August 30, 2013
Every summer, thousands of children scattered across the city don’t have a school to attend in the fall. Beginning this week, and continuing through the beginning of the school year, many of these students will start figuring out what their best options are and find themselves flooding to hubs designed to help them.
The sorting happens at nine pop-up enrollment centers housed in school basements and auditoriums, where Department of Education officials and volunteers sift through documents, check for seats in the city’s 1,700 schools, and listen to new students’ histories and needs.
It’s a process designed to deal with the unique transience of New York City’s public school population, which annually includes about 50,000 students who enroll in city schools “over the counter” — or after regular enrollment deadlines.
We met families at last year’s enrollment centers. Now, here are some of the new faces from this year:
1. Seeking a choice
Many families visit the enrollment centers seeking options that aren’t available to them.
Corbit Smith’s son, Iken Ude-Smith moved to New York to join his father this summer after getting bullied at his old school in California. Smith said the new start felt like an opportunity.
“This could be a crossroads in his life,” Smith outside Clara Barton High School, one of three centers in Brooklyn.
Though they lived in a neighborhood zoned for P.S. 241, Smith wanted to know how he could get his son enrolled at the school where he mentors students, P.S. 9 in Prospect Heights. But after meeting with enrollment officials, he learned that wasn’t likely. District 13 mostly enrolls students in schools based on where they live.
2. Hope, but still no change
Hector moved from the Dominican Republic two years ago to be reunited with his father in Brooklyn. But his transition at school has been challenging, a problem that brought his stepmother, Ramona Pujols, to Brooklyn Technical High School on Wednesday. Pujols heard about enrollment centers over the summer and visited with the hope of transferring the rising third grader to a school that better meets his special needs.
“He sees a sign and copies it, but he doesn’t know how to read it,” Pujols said in Spanish as she left Brooklyn Technical.
Pujols wanted to get Hector and his younger sister, Dayalin, placed at a nearby Bushwick school where her own children attend, Brighter Choice Community School. She left the center with some promising news.
“They didn’t change his school, but they gave me hope,” said Pujols, who added that she’s expecting a call or letter with a decision soon. “They’re going to send his paperwork to the Department of Education.”
3. Language barriers
Walter Chan immigrated from Guatemala in July and, like many people who visit the city’s enrollment centers, doesn’t speak English, but he’s eager to learn.
He went to Brooklyn Tech with his mother, Edna, to enroll in school. ”It was my first time [at the enrollment center] and I didn’t know what to expect,” Edna said in Spanish. “I don’t speak English so I had to ask for help.”
For Walter, who was assigned to the Academy of Urban Planning in Brooklyn, the prospect of learning English is exciting and nerveracking.
“I came here to study and have a better future,” he said.
4. For immigrants, documentation hurdles
For some parents, compiling the paperwork required to register children for school is relatively straightforward. For others it’s a daunting task.
Anthony Suazo, who works as a Spanish interpreter at the Clara Barton High School enrollment center, said recent immigrants whose housing situation has been in flux sometimes arrive at enrollment centers without the necessary paperwork.
“A lot have been living in a room with friends or family and don’t have their names on leases,” he said.
Suazo said that most of the families he interpreted for at the enrollment centers came from Mexico or the Dominican Republic.
“One family I worked with didn’t have all the paperwork,” he said, “so they left and they’re going to try to get it and come back. It’s going to be a big rigamarole.”
5. The whole child
José Pichardo said he’s not sure which school would be best for his daughter, Yomaris. But one thing he’s not worried about is her academics.
“She’s an excellent student,” Pichardo said in Spanish, as they waited to speak with enrollment officials.
Yomaris left the Dominican Republic this summer to join her father in Sunset Park. Now, he said, he wants to make sure she’s supported socially.
“I want a school that’s good for her personality. She’s a little shy.”
6. A trio of new arrivals
Three siblings who immigrated from Bangladesh over the summer don’t know what to expect at their new schools. A family friend, Soaiful, accompanied the Rahman siblings to an enrollment center and acted as a translator. Through him, the siblings asked to be identified only by their last name. After three hours, the oldest and youngest, a high school student and kindergartner, left with school placements. The middle brother was directed to a school that requires interviews, so he needs to complete an interview before his placement is set.
“If it doesn’t work, we’ll come back,” Soaiful said.
7. Return brings relief
Xia Lin took the lead when she and her mom, Xinyan, stopped by the center at Brooklyn Tech.
“I knew it would be okay because I speak English now,” said Xia, who moved to the United States in time for ninth grade.
She left the enrollment center excited and relieved after re-enrolling at Brooklyn International for her senior year.
“I’m excited to go back,” she said, ”I love it. There we have teamwork. In my other school we did only work individually.”
8. Travel transfers
Daisy, who asked to be identified by only her first name, took an afternoon this summer to visit the high school to which her daughter Iribel had been assigned for ninth grade. Daisy said she decided right away that Iribel needed to attend a different school. The commute from her home in Brooklyn to the school in Harlem was too long, she said, and the area felt unfamiliar.
“I forgot the name of the school,” she said. “That’s how much I didn’t like it.” So she brought Iribel to the enrollment center at Clara Barton to request a travel transfer. Students who must travel more than 75 minutes each way to school — a reduction from the previous requirement of 90 minutes — are eligible to be placed in new schools.
Iribel was granted a transfer and then walked across the street to fill out paperwork at her new school, the High School for Global Citizenship, which is housed in the Prospect Heights High School building.
9. Feeling stuck
Daniel Rivera went to the enrollment center at Clara Barton hoping to transfer out of Multicultural High School, which he said he thinks “is about to close.” The school received a D on its 2011-12 progress report. Daniel, a rising sophomore, said he wants to go to a school that focuses on engineering.
Though the enrollment centers are designed primarily for students who aren’t yet registered in any city school, many students and their families went to the enrollment centers hoping to change high schools.
“He wants to go to a different school, and that’s all there is to say,” Daniel’s grandmother, Luz, said in Spanish.
But transferring high schools is difficult to do in the city. Many students who, like Daniel, didn’t qualify for transfers due to safety concerns, medical needs, or long commutes said they were told to return to their existing schools. Some, particularly those who wanted to pursue an interest in which their schools don’t specialize said they were advised to speak with administrators at their school and look into extracurricular options.
10. School scramble
As families scramble for spaces in schools, at least one school is also scrambling to find students.
Maleek Gordon, a senior at the School for Legal Studies in Williamsburg, said his assistant principal asked him to go to the enrollment center and “tell the honest truth about how I feel about the school.” Gordon is captain of the school’s cheerleading team and interned at the school over the summer.
“We want to get more students [to enroll],” he said. “I do too. More dancers!”
Chris O’Neil, an intervention specialist at the school, said he and other staff were sent to enrollment centers across the city because the administration is hoping to recruit hundreds of new students before the school year starts, boosting its funding and capacity to offer new programs. (According to the city, the school is only 20 students under its projected register.) He and Gordon went to the Brooklyn Tech enrollment center on Tuesday to meet the staff, then returned today to speak with parents.
“Our school’s not talked about that much,” Gordon said, adding that he hopes to change the reputation by letting parents know the opportunities available for them at Legal Studies. He approached a mother and son on their way into the enrollment center.
“Is there anything your son really wants to do?” he asked the mom. “Is there anything you really want your son to do?”