In a school district with vast disparities in academic outcomes among schools, applying to high school is a critical process for the thousands of Philadelphia students who do so every year.
Graduation and college-going rates are all over the map. Some schools offer a variety of vocational programs, some have a curriculum full of AP courses, some are sports powerhouses, and others excel in the arts. There are also schools with few extracurricular options at all.
A student’s high school experience will affect his or her life in a myriad of ways. Often students don’t fully grasp this until too late. For them, the refrain from Faces’ 1973 hit single “Ooh La La” is especially poignant: “I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger.”
The Notebook interviewed several Philadelphia public high school students to find out what students knew before they applied to high school, and what they wish they had known earlier.
Looking back on his experience, senior Khalif Dobson of West Philadelphia High now thinks that “the whole process should be treated like [the] college process.” He explained that students, especially those hoping to attend a special or citywide admission high school, need to begin thinking about their options well before 8th grade.
“I wish they told me high schools would be looking at 7th grade,” said Dobson, who applied to Central and High School of the Future before landing at West. For Dobson, “they” is anyone at his elementary school, McMichael, who could have shed some light on the application process – a counselor, teacher, or principal.
Eric Yates, a junior at West, recalled how counselors at Shaw Middle School divided high schools into three groups – A, B, and C. Schools with high admissions standards, such as Central and Masterman, were As; neighborhood high schools like West Philadelphia, Cs. Beyond this, however, Yates knew little. He applied to Northeast Magnet and the High School for Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA), two definite “A” schools, without knowing that CAPA required an audition. Like Dobson, Yates wishes he had known to “push in 6th and 7th grade” and advises middle school students to “keep your attendance and grades on point.”