Latisha McCoy

Age: 15
Neighborhood: Williamsbridge, Bronx
Current School: DeWitt Clinton High School, Macy Honors Program
Middle School: M.S. 370 – School of Diplomacy
Other choices: Bard High School Early College

Latisha_07Putting the finishing touches on an opinion article about Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy for her school newspaper, 15-year-old Latisha McCoy pushed back from her computer here in the media room of DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx. She glanced around the room and said, to no one in particular, “This guy is crazy.”

Latisha, a freshman in the Macy Honors Program at Clinton and a first-generation Jamaican immigrant, is one of her class’s standout performers. Her teachers rave about her intelligence and curiosity, but worry about whether this troubled high school will be able to prepare her for the college she deserves.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen with her class,” said Ann Neary, Latisha’s journalism teacher. DeWitt Clinton faces an uncertain future as the once storied Bronx high school continues to stumble in test scores and lose students. “I just hope there are Advanced Placement classes left for her to take.”

Latisha’s route to Clinton exemplifies the complex, confusing, often frustrating labyrinth of choices, restrictions, and influences that students, some as young as 13 years old, must weigh during their eighth grade year.

Latisha, as it turned out, could have attended one of the finest high schools in the city. Her teachers at M.S. 370, an unscreened middle school in the Williamsbridge neighborhood in the Bronx with a history of poor academic performance and behavior problems, made sure she applied to the top academic choices. The trouble was that all of them required a long commute outside of the Bronx, which was a huge concern for her mother.

Latisha was offered a dance audition at Manhattan’s Fiorella H. LaGuardia High School, the city’s most competitive performing arts schools and one of the nine elite high schools that require a specialized admission exam. But McCoy’s mother, who emigrated five years ago from Jamaica with her five children, was worried about Latisha taking the subway from the north Bronx to the Upper West Side for the audition. No other transportation was available, so Latisha missed her audition.

McCoy was then matched with Bard High School Early College on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, a prestigious school that graduates 97 percent of its students and secures college credit for those who pass advanced classes. Her mom vetoed the offer, nervous about the three-hour roundtrip commute to Bard.

Latisha then had to move into the Round 2 application pool for schools that still had openings, with the restriction that only Bronx schools would be acceptable. She was accepted at Clinton’s Macy’s Honors Program, a small learning community within the school that screens its students based on test scores, grades, and attendance. McCoy has thrived in the program, but the once-proud school’s dwindling population from 5,000 in its heyday to less than 2,000 today, has led to the shedding of teachers and several course offerings. It means that she may not be able to take as many AP classes as she had hoped before she graduates.

DeWitt Clinton High School was opened in 1897, and boasts one of the most celebrated alumni bodies of any high school in the United States. Paddy Chayefsky, Ralph Lauren, Robert Altman, James Baldwin, Nate ‘Tiny’ Archibald, Tracy Morgan, and countless other politicians, artists, athletes, and academics walked the halls of the hulking building on Mosholu Parkway. The school was famous for the variety of extracurricular activities it offered and for the success of its sports program.

Since the turn of the century, however, Clinton has fallen on hard times. Its graduation rate has slipped below 50 percent for the past two classes, and it was recently labeled a Renewal School by Mayor de Blasio. This designation grants Clinton additional resources to provide social services and extra teaching time to its students, but it also places it on the chopping block for closure if academic outcomes don’t improve.

What this means for Latisha is that her future is out of her hands. If the trajectory of student performance at Clinton does not change drastically, Latisha may once again be searching for a high school, this time because the one she was matched with has been closed by the city.

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