A New York City public school parent has removed her daughter from a specialized high school, calling it the best decision she’s ever made.
“Not two months in, we knew our daughter was having a rough transition to high school,” said Mary Jean Babic, a proud New York City public school parent who lives in Brooklyn and works as a user experience writer in the financial industry.
“The pre-dawn sobbing in the kitchen, as she begged to sleep just a little longer. The mornings she never got out of bed or to school at all. The nightly throwdowns to not only wrestle homework but figure out what it even was. The student portal bleeding red from missed assignments.”
Mary said she was unprepared for what awaited her at student-led conferences at the famously rigorous specialized high school she was attending.
“Conference duty fell to me while my husband stayed home with our son. Capitalizing on a lovely fall day, I biked off across Brooklyn to one of the worst experiences of my parenting life.”
At student-led conferences, kids are supposed to present work and reflect on their progress. However, Mary’s daughter mostly sat mute beside her as teacher after teacher after teacher said a version of the same thing: She’s way behind on her assignments. She stares off into space and doesn’t participate. Sometimes, she doesn’t even take off her backpack. They described an almost catatonic kid who wasn’t just slipping academically but had forgotten how to do school.
“We had not particularly wanted our daughter to go to one of New York City’s eight specialized high schools for which the only admissions criteria is an entrance exam known as the SHSAT. We knew they could be competitive pressure cookers and would feel very different from the supportive, unscreened middle school she’d loved. We also knew the specialized high schools notoriously do not reflect the racial makeup of the citywide student population,” confirmed Mary.
She also noted that the experience isn’t always so great for the few Black and Latino students who do attend. She claimed they applied given the city’s anxiety-producing high school application process, and being not completely insusceptible to the mores of their urban white middle-class milieu.
Mary had since transferred her daughter to another school.
“At the school she transferred to the following fall, Essex Street Academy, she was never left to twist in the wind about a simple assignment. Every day, the staff demonstrated their commitment to doing what’s best for students. Immediate evidence of this: They start school at 9:25 a.m., having taken to heart the vast body of research showing that teenage brains do not function at the crack of dawn. Essex has open admissions, which is no coincidence. A non-selective mindset, I’ve found, usually goes hand-in-hand with a strong focus on students’ well-being. I wish more parents recognized that.”