Wendy Etheridge Smith, Ph.D. on Scholar Jevon’s High School Dilemma

Last month, eighth grade students across Pittsburgh eagerly awaited their daily mail delivery. Why? Their mailboxes held important keys to their future: letters from magnet high schools informing students of their acceptance or denial.

At Higher Achievement, we work with families that fall into two categories: those who are aware of how hard it can be to place students in magnet high schools or advanced placement classes and those who are not. Because of our focus on the middle school years (grades 5-8), we are able to support students during their crucial seventh grade year – the year that most high schools use to determine grade eligibility for acceptance.

But our support isn’t always enough. For families who fall into the second category above (little knowledge of the high school magnet or advanced placement process), they often focus on placing their students in high schools during their eighth grade year – the year right before high school begins. The fact is that this can be too late.

Take for example our Higher Achievement scholar Jevon. Jevon is a rising ninth grader who excels at public speaking and recently won our Rales Achievement Award for his leadership at Higher Achievement. Jevon also recently learned that he did not get accepted to Pittsburgh Obama, the only high school in Pittsburgh that offers an International Baccalaureate program. Why? His seventh grade cumulative GPA and math scores did not meet the minimum entry to Pittsburgh Obama. Seventh grade was a challenging year for Jevon, but he rebounded in eighth grade and easily met the required 2.5 GPA minimum. Yet, his eighth grade scores weren’t factored into his application; neither were his leadership skills or participation in extracurricular activities.

That is why programs like Higher Achievement must partner with schools to explain clearly how the system works—early enough to make the difference.

Schools, we invite you to help us strategically think about how to make high school magnet and access to advanced placement classes navigable and equitable. Families, we invite you to work with our staff to find the best high schools for your child and make sure to support them in their application process. Together, we can ensure that students like Jevon receive the opportunities they need and deserve.

Wendy Etheridge Smith, Ph.D. is Executive Director of Higher Achievement Pittsburgh.