StuyPrep Completes Third Year

The Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) for the incoming Class of 2023 took place on Oct 21st and Oct 22nd. Among the 30,000+ NYC eighth graders who took the exam this year were approximately 100 StuyPrep students. StuyPrep, currently in its third year, is a free SHSAT test-prep and mentoring program sponsored by the Alumni Association to help students in underrepresented neighborhoods of New York City gain admission to the specialized high schools. Making a commitment to diversity, the SHSAA has increased funding to provide the program to more students than ever before. When Kent Kim ’05 and Christina Alfonso ’01 first started the program in 2016, the inaugural class was composed of approximately 30 students from IS 392 in Brooklyn. This year, the program has expanded to 100+ students from seven middle schools throughout Brooklyn and Queens.

The program structure has grown to include not only professional test-prep classes taught by Kaplan, but additional small group tutoring and supplementary classes taught by current Stuy students and alumni volunteers. One alumni volunteer, Ilya Tsinis ’05, teaches weekly classes at StuyPrep. Ilya’s passion for education started when he was a senior at Stuyvesant. As Math Team captain, he was given the life-changing opportunity to teach a class of 20+ freshman by legendary Math teacher, Mr. Richard Geller.

Ilya Tsinis ’05, StuyPrep Coach, leading a class during a Saturday session at Stuyvesant

One of Ilya’s most hard-working students, Orion Morgan, attributed his 40% improvement in practice exam test scores to many of the tools and strategies that he learned from StuyPrep and Ilya himself. Orion is an eighth grade student at Dock Street Middle School in District 13 in Brooklyn. We asked Orion’s mother, Cynthia McKnight, who is also the school’s PTA President, about the impact of StuyPrep on Dock School students. “The program has been phenomenal. I have seen tremendous growth in not only my son, but his classmates. The program has been a life saver for me and the families at our school since it is free. Over 80% of our eighth graders are from very low income families. This has removed a tremendous barrier to families who cannot the afford the cost of the expensive test prep programs, ” Ms. McKnight said.

This year, StuyPrep was organized into two parts. The first part was a Kaplan-led course held in the local neighborhoods of our StuyPrep students, where they were taught a SHSAT curriculum in a formal classroom setting. During the second part of the program, all 100+ StuyPrep students met at Stuyvesant to review the material in small groups led by current Stuyvesant students and alumni.

Orion found the second part of the program to be incredibly valuable. “This experience has helped me get an idea of what Stuyvesant was like and it drove me to focus and work harder to gain admission and succeed in that environment.” His mother agreed, “It has been very impactful for the Dock Street students to come to the actual school. They can actually see themselves attending Stuyvesant High School which, is very powerful. I know this program will change the trajectory of many of our students and I have already told them to pay it forward. The generosity of time and resources by Stuyvesant High School alumni has become an important part of instilling in our students the need to give back.”

Cynthia McKnight (furthest right) and son, Orion (second from the right), seen with family and StuyPrep classmates, Anaiya (furthest left) and Nitema (middle)

Last year, five StuyPrep students gained admission to specialized high schools including one student who got into Stuyvesant. We won’t know the results of this year’s tests until March 2019, but regardless of how many students end up getting into Specialized High Schools, StuyPrep has already left a lasting impact on its students. As Ilya observes, “The most important effect of StuyPrep might be the students’ realization that deliberate practice can yield huge results. Even the students that don’t end up getting into Specialized High Schools have seen this through their improvement in test scores with practice. These students also got to work with older Stuy mentors and alumni who truly believed in them and pushed them to fulfill their potential. These unquantifiable moments can manifest in remarkable ways for the rest of these students’ lives. Sometimes all it takes is one educational encounter to alter somebody’s entire life trajectory.”

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