StuyPrep Pivots to Virtual Instruction
StuyPrep, the diversity initiative operated by the Stuyvesant High School Alumni Association, was set to have its biggest year yet, but then the pandemic shut down schools and forced everyone home.
StuyPrep provides tutoring and preparation for the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) exclusively for students from underserved and underprivileged neighborhoods and middle schools throughout New York City. The aim of the program is to provide a funnel of diverse, driven students to the city’s specialized high schools.
Unlike other SHSAT preparation programs, StuyPrep is entirely free for students. The Alumni Association usually provides a full two-month in-person prep over the summer. In the fall, students come to Stuyvesant for another two months of practice tests and small-group tutoring by current Stuyvesant students who took the test themselves a few years ago. This year, the program took place exclusively online to comply with health guidelines and protect all those involved. Since StuyPrep had never been fully digital and remote previously, the StuyPrep team wanted to err on the side of a smaller program to ensure the program delivered a solid experience for participants and provided for more individualized attention.
Last year, StuyPrep opened up applications to all middle school students from across the city for the first time. Previously, only students from participating middle schools in Queens and Brooklyn were eligible to apply. This year, StuyPrep had open applications once again, but the application process was more rigorous due to the smaller program size. Fifty students were selected for this year’s StuyPrep program, with classes split evenly between StuyPrep’s two partners: Kaplan and Kweller Prep. Sixteen students from Public Prep were added on for the fall program and the January cram session.
Sean Donnelly, a student at IS 289, saw his practice test scores jump high enough to be admitted into at least one of the specialized high schools. He saw StuyPrep as a “really great experience” that “gave [him] the strategies to improve [his] skills.” Sean saw his work in his regular classes improve as well as improving in StuyPrep. He described: “I had always struggled with algebraic questions on the test but the problems that my [Kweller Prep] tutor, Nina, assigned helped me to practice more. She always gave targeted help.” His mom, Kellen Donnelly, had some doubts about a completely virtual test prep program, saying, “At first, I was concerned about Zoom, but the teachers were so knowledgeable and nice, and they made sure to reach out to each student.”
Sydney Goodman from MS 61 also saw a dramatic improvement in her practice test scores. It was a bit of a rough start for Sydney: “I thought I was going to do very bad. It was very hard, but it started getting easier as we went on.” While she has always been more of a math person, Sydney found that as the program progressed, she “liked grammar and reading more, which was surprising and nice.” StuyPrep even helped Sydney outside of the classroom, with the program “[helping] a lot with my confidence”, she said, “I am more comfortable sharing and speaking and helping others.”
Low participation rates in the test is another large contributor to the underrepresentation of black and Hispanic students in specialized high schools; four out of five Black and Hispanic students in NYC do not take the SHSAT. This is why programs like StuyPrep are necessary; they not only improve admissions rates among participants, but also increase their interest in specialized high schools, their confidence in their ability to get into these schools, and their overall SHSAT participation rates.
This year, there has been a lack of clarity from the NYC Department of Education (DOE) about how the test will be administered in this unprecedented time. In the past, 8th-graders take the SHSATs in early November of their Fall term. The StuyPrep students and their families are confused and nervous about the uncertainty surrounding the test. They are concerned that their months of hard work and dedication may be for naught.
The SHSAA has directly reached out to Richard Carranza, the Chancellor of NYC’s Department of Education, about how we would be willing to support in any way we can, including subsidizing any incremental costs required to maintain a safe test environment and mobilizing substantial financial and personnel resources to support the DOE’s efforts. We have not received any response from Mr. Carranza or the DOE.
EDIT 1/13/2021: An earlier version of this article indicated that “As of December 15, 2020, no official test dates have even been announced yet for the SHSAT for this school year.” We also listed resources that urged Governor Cuomo not to cancel this year’s SHSAT and to contact your elected officials about SHSAT scheduling.
On Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, the Mayor announced that the SHSAT would be administered starting January 27. More details can be found here.
Thank you to our generous StuyPrep donors!
We would like to extend our great gratitude to all of our StuyPrep donors. Without you, we would not be able to provide SHSAT prep to so many students entirely free of charge.
This year, we received a generous $100,000 donation from SHSAA Director Anna Nikolayevsky ’88 to fund StuyPrep. You can read more about Ms. Nikolayevsky and why she thinks StuyPrep is important here.