Taking a page from professional sports, the borough’s biggest charter school organizations have started their season of Senior Signing Days, all-out NCAA-type pep rallies in which students declare where they are going to college.
At a raucous rally at Uncommon Collegiate Charter High School in Bedford-Stuyvesant on Thursday, 100 percent of the seniors announced they were off to a four-year college in the Fall.
One by one, strutting across the stage, each student got to the mike, unfurled a T-shirt with the name of their college and yelled into the mike: “In the Fall of 2017, I will be attending….”, while the packed auditorium erupted in cheers. As they walked off the stage, a DJ played part of their favorite song and some of the graduates even danced to the beat as they made their way back to their seat.
Organizations like Uncommon Schools have made so-called Senior Signing Days an important part of their college prep mission, and the event is taking off in other places as well.
Michele Obama has teamed up with MTV to continue to elevate the concept of celebrating students who are headed to college and in particular to make going to college a more prevalent conversation in low-income communities.
The City’s Department of Education (DOE) said 282 of its schools citywide registered for “College Decision Day” this year, nearly triple last year’s 100 schools. This includes 79 schools in Brooklyn.
Uncommon Collegiate’s class of 2017, which earned more than $1.3 million in scholarships, is part of Uncommon Schools’ network of 22 schools in Brooklyn serving over 7,500 students. Uncommon Charter High School, its sister school in Brooklyn, will hold its Senior Signing Day next Thursday (May 25).
Uncommon Schools and Achievement First are the borough’s largest charter school networks. Achievement First has 19 schools and serves 6,800 students.
Achievement First also held its Senior Signing Day on Thursday, and it, too, celebrated 100 percent college acceptance, with students announcing they will attend colleges, including Princeton, Hampton, Syracuse and many CUNY and SUNY schools.
As students announced their college decisions, the seniors shared their experiences about overcoming obstacles and societal expectations.
Achievement First Senior Esther Reyes spoke about her father’s deportation and her intention to study Race, Ethnicity and Migration when she attends Yale University in the fall.
“To my Mexican hermanas y hermanos, if I can do it, so can you. You are not alone. This is what the resistance looks like,” she said.
Senior Keith Curry spoke about how he was accepted to all 12 schools to which he applied, and he plans to study engineering at the University at Albany. “Anything is possible if you put in the effort to achieve it,” Curry told the crowd.
The Uncommon school made special note of the date—the 63rd anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down separate but equal schools that allowed segregation.
“Today is a fulfillment of that ruling,” said Ashley Anderson Martin, the principal of Uncommon Collegiate, as she addressed her students. “Today you chose and declared college, one of the most important choices of your life. It was not an option for students who looked like you 63 years ago and it’s still not an option for many of us today.”
Indeed, all of the Uncommon Collegiate students are black or Latino and over 80 percent qualify for free or reduced price lunch. Yet, unlike many schools with that demographic, students are pushed to take academically challenging coursework throughout their four years. For example, Uncommon Collegiate ensures that all of its students have access to rigorous Advanced Placement courses.
“You are nothing short of amazing,” Flosha Tejada, the director of college placement, told the graduating class. “You are on a path to change history.”
The objective is not just to get admitted to college, but to graduate in four years, Tejada said, and Uncommon is committed to helping graduates achieve that goal, providing support even while students are attending college.
A majority of students in the graduating class are the first in their family to attend college.
“In the fall of 2017, I will be attending Dartmouth College,” said Daniella Omerun, 17, the class salutatorian.
Omerun, who is receiving a scholarship, came to Uncommon’s Brownsville Collegiate Middle School as a fifth grader. She took eight Advanced Placement classes, passing all of them, including receiving the top grade of 5 in AP world history.
“That class really challenged me,” she said.
Omerun is planning to study bio-chemistry and minor in creative writing, though she said she is keeping an open mind “because I might want to change what I want to do.”
Carlos Jolley, who is attending Amherst College, joined Uncommon’s Brownsville Collegiate in fifth grade. He took eight AP courses and has passed all of them so far. This past year, he took AP computer science, AP calculus, AP English and AP research.
At Amherst, one of the nation’s top liberal arts colleges, Jolley said he plans to study computer science, neuroscience or bio-chemistry, though he also has a interest in history and sociology. Jolley said he didn’t realize Amherst, located in central Massachusetts, was as rural as it was until he visited the campus.
“I wanted to get some separation from the city,” he said. “I wanted to live a little quieter environment and have a little space for my college years.”