Newark High School Students Declare Their Choices During College Signing Day

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May 13, 2016


Graduating seniors at North Star Academy College Prep High School hold up t-shirts and banners declaring their choice of colleges during a pep rally at the school.


For the last four years, the graduating seniors at North Star Academy College Preparatory High School in Newark have looked forward to the day when they can get up in front of their entire school, as well has hundreds of other middle school students, and declare in a fanfare-filled pep rally where they will attend college next year. 

That day arrived this week as 84 graduating seniors from the top-ranked high school sauntered on stage set up in the school’s gym to a song of their choice and held up a shirt or pendant from their college that they will not only attend, but graduate from in four years.

“In four years, I'm graduating from the University of Pennsylvania,” declared Willma Arias de la Rosa, the top-ranked student in the class declared to thunderous applause and shouts of joy from her classmates. Willma, who worked in a hair salon with her single mother since she was 12 to help make ends meet and didn’t speak any English until she started school, earned the highest grade point average in her class.

But it wasn't just Willma who received an raucous ovation. The crowd, which included parents and students from North Star middle schools, cheered enthusiastically for every single last student.

The list of colleges the students are attending would rival a list from any of New Jersey’s top suburban school districts. Among the colleges were Princeton University, Boston College, Bowdoin College, Brandeis University, Middlebury College, Pomona as well as most of the state colleges and universities in New Jersey.

However, the students at North Star are nothing like their suburban counterparts. About 94 percent are African American or Hispanic, and 87 percent qualify for free or reduced price lunch.

In suburban districts, attending college is a foregone conclusion. For many students in the city, however, college seems an unachievable goal. And many who make it to college don't end up with a degree. North Star students graduate from college at four times the rate of other low-income students in the nation.

“The reason we hold this rally every year is not only to celebrate the success of our graduating seniors, but also to show the underclassman that graduating from college is within reach for them as well,” said Michael Mann, the head of public charter high school that was recently named by U.S. News & World Report as one of New Jersey’s top high schools.

“For many of our seniors, getting here was not easy. They struggled and overcame impediments,” Mann said. “The younger students need to hear that they will face stumbling blocks too, but they can and will persevere.”

This year, North Star's graduating seniors submitted 1,195 applications to 186 colleges and received 484 acceptances with 100 percent of the graduating students getting accepted to college. The class has received at least $2.2 million in grants and scholarships.

North Star Academy College Prep is part of Uncommon Schools, a charter management organization that started and manages 44 high performing urban charter schools in three states—New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts. North Star Academy Charter School, which launched in Newark in 1997 with 72 5th graders, serves over 4,100 students in Newark in grades K through 12.

A North Star education is in such high demand in Newark that half of all families in the city listed North Star as one of their choices last year in the public school application process.

According to a 2013 study, by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University, attending an Uncommon School “completely cancels out the negative effect associated with being a student in poverty.”

Across the three Uncommon high schools, students showed much higher participation and passing rates than the national average in AP exams. More than half of Uncommon 10th, 11th and 12th graders took an AP exam last year, and of those who took an AP exam, 55 percent passed with a “3” or higher.

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