Ready for High School on Henry Street

By Nicole Fogarty

Eighth grade Peer Leaders meeting with Program Coordinator Elise Boykin (center) at the Middle School Success Center.

They’re still in middle school, but eighth graders at Henry Street’s Middle School Success Center (MSSC) are already focusing on high school—thanks to the MSSC.

For instance, Michelle, an eighth grader in the program, credits her hard work and the MSCC experience with helping her match into two competitive high schools – Brooklyn Tech (one of the city’s specialized schools) and Bard High School Early College. Michelle chose Brooklyn Tech next, as did another MCCS classmate. Specialized high school matches at the MSSC are up, with one student matching last year compared to three this year.

These successes are made possible through the MSSC, the New York City Department of Education-funded program to help students at University Neighborhood Middle School on the Lower East Side with the daunting and complicated high school admissions process.

“We are a resource for school staff, students and parents when it comes to this pivotal process. We allow the students to advocate for themselves along with their families, to become informed about their futures educational options,” said Program Coordinator Elise Boykin. The MSSC provides high school tours, counseling, workshops, application and portfolio prep, and more.

A bulletin board at University Neighborhood Middle School showing where eighth graders in the program are going to high school.

We recently sat down with the program’s Peer Leaders – eighth graders who give back by mentoring seventh graders – to discuss their chosen high schools, what they enjoy about the program, and what the high school application process would have looked like without the MSSC.

Chad Hicks, who will attend Urban Assembly Maker Academy, said that the most beneficial part of the program for were the high school visits. “Before, I didn’t know what I qualified for or what I wanted, but the trips helped me figure it out,” he said. “I also learned how to help other students.”

“My favorite part is being with the other students, working together and having fun,” said Colin Powlett, who will be going to the Academy for Software Engineering.

“The Middle School Success Center is important, because it helps us through a process that we’re left defenseless for, in a lot of ways. There aren’t a lot of tools available to teach you how to go through it. You get help from your parents and siblings, but this helps you be extra prepared.”

Added Miriah Harris, future student at Manhattan Early College for Advertising, “Without the Middle School Success Center, [the high school application process] would have been a lot harder, and I would have been a lot more confused. My favorite part is being a peer leader and helping others learn how to prioritize schools.”

Daiquasia Powell, who will be attending the High School of Economics and Finance, expressed how valuable the MSSC was while searching for high schools. “The most helpful part was learning how to use the high school directory. At first, I didn’t know what any of the words meant – zones, screens, etc. If I never learned what all that meant, I wouldn’t have known how to search for a high school,” she said.

A Peer Leader prepares folders for an upcoming workshop for parents of eighth graders. 

The MSSC also teaches students to pay attention to details. “It taught me what to look for in a high school – things like academics, activities, and college acceptance rates. Without it, I probably would have applied at the last minute and wouldn’t be going to the school that is best for me,” said Chelsea Pratt, who will attend Lower Manhattan Arts Academy. “They help me stay on my A game. “

“As a peer leader, I help other kids look for what kinds of things they want in a high school and make sure they don’t go somewhere they don’t like. When I was applying to high school, [the MSSC] helped me think about what activities and extracurriculars I was looking for in a school. I hadn’t even thought about that before,” said Sylvia Grant, who will be attending Pace University High School.

Yazinae Mendez, who will be attending Manhattan Early College School for Advertising alongside Harris and two other MSSC participants, added, “The program helped me be more social with other students, and it showed me the importance of stepping out of my comfort zone. Without it, I think the application process would be messier – a lot of students wait until the last minute to apply, but this prepares you so you don’t have to do that.”

Naelon Velazquez, who will be attending the Academy for Software Engineering, explained how the MSSC helped him realize there are more important things to consider when applying to high school than popularity. “Most people choose high schools that everyone wants to go to without really thinking about it or knowing if it’s right for them. This program helps refine the process, and it teaches us what to look for in a school,” he said.

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