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For Students in Foster Care, A Helping Hand in the High School Admissions Process

NYC's Dept. of Ed is working to provide children in foster care extra attention as they seek high school placement.

Photo Credit: Solaria via


Most of the roughly 30,000 students and family members who passed through Brooklyn Technical High School last weekend had to traverse the Citywide High School Fair on their own.

But high above the fair’s hustle and bustle, a small group of at-risk middle school students got a helping hand.

For the second year, the Department of Education partnered with the Administration for Children’s Services and private donors to host the New York Goal Weekend at the fair. The event gives seventh- and eighth-grade students who are in foster care extra assistance as their search for a high school gets underway.

ACS officials started of the program in 2010 — and merged it with the education department last year — because they saw students in foster care struggle to navigate the labyrinthine process of selecting, ranking, and applying for high school placement.

“It’s already confusing for a regular kid, but if you can imagine what this is like for a foster child, they have a lot already going on in their lives,” said Suzanne Sousa, ACS’s director of development and special programs, who oversaw the event on Saturday.

Sousa said ACS has been encouraged by the program’s early results. In 2011, 70 percent of the 119 eighth-graders in foster care who met with enrollment counselors got into one of their top three high school choices. Two students were admitted into highly selective specialized high schools.

In the 2011-2012 school year, there were 1,367 middle school students living in foster care, including 454 in eighth grade, according to city data. Sousa said 347 students had signed up to attend this year’s high school fair workshop.

The weekend-long event is held on Brooklyn Tech’s eighth (and top) floor, isolated from the hectic and crowded fair on the floors below. The students are given their own entrance to the building and treated to meals, snacks, and gift bags.

Most importantly, officials said, they receive the kind of one-on-one service that isn’t generally available at the general fair. Volunteers were on hand to escort students and their foster parents through the seven floors of students and educators hawking their high schools.

“The goal is to have a less crazy environment,” said Eduardo Contreras, chief operating officer of the Department of Education’s Division of Portfolio Planning. He was one of dozens of volunteers who worked during the weekend event, which was sponsored by Himan Brown Charitable Trust.

In one room, students received one-on-one counseling on how to get started with picking a high school once they headed downstairs. In another room, parents learned about the differences among specialized, screened, and zoned schools and small schools, small learning communities, and comprehensive schools.

In the auditorium at the other end of the eighth floor at a general information session, Kathleen Hoskins conducted a lesson on how to decipher the 500-page high school directory.

“Is everyone on page 429?” asked Hoskins, Director of the Administration for Children’s Services’ Education Unit.  “I wanted to point this school out to you because it’s what the Department of Education calls a career and technical school.”

Students who attend the school, Aviation Career and Technical Education High School, can go to work right after graduating, the speaker noted.

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said visiting the Goal Weekend floor was a highlight of his fair experience. When two students interested in law there asked him for advice about navigating the fair, Walcott said he told them to keep an eye out for high schools that offered special law programs.

The extra service, Walcott said, “provides a jumping off point that [students] might not otherwise get.”