Shot, reported and edited by Lana Schupbach>
Today’s education statistics are sobering. While test scores continue to gradually improve, many ask if that is happening at a fast enough rate? According to the New York State Education Department, “Statewide, almost 72 percent of the students who started 9th grade in 2005 had graduated after 4 years, by June 2009.” However, among African-American students, “The 4-year graduation rate increased from 45 to almost 56 percent between 2005 and 2009.” In New York City the graduation rate for all students rose from 56.4 percent in 2008 to 59 percent in 2009.
However, there are schools that are bucking this trend and providing students with the educational opportunities that they need and deserve. One such school is The Young Women’s Leadership School of East Harlem. It’s one of five schools in The Young Women’s Leadership Network. Other locations in the system include: Jamaica, Queens; Astoria, Queens; Brooklyn and Rhodes, which is located in Philadelphia.
The flagship East Harlem school was opened in 1996 and follows an all-girls public education model. According to officials associated with the school, the concept of this single-sex focused school for young women was met with criticism in the beginning on why it was going to focus on just one sex, and whether or not it could be successful. However, the proof is in the numbers.
Since their first graduating class in 2001, the East Harlem school has had a 100 percent college acceptance rate in each successive class. Furthermore, it has been rated as being in the top 4 percent of high schools in New York City. Beyond the numbers there are four priority areas the school hones in on that may produce the aforementioned results: Math, Science and technology; Leadership, Health and Wellness and College preparation.
This network also supports a program known as CollegeBound Initiative, which is a school-based college guidance program for coed and single-sex public schools. From the moment a young woman enters TYWLS, as it’s affectionately known amongst students and staff, college preparation is a major focus. According to college counselor Chris Farmer, “When they started TYWLS they created a mission statement and part of their mission is to prepare young women for college and everyone at the school, every single person genuinely believes in that. It’s at the core of the soul of the school so everything we do is preparing young women for college.”
The success of the East Harlem School can also be attributed to its regimented daily approach and the culture of responsibility that has been created according to Principal Althea Bradshaw-Tyson. “They might not admit that we care about them in the beginning because we’re very strict with certain things. You must get your homework done; you must be in school on time. If you’re not here we’re calling your parents. But come 11th and 12th grade, they realize we’re doing it for their own good.”
It’s not just the school’s administrators who see the benefit of their approach but students as well. “They need a small school so the students can feel like they’re interacting with what the school is trying to give us. I think the small environment is good for everyone. And I think the fact that the school is so focused on getting girls to college and getting us to be successful really helps,” according to senior Crystal Civil who is set to attend Hunter College in the fall.
And with students and administrators on the same page it’s a win-win situation for all.