to which our son was being subjected. Our suggestion to his teachers that the decline in his grades was caused by the bullying fell on deaf ears. Several of his teachers, including a Black teacher, preferred to believe that his newly mediocre grades were the best he could do. We ultimately moved him to a different school, where he is happier and his grades have improved.

A recent study conducted by sociologists at Virginia Tech and Ohio State University validates what many parents understand – bullying can be particularly detrimental to high achieving Black and Latino students. An article detailing the study can be found here. In his 2006 study “An Empirical Study of ‘Acting White”, Harvard Economist Roland Fryer determined that being ostracized for “acting white” is most prevalent in racially integrated public schools and has the highest social costs for adolescent males of color. An article written by Fryer about his findings can be found here.

Has your child been subjected to this kind of bullying? What did you do about it? Please share with us your experiences in confronting bullying.

Lisa Davis

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Filed under Academics, Admissions, Ages 0-4, Ages 0-5, Ages 13-15, Ages 16-18, Ages 5-7, Ages 8-12, College Bound Students

What Works: The University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute

GCP is dedicated to bringing you information about what educational programs are working for our children around the country. The University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute operates four charter schools on Chicago’s South Side which have the express aim of sending their students (mostly African American from low income families) to college, and the schools are impressively achieving this goal. But the Institute does more than run charter schools. It has developed and employs innovative educational research and teacher training programs as part of its plan to improve urban education. Read all about it here. (Thanks to GCP reader Dr. John E.Ellis for sending this our way.)

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