Ezelle Trapp-Sherman

Age: 14
Neighborhood: Parkchester, the Bronx
Middle school: Promise Academy II
High school: Undecided

Ezelle has attended Promise Academy in the Harlem Children's Zone since Kindergarten.
Ezelle has attended Promise Academy in the Harlem Children’s Zone since Kindergarten.

When Ezelle Trapp-Sherman walked down the halls of Promise Academy II to her guidance counselor’s office last month, she was nervous but also excited. It was March 4, the day high schools distributed acceptance letters to incoming freshmen. The eighth grader at the high-performing Harlem charter had every reason to believe that good news was waiting for her through the counselor’s office door: She had scored well on the Specialized High School Admissions Test, thoroughly studied each of the schools to which she had applied and is in the honors class at Promise.

But when she sat down with her guidance counselor, Ezelle found out she had not been matched with any schools in round one.

“Of course I was upset about it,” she said, “I cried.”

Her other response was confusion; Ezelle had been confident going into the application process. She thought she was a strong candidate both for the specialized schools and the regular public institutions.

“For the round one schools, I didn’t put that many schools in, because I was so sure of myself that I would get into one of the specialized high schools,” she said.

Ezelle chose six highly competitive, academically rigorous specialized schools on her round one application, led by The Bronx High School of Science, her top choice. She only put down four regular schools, however, leaving the majority of the available twelve spots open.

The short list struck Lynn Cartwright-Punnett, Director of Programs and Development at the Bridge to Enter Advanced Mathematics summer program (BEAM), which helped Ezelle navigate the application process.

“We recommend six-plus [schools],” she said.

The program staff only guides the initial phases of the application. It’s guidance counselors and parents who see the final list of schools that students submit. And it might not have occurred to them to add more.

Cartwright-Punnett also noted Ezelle’s specialized admissions test score was on the cusp of the cut-off. She speculated the problem was a combination of a score that, while strong, was slightly too low to be considered by most specialized schools, and bad luck.


Before last summer, Ezelle was not going to apply to high schools. She has been a student at Harlem’s Promise Academy II, a high-performing, Kindergarten through 12th grade charter school, since she was five years old, and she didn’t see any reason to leave. The 800-student school is part of the Harlem Children’s Zone, a non-profit dedicated to alleviating poverty in the area, and has a history of graduating college-ready students. Ezelle had a guaranteed spot at the Promise for 9th grade and planned to take it.

Things changed, however, when she was accepted into the Bridge to Enter Advanced Mathematics program.

The program offers students with advanced math skills accelerated courses at a college campus over the summer. Also folded into the curriculum is preparation for the Specialized High School Admissions Test and an introduction to the New York City high school application process.

The summer program introduced Ezelle to high schools that would offer her a more challenging math curriculum, and her summer classes made her realize she could handle more advanced work.

“After they told me about [the high school application process], I was all set. I was all ready to leave,” Ezelle said.

Last fall, she spent hours looking at high schools, attending open houses and organizing her applications. Ezelle’s mother, who works in information technology and teaches college courses, also helped her organize all the paperwork and write the essays. Her dad, a security guard who lives close to where she and her mother reside in Parkchester in the Bronx, was also supportive during the process.

No one expected round one to turn out as it did, but what happened next was even more surprising. In round two, she was matched with her first choice, A. Philip Randolph Campus High School. In addition, she was admitted to Brooklyn Technical High School through the Discovery Program, a citywide program that grants late admission to the specialized high schools for students with specialized test scores near the cut-off. At press time, she is undecided but leaning towards Brooklyn Technical High School.

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