The New York Times published an article on Sunday, February 25, regarding the racial makeup at Stuyvesant High School. The piece, “To Be Black at Stuyvesant High,” written by Fernanda Santos, featured senior Rudi-Ann Miller, and her experience as one of the few black students at Stuyvesant.
African-Americans currently make up 1.2 percent of the enrollment at Stuyvesant, even though they are 32 percent of the city’s public school students.
The article stated that lack of awareness in middle schools with high black and Latino enrollments is one of the main reasons why Stuyvesant’s population has such a disparity. According to the New York Times article, when Parent Coordinator Harvey Blumm visits these middle schools, it is not rare to find students who have never heard of the specialized high school test or students who have never done any preparation for the test.
By participating in the article, Miller hoped to help raise awareness about specialized high schools. “I really wanted more middle school students and school administrators to see [the article]. I wanted schools to see it and contact BSL [the Black Student League] and for them to want us to come and speak and inspire them to want to take the test, which it has. A couple of middle schools have contacted us and want to set up meetings,” Miller said.
The BSL at Stuyvesant has also taken the initiative in spreading information. For the last few years, BSL has made it an annual tradition to visit middle schools throughout the city in order to spread information about specialized high schools. These visits are conducted in the spring and are primarily to schools in Queens and Brooklyn with significant black or Latino populations.
SPARK coordinator Angel Colon also believes that informing students and parents is crucial. “All SHSAT [Standardized High School Admission Test] information should be distributed to all middle schools along with procedure information, preparation services and the like. These schools should make a better effort in providing and servicing their students and parents,” Colon said in an e-mail interview.
Miller first became acquainted with Santos when Santos’s editor, who previously worked at Stuyvesant, contacted English teacher Annie Thoms to ask if she knew any students who would be willing to work with Santos on an article regarding the racial disparity at Stuyvesant. Thoms reached out to three students, but only Miller consented.Santos contacted Miller in September 2011 and conducted her first interview within the month. After getting consent from Miller’s parents and Principal Stanley Teitel, Santos shadowed Miller at school, sitting in on classes and attending BSL meetings.
In the article, Santos mentions that Stuyvesant opted out of the Summer Discovery Program, an initiative that used to give disadvantaged students with exam scores just below the cutoff level a chance to study over the summer and earn a slot at the school. Both Teitel and Blumm commented that students admitted through this program would have found it difficult to succeed.
Senior Cindy Lin also disagrees with the Discovery Program’s implementation. “There is a certain threshold that [Stuyvesant students hold themselves] up to and if we lower it to include certain people then it would be like we’re almost cheating others,” Lin said.
However, junior Cynthia Chan believes that there were some benefits to the program. “I would go along with [it],” Chan said. “The disadvantaged students who were just a few points below the cut off score should definitely get a second chance because if this is what they want for an education, they should be allowed to pursue it if they really want to go here.”
In the Times article, Santos also discussed a proposal made by a Stuyvesant alumnus, who suggested that Stuyvesant should automatically accept the valedictorian and salutatorian of every city middle school.
The proposal was met with some criticism. “It’s not a very reasonable thing to do. There are some schools where it is extremely easy to become valedictorian, whereas if you go to a middle school that is very competitive, even if you are in the middle 50 percent you might be loads better than the valedictorian at a very bad school,” senior Kevin Zhang said.
The article itself has caused some negative reactions among students. “Although the article pointed out the issues and statistics with numbers and its ethnicity breakdowns, I felt a lot of positive outreach initiatives were just left out in terms of what the school community, faculty, parents, students, diversity clubs, etc., has done,” Colon said.
“A lot of the article was true but [the writer] stretched it to a point to make it more interesting,” junior Brian Lam said. One example that Lam referred to is how in the article, Santos refers to the radiators outside the fifth floor cafeteria as the “Chocolate Bar” because black students were known to hang out there. “Maybe a few people call it the Chocolate Bar, but I definitely don’t. I never heard it before and I just think that they really changed the facts around a lot,” Lam said.
Though Chan did not like the way Stuyvesant was portrayed, she does feel that “the article brought to mind big points like the priority of education in different families or what constitutes a good education,” she said. “Like being able to test prep well or being able to think on your own.”
As of now, the article has “sparked a lot of discussion, which is important as well, in terms of changing the current status of blacks and Latinos in specialized high schools,” Miller said. It remains to be seen, however, if there will be any concrete changes to the existing system as a result.