The New York City Department of Education set up ten Student Registration Centers throughout the city last month to help students and parents navigate the sometimes-complex admissions process into public schools.
At the center in Chelsea, tensions ran high.
While some students arrived at the Chelsea center without any school to go to, others came seeking a spot at a new school. Miguelina Inoa and her daughter Naomi came to the center three times in one week seeking a transfer. Naomi, a 10th grader, had had a difficult freshman year at Landmark High School in Chelsea.
“I missed school a lot,” Naomi said, “That’s not like me. I didn’t do that in middle school.” Her mother explained that the school caused her daughter a great deal of anxiety, “There are seven schools in one building. That school is very chaotic,” she said. The pair eventually succeeded in enrolling Naomi at Norman Thomas High School in Murray Hill. “I don’t know what to expect,” said Naomi, “but I’m happy to be in a new school.”
Although the school year began on September 6, the centers opened on August 28 and were still processing students on September 14. Dennis Walcott, Chancellor of the Department of Education, announced at the September meeting of the Panel of Education Policy that approximately 13,000 students had used the centers at last count. While the centers served students in all grades, the vast majority of families at the center on West 25th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues came looking for a high school.
The process proved particularly difficult for students over the age of 18 who came to the center without guardians. They were stopped at the door and given a two-page form that needed to be notarized. Dalvin Esplanade, 19, left the center frustrated and unsure as to how to proceed, but determined to complete the process. He wanted to transfer schools because to get to his current school he has to walk a block he finds hostile.
“My block has problems with that block,” Esplanade said, “I’m just trying to avoid trouble.”
Not all families found the process as trying. Yvette Deveaux, the mother of a 10th grader, left the center with nothing but good things to say. She described the staff as “very helpful” and “really nice.” Deveuax’s son moved out of the city last year, but returned during the summer. She managed to re-enroll him at his former high school in Chelsea.
Students must apply to attend any public high school in the city, usually in eighth grade. Those who do not participate in the admissions process or who are unhappy with their placement end up at the Student Registration Centers.
Parents of these students didn’t have the luxury of worrying about the potential downside to starting in a new school two weeks into the school year. When asked if she was concerned that her son would have some catching up to do, Devaux said, “I just need to get him in a school.”
After Inoa completed the process and registered her daughter at Norman Thomas High School, she expressed mixed feelings about the centers. She said DOE staff members were not very helpful, but in the end, her daughter felt satisfied with the change.
“She’s happy and she’s learning at her new school,” Inoa said.
Acknowledging that registration was only one challenge facing these families, a Department employee, who asked not to be named in accordance with Department of Education media policy, shouted out to each family exiting the Chelsea center, “Good luck to you this school year.”
The Department did not respond to requests for drop-out data on students who register late via student registration centers in time for publication.