Neighborhood: Hamilton Heights, Manhattan
Middle School: M.S. 322 in Inwood, Manhattan
High Schools: Manhattan Business Academy (9th Grade), High School for Health Professions and Human Services (10th Grade onwards)
It took 16-year-old Christian Guaman two attempts over two years to find the right high school. Although Christian was the valedictorian of his elementary and middle schools, he had no one to guide him through the Byzantine high school admissions process in New York City.
Christian’s mother emigrated from Ecuador to the United States in 1999 while she was pregnant with him. She worked at a factory in order to support him.
“It feels like a lot of pressure knowing that her entire life was given up for me,” he said. “That’s something that has definitely motivated me through a lot of things.”
Christian was born in Brooklyn and later moved to upper Manhattan. He attended Inwood’s Middle School 322, a small, zoned school where over 90 percent of the students are Hispanic and come from a low-income background. Around half of the students at his middle school were new immigrants enrolled in a dual language program.
Although Christian’s teachers helped him earn high school credits through honors classes, they offered very little advice on how to navigate the high school admissions process. The school’s guidance counselors were not systematic or organized, he said.
“The children had to work with their parents to get into a good high school,” Christian said, adding: “It was rather confusing and pretty hard.”
His mother, who only speaks Spanish, was unable to help. Christian procrastinated on his 9th grade application, focusing instead on his homework. He filled out his high school application the week before the deadline and listed a handful of highly sought-after high schools like Hunter College High School which requires an exam and Bard High School Early College where students complete high school in two years before moving on to college classes.
He was matched instead with the Manhattan Business Academy, a new, unscreened high school in Chelsea where students score an average of 1216 out of 2400 on the SAT. Christian attended the school for one year but did not feel academically challenged.
“I came to the realization that I wasn’t being tested to my limits. I wasn’t learning more than I already knew,” he said.
He found the standard courses boring and took the English language Regents in 9th grade, two years ahead of schedule.
After talking to his guidance counselor, Christian decided to re-apply for high schools across the city. Christian viewed this opportunity as a second chance and took the process very seriously. He carefully researched schools and looked for high schools that offered a challenging course load and advanced placement classes.
Students who apply for a different high school for 10th grade are much less likely to receive offers than those who are applying to high schools for the first time according to the Department of Education’s data. In 2014, for example, only 57 percent of the 4,425 students applying to 10th grade received offers whereas 90 percent of students applying to 9th grade were matched.
Christian was matched with the High School for Health Professions & Human Services in Manhattan where he currently attends 10th grade. He’s currently taking Advanced Placement Literature and plans on enrolling in more classes for college credit next year. Although he sometimes stays up till three in the morning to complete homework assignments, Christian is very happy in his new school.
Christian is among the 30 percent of students from his high school who are on an honors track. This winter, he was selected to go on a trip to Washington D.C. to visit the Capitol and tour Georgetown University.
For him, high school is not just about learning facts. It’s an opportunity to build lasting bonds between teachers and friends.
“The social aspect of high school is intense because you’re becoming an adult,” he said. “By the end of it, you will be an adult — supposedly ready to take on the world.”